It's been awhile since I last ran a 5K, let alone a decent (for me) 5K. Since beginning to run several years ago, I've spent most summers doing a number of short distance races. Between focusing on running longer and higher this summer, and several local races being canceled or falling on weekends when I had prior commitments, I realized that it had been a good five months since my last attempt to run fast over a short distance. Some people think of 5K's as "easy" because it's over a shorter distance and get impressed by long distances. Well, I'm here to say that the long, slow runs are the ones that feel a lot better. To me, anyway. I don't recall ever feeling like I wanted to hack up a lung after a good 20-miler. On the other hand, I've never been able to go as fast in speed work as I do racing, so it's the perfect way for me to knock out good speed work sessions. Doing said speed work at an annual race that is near and dear to a lot of people locally, runners or not, and it's a no-brainer.
The Anna Banana 5K citizen race and high school cross country meet take place on the pathways and trails where I started as an adult onset runner at age 34. They commemorate and celebrate the life of Anna Janowitz, a student and runner at an area high school who died in a car accident on the way to cross country practice nine years ago. Her sister sings the national anthem at the race every year, her family, former coaches and classmates are still very much involved in the race, and her high school's art department still makes the coveted ceramic bananas that serve as age group and overall awards at this race. Money from the race generates scholarship money for a number of cross country or track student athletes from area high schools every year with at least a 3.0 GPA. Out of tragedy came this incredibly positive event where you see the full spectrum of participants, from young to old, and recreational walkers and hikers to some of the most competitive local runners in the area. Yep, it's safe to say that everyone who shows up for this race wants to put his or her best foot forward, and make it count.
This marked the fifth time I've shown up for this race. I've run it four times on my own, and it was my first ever solo 5K in 2007. I ran it in about 25:55, and thought I was going to hurl at the end. It was also the race that started my Boston Marathon pipe dream, because I ran it at exactly the qualifying marathon pace for my age group. I had no idea how I was going to get from 3.1 to 26.2 at that pace, but that's where the ridiculous goal started. The next year, I ran it with my oldest daughter, who decided at the last second that she wanted me to run with her as she paced toward the goal of one of those ceramic bananas. We ran about 29 minutes together, and she still hangs that banana for her 10-and-under age group win in her room even though she's moved on to being focused on dance. The next two years were good for me but not PR races, though last year it was the only race in which I was the top woman overall, which felt pretty good. If I could choose just one local race at which to do that, this is it.
This year, I had a big question mark in my head because I hadn't raced short in so long, and have been kind of been freewheeling in my running for a good part of the last year. I was focused on a good race, though, and ready to take my best swing at the thing last Saturday.
Getting up on Saturday, I was encouraged by the cool temperatures and lack of wind. It's been warm and breezy other years but this was nice. My Garmin was charged up and I debated leaving it at home, which would have been a first for racing. I still hadn't replaced the strap that broke off in some unknown location prior to Imogene. I decided I would go with the oh-so-classy move of duct-taping it on. I wasn't going to be a slave to the Garmin but thought it would be helpful to check my mile splits. I rigged it to my wrist and headed down to the Connected Lakes section of the James Robb State Park. Initially heading to the spot that has been the registration area every year, I found the place deserted. Heading back toward my car, I learned that we had the first major change in the course since my first time doing this race. The course was going to be more of a true cross country course, and would allow runners to pass through the start/finish area midrace. A change will do you good, as Sheryl Crow says. I liked the idea of covering less pavement, and enjoying a more spectator-friendly course.
Lining up for the start, I felt a little bit fatigued, but I never put much stock into how I'm feeling beforehand. Sometimes, things open up and feel good at race time, and sometimes they don't, but I try not to beat myself in my head before the thing's even started. Anna's sister sang the national anthem (and I wondered if it was wrong for me to think that she had a totally bitchin' pair of boots on as she started), and I closed my eyes, trying to relax. A few minutes later, we were off. At the starting horn, I slapped "start" on my Garmin three times before it finally started ticking off the seconds. I tried to not let it distract me and finally got it going.
