My day at the races

Covid-19 continues to be a pain in the ass, but I made my way out to Tukwila to participate in a life 5k on Sunday, my first in-person 5k in over two years. As part of a (poorly thought out) New Years Resolution, I decided I would make it a goal to complete one 5k race per month, with a 10k in December to top it off. I’ve so far managed to keep up with the resolution thus far, so with yesterday’s 5k, I’ve completed 9/12 races this year.

Obviously resolutions are very hit-and-miss, and I’m not exactly sure what the hell inspired me to try this, but when I did, I wanted to do something that was challenging, but obtainable. Put simply: I’m not a long-distance runner. It’s not my favorite type of exercise, and I don’t really have the genetics to excel at it. I was a sprinter in high school, and anything over 400 meters typically had me gasping for air. Granted, you’re not sprinting long distances unless you’re one of those unicorn runners who is breaking 4-5 minute miles, but even at my best, 7-8 minute miles seemed to be where I clocked in, so to speak.

My first/last live 5k was in 2019, after I’d just reached my initial goals of losing 70 lbs. I decided to join a friend and do a 5k in Long Beach. To say it was a grind would be an understatement, but I finished, which was the goal. Still, it wasn’t a time that was breaking any world records.

Anyway, the Seattle weather gods saw fit not to grace us with the thunder and rain that had announced their presence over the weekend, so the unfortunately-early 9 a.m. race time was actually quite pleasant. I was running for the Rave Foundation, the Seattle Sounders charitable arm that raises money to build small-sided soccer pitches in underserved communities. Great cause obviously, and I’d wanted to participate in 2020, but, you know…

Swag acquired!

I got dressed up in my Sunday greenest and arrived to pick up my packet and t-shirt, which was actually quite nice and something I can wear for exercise, so bonus! The crowd was a bit sparse, owing to the ongoing pandemic. Ashley, one of the organizers, said they usually get about three times the attendance. Good for me, then, that I can claim a better finishing number (just ignore how many people it was out of).

I wouldn’t consider myself a 5k veteran; before this year, I’d ever only done one live 5k race in my life (again, not a runner). But I know the ropes at this point. My average a race time over the last 9 months has been in the 31-minute range, which one dalliance under 30 minutes. I set myself an ambitious goal: sub-29. I figured it was doable, given the courses I’ve typically run on this year have a fair amount of hills, slowing my time, and this course was mostly flat. And heck, I’m in decent shape, so why not go for it!

With my goal in place, I made it to the start line with about a minute to go and took off with the starting group. I was hoping for relatively even splits (runner jargon, maybe I am a runner) for each mile, so I didn’t blow myself up, overdoing it to start. I’ve managed not to have to walk for any of the previous 5k, a marked contrast to my first 5k back in 2019, when I added copious amounts of strolls to that race.

Starting line!

Mile 1: 8:45.

“Not bad,” I thought. Accounting for fatigue, that should get my under 29 minutes for the race. The course itself had few hills, but was pretty uneven. It was mostly paved, and weaved its way through the Starfire Sports Complex, where the Seattle Sounders train. It was quiet and otherwise pleasant, owing to the lighter than normal crowd. I was mostly by myself for the race, once I had established my pace ahead of the walkers and elderly, though far behind the pace-setters.

Mile 2: 9:03

A little ahead of the pace! Pretty good, and allows me a little wiggle room if I slow down significantly for some reason. As long as I don’t completely fall off the pace or injure myself, I should able to hit a personal best. To be sure, mile 2 is always the worst: you’re more than halfway done, but the finish line isn’t in sight. And it’s where the most fatigue sets in for me, before I get the mile 3 boost. I mostly try to ignore this mile.

Mile 3: 8:30

Holy crap, I’m going to exceed my goal! With only about .1 mile to go, the runner’s high sets in, and you make the final push with the finish line in sight. Based on some quick mental math, I figure I have a chance to break 28 minutes, so I sprint (and I’m using that term very loosely) towards the finish. Soundwave, the Sounders game-day band, is playing us towards the finish line. I have to say, it did give me a bit of a boost, so good on them.

Finish: 27:41

Hell yeah. Like I said, I’m not a “long-distance runner.” At least not in a competitive sense. Although I guess that’s not totally true. I do compete with myself, setting a somewhat ambitious goal for this race. My previous best was 29:58, so to beat that by two minutes was pretty great. I look forward to attending the race next year and definitely plan to make it an annual event. Three more races to go.

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