Sub-20 5k! Finally!

I did it! I finally broke 20 minutes for a 5k, a time that has eluded me for too long. The funny thing is, I didn’t even train for the race. A friend told me about it last Friday, and I said, “sure, why not.”

This was my second impromptu race, and a second great one at that. It seems training only slows me down. But there is a reason behind why I do so well in these out-of-the-blue races. Actually, a few reasons. First off, there are less nerves. There’s less time to worry about the race, and you place lower expectations on yourself when you haven’t trained. You can allow yourself to enjoy the race, at the same time thinking how great it would be if you happen to PR at a race you haven’t trained for.

Whatever the reason, I am very happy I did the race. I didn’t even care that much about my place, because I was so happily surprised to PR in the first place. But my 10th place finish (and 3rd in my age group- though really 5th, the top 2 were overall winners and weren’t included) felt great too. This is why local races are so fun: ‘pretty good’ runners have a shot at placing in their age group; it’s not limited to elites. The fact that I won (kind of) another small race attests to this fact (see my post The Win for more on that).

Overall, it was a lot of fun. And I plan on doing many more unplanned races in the future.


The Win

It began like a race like any other. But that’s not what I want to talk about. It’s the end that was interesting.

Take it from me when I tell you that I am not a 5k winner. Not even top ten. So when I heard about a small 5k from a friend of mine, I said I’d do it for fun, even though I was training for a half marathon at the time and not at my fastest. Needless to say, my expectations for the race were not very high. But, as you may have gleaned from the title, I did indeed win it.

My question is, does it count? Because this was no ordinary race. Hell, it wasn’t even a a full 5k. I knew something was up when the race, scheduled to start at 10:15, didn’t get underway until 10:30. And my unease grew as someone stood up on a chair and informed the 50 or so runners and walkers that we could run one of two routes: a track twice, or take a turnoff into the woods where there would be people to direct us. Naturally, I figured I’d choose the woods, for the change of scenery.

Well, the proverbial gun was fired (I believe someone just screamed at us to start running already from the sidelines) and off we were. I found myself about 10 people from the front, and catching up quickly. Then I was in third, with one guy and one girl in front of me. As we rounded the first lap of the track, the guy in first decided to turn into the woods, though there was no indication of where the correct turnoff was. The girl looked back helplessly, and I informed her that there was no way I was going into those woods; I would get hopelessly lost. So she stuck to the track with me, and eventually I pulled away, and yes, won.

I have to say, artificial as a racing environment it may have been, it was a blast. I felt like an elite runner, pushing it with a mile left, sensing the girl unable to keep up and leaving her behind, and then sprinting to a finish. It felt great. But was it real? As it turns out, the unlucky fellow who took the turnoff into the woods got lost, along with about 15 other runners. He may have won; after all, he was ahead of me at the time. And then I went home and discovered via the beauty of the Internet that the two loops of the track I had run was actually about 2.9 miles. There went my PR.

Clearly, this race was not what you’d call organized. The late start, the two-course option, the lack of directions as to the correct turnoff, and the fact that it wasn’t even 5 kilometers. Add to that that only a handful of people really ran it, and it sounds like a pretty pathetic race to win. But, as I’ve asked twice already, does it count? Does it mean anything to win a race, even if it hardly even qualifies as a race? Well, it counts to me. I experienced the win, and it was awesome. And hard earned. Acknowledged, if it were a ‘real’ race, I wouldn’t have won. Not even close. But you know what? It wasn’t a real race. And I won it. And if I never win another race in my life, which is a distinct possibility, I can still ‘count’ this one. And maybe, as I grow old, I will forget that it wasn’t a real race. And only remember that I won.