If you've been keeping up with my blog posts over the last few weeks, you know that I've taken a little break from serious ultra training to work on my leg speed a little bit. My "goal" 5k race was yesterday at the Hyde Park Blast.
The Blast is truly a unique event that I wanted to participate in at least once before I became too slow. (It also falls on the same weekend as Western States). It starts with an open 4 mile run/walk event in the morning (over 2500 finishers!) and then is followed by several races for the kiddos. The real fun starts in the evening when they close off the streets of Hyde Park Square and have criterium cycling races on a one mile loop. The course loops in and out of the square where a huge block party is being held, complete with food, drinks, and a stage with a live band. After a few bike races they take a break and contest the elite 5k on the criterium course. They finish the night with the a professional category criterium race lasting 90 min while the party is still going full blast all around.
If you can't tell already, I really like the way they set up this race. It took a sub-16 min 5k to get into the elite race, required no entry fee and they were offering $3800 in prize money for the top 6 places for both men and women. And the race organizers also took really good care of the runners before and after the race. There's not a whole lot of incentive out there for mediocre post-collegiate runners to maintain a high level of fitness just for local road races, so it feels really nice when you have an event like this that seems to acknowledge how hard we work. The race announcers sounded genuinely excited and made it feel like a true race as opposed to simply a participation event that most road "races" have become nowadays.
After few brief introductions of the 30 men and women toeing the line, the race goes off under weather conditions that don't get any better in June: mid 70s and only moderate humidity. The criterium course which we run just short of 4 complete loops is lined with spectators virtually all the way around. I quickly got swept up in all the excitement and latched on to the back of the pack. That wasn't a mistake. I planned to try to go out fast and mix it up and just see what happened. It's a strategy I don't often employ, and it's risky, but I wanted to give myself a chance to race. I felt really good for a while, even after hearing a 4:46 first mile split. But I soon realized that is an awfully fast mile for my legs. It didn't help that there is a small hill on each loop, and you run up it twice during the second mile. So I had to back off the pack a bit to save myself from a complete bomb on the last mile. I split the two mile in 9:50 and just tried to keep pushing, but I was pretty much alone now. One more time of the little hill and back down the straight into the square. Easily the most crowd support I've ever seen in a road race. As I kicked across the finish line I could hear the announcer talking about me being on the US 100km team and racing the Netherlands this fall and how this really is not my distance of choice. You can say that again.
Even though the winner went 14:30, in his second race of the day, I was very pleased with my 15:23 and 11th place out of only 16 guys. I think my road 5k PR is 15:06 back when I focusing on the shorter races, so I'm really not too far off that now which is encouraging. I believe with a few more weeks of speed work, some nice weather, and a track race, I could dip back under the 15 minute mark. But, I am on to bigger....err longer...and better things. It was fun, but I will now be returning my attention to getting into 100k shape for September. The US 100k team has been officially announced now - it's in writing - so that is a relief to know I officially have made it. Though I spent some time training for this 5k, I still have averaged 80 miles per week over the past 7 weeks. I am really confident in my fitness right now and I'm looking forward to building on that and seeing how I stack up against the best in the world in the Netherlands.