Right away, a small pack of men and handful of women were ahead of me. I focused on increasing my turnover early, and tried to push steadily ahead without dodging right and left, and moving past runners without side-to-side action. We turned off the dirt road onto pavement and headed down that road, eventually making the sharp right turn across rocks and onto the cement of the riverfront trail. Oh, man, it doesn't feel good to boomerang yourself across those hard rocks, but it's just a small stretch and then a chance to hammer downhill for a bit. I passed a few runners here, and could see two women not too far ahead of me.
High schooler runners arriving for the meet dotted the course, shouting encouragement and motivation. I'm used to, and enjoy our club runs which are largely without spectators, but come on, we all enjoy a little bit of this from time to time. Coming through the start for the first time, I was probably about 10-20 seconds off the two women. I don't have a history of being able to "kick" in 5K's, but was determined to catch them and not sag my second mile.
Mile 1 (or thereabouts...since my Charlie Brown Christmas tree Garmin didn't want to start): 6:57
The second lap now turned left down the road from the gravel road, and then hopped onto the gravel trail around the Connected Lakes. It's pretty flat but continously curves to the left, moving around one lake and then between two. I was gaining on the women now. I wasn't sure if I could hold on if I passed them, but knew I had to go for it without any comfort or breaks. I moved past the first lady, and about thirty seconds later, I passed the second lady. Increasing my turnover as much as possible, I worked to build a little space but didn't look back to see where they were. We rounded the edge of the second lake in the shade of trees on a dirt trail (beautiful), and then hopped back onto an asphalt section of paved riverfront trail, running flat- to slightly uphill now.
Mile 2: 7:28
Okay, now I was in "run the mile like it's your last" mode. Oh, yeah. It really was the last mile today. My breathing felt what I call "5K good"- the lungs were burning but I wasn't slowing down. I knew those ladies, and other runners, were likely not far behind, and pushed hard coming into that sharp, rocky curve from the opposite direction. The last stretch was now flat- to slightly downhill and turned over the legs as fast as I could, trying to do that relax/fall asleep in the head thing so I wouldn't think too hard about how much this hurt. The 5K, for me, is all about seeing how hard I can push and trick myself into running when I'm not thinking so hard about it.
Mile 3: 7:10
Turning left back onto the dirt and toward the finish, I could hear feet behind me, and pushed but to no avail. Someone was moving past. As it turned out, it was not one of the women but some guy who came flying through, finishing just ahead. I held on, though, for second woman overall, 27th overall out of about 168 runners, and first in my age group at what my post-race time card listed as 22:07. I say post-race time card because when I stopped my watch, I didn't REALLY stop it. In addition to being duct-taped together for this race, the start/stop button had stuck in the "on" position at the start after several failed attempts to start it, and now would not shut off. Picking and prying at the button didn't make it come unstuck. When my friend Sandra came through (her second 5K ever, under 24 minutes, and what I think was a top- 10 or 12 finish), she was able to help me unpry the duct tape, and then after awhile I was finally able to dig at it the right way to stop the clock.
When awards time came, a number of the local race regulars, whom I like to refer to as the Usual Suspects, managed to collect hardware-the coveted ceramic bananas. As friends took out their phones and cameras, and it was suggested that we all gather with our banana medals, I made the totally unwitty remark that we should be a "bunch of bananas" for a group shot of all of us who had placed. Luckily, nobody sent me out of town on a rail, and the bunch of bananas, spanning fifty years in age, got together for a few post-race shots. It was yet again another positive experience at the Anna Banana citizen race. Since I'd been planning on it anyway, and was also more or less boxed in with my car near the new start and finish area, I stuck around for the high school races. There were some serious speedsters there, but it was cool to see how many kids of all speeds had come from 20 different high schools.
(winners of the high school Boys and Girls Races...both from higher altitude mountain communities)
Anna's not here on this earth anymore, but her positive presence was all around today. I'm looking forward to coming back in pursuit of local fruit for many years to come, but above all, to celebrate a life by getting out to live some life.