Rás na hÉireann 5K
Sunday, March 10, 2013
5K (3.1 miles)
Finish: 18:03 (5:49 pace)
31st place overall of 5000
3rd place Master 40+
Mile 1 – 5:46
Mile 2 – 5:47
Finish – 6:28 (5:52)
Just as Irish eyes start smiling each March with the advent of St. Patrick’s Day, so too does the Rás na hÉireann USA 5K, a race otherwise known as “The Ras”. Only, in this case, the Irish eyes smiling were those of Bernie, my Irish friend, as he comes knocking on my door for the Clock Tavern pub team in honor of “The Baker,” someone who loved this race more than most.
As I have in previous years, I told Bernie to sign me up. The Ras has become among my all-time favorite races in the Boston area. It is way up there with Eddie-O’s Cambridge 5K events and Doyle’s. Although I was excited for the fun to be had, I was a little apprehensive — or perhaps curious is a better word — of my race fitness, especially after just coming back from a lower calf injury that had sidelined me of fast running for nearly 3 months.
How would my legs spin up on a 5K? Could I get under the Mendoza line of 18 minutes flat? I was excited to find out but not all that hopeful.
Knowing my race pace fitness was not where it had been at the end of last year when I was running mid 17-‘s for the 5K (17:30 @ NR Turkey Trot, 17:38 @ Yulefest), I decided to get to race site early and warm up by doing a full loop of the course. I felt decent enough but just didn’t seem to be smooth when striding out to race pace or faster. My breathing was okay, but I was a bit ragged. My knee often felt as if it would give out, as happens when I’m not fit.
After a few more strides by the starting line in Davis Square, I was as ready as ever, so I wiggled into the starting corral three rows from front and waited for race start. That’s when Todd Callaghan, a friend from mountain running, said, “Hey Thor!” I had been wondering where Todd was, as I know he does this race every year, and I know he is the guy to chase for me for the Master’s crown. Todd clocks in the 16’s for 5K’s, slightly out of my league. But I like racing with him because I can usually gauge my fitness by how close I stay to him. Either way, seeing Todd on the starting line meant that I was now shooting for 2nd place Master. 1st was his.
Before long, the race was started. Off the starting line I went along with 5000 others. Unlike in prior years, there was very little jostling, no elbows, and mostly clear path. As I got up to speed relatively easily due to such a long warmup, I couldn’t help but note that this was surprising because it was obvious that there were more people around me this year over most, which meant I was a little slower. My fitness really was a bit off. Damn.
Over the course of a gradual up hill first mile, I settled into pace. I was breathing hard yet just on the edge of control. The hill has a great way of selecting placement in race by ability, and this hill was honest enough to do just that. By the time I got to the top, most runners were in place; there would be little passing the rest of the way. I went through Mile 1 in 5:46. A little slower than I’d like. No matter, I was still running hard and now focused on being efficient with all movement forward and all energies pushing me on.
A minor victory, I got by two guys who looked to be in my age group. The gray hair gave it away.
As the course makes it’s way through a traffic circle en route to the second mile, I passed two more runners. I tend to be a slower starter, even when warmed up, so I knew that I’d nip a few with nobody or very few passing me back. And that’s what happened.
Me being a slow starter isn’t exactly true. The truth is that others are fast, and they fall off pace, even if just a little. I tend to run races with fairly even splits. It’s because my strength isn’t about getting out the gate fast; my strength is being able to hold onto the pace I get out with for longer than most. I honestly don’t run much faster. This is what I thought about as I passed one more.
Just beyond Mile 2 (5:47), the course takes a right and sweeps down a fast way. Instead of thinking about the finish and how much distance was left, I stayed in the zone, stayed focused on being efficient, and spent my awareness on trying to close the gap to a few runners ahead of me.
This strategy worked well, as I closed the gap to 10 seconds before the final turn and hill on the course. From there until the end, a section that is arguably the fastest on the course, I was all-out, but so were they. I gained very little time on them, though none moved ahead, and nobody passed me from behind.
The final stretch was long, perhaps .75 miles, on a gradual down hill. It’s too early to kick. But I kicked anyway. I wanted to break 18 minutes, and this was my time to grab back seconds, as I knew I ran well with my current abilities, but I also knew that I was a bit slower than normal.
Kicking early meant that I had to be in control both physically and mentally. I stayed focused on form as I ran as hard as I could without tipping the over the edge of control. I pretended I was doing Top End Speed pacing on the Treadmill, running as fast as I could, focusing on keeping my center of gravity under me, not over-striding, and being strong yet fast and efficient and running on top of my feet.
Lucky me, I was able to hold on. Finish came in 18:03. I thought I might get sub-18, but it wasn’t happening. Not today. Victory of sorts came as I took 3rd place Master 40+. So I didn’t run as fast as I had hoped, but I did get a Top 3 spot among the old guys, a goal of mine coming in.
As I had streamed into the finish line, I was surprised to see my friend Samantha (Sammie Girl!) on the side of the road cheering me on. After I finished, we regrouped, and that’s when I talked her into a cool down run. It was an unexpected very nice treat.
Not long after that, we got our Irish (and Guinness) on. The Ras proved fun once again!