Man, I hate racing 5Ks. It’s not the distance. I love running and 3 miles is typically when I start getting warmed up. But racing? That all out, ragged breath, heart in your throat type of running? Not my thing. But our family does Thanksgiving in Ocean City, NJ and like to run this race. My 13 year old son has been doing cross country for the past couple years and was really looking forward to racing me. He’s gotten much quicker in the last year so it was very possible that my days as fastest runner in the family were over.

They race is held on the boardwalk in between 8th and 23rd streets. It had been pretty windy overnight, however wasn’t too bad during the race. As is typical, the race started about 10 minutes late. My son and I moved up to the 4th or 5th row right before the national anthem so were in good position for the start.

The goal was to go out at a 6:40 pace and hold it for 3 miles, which would give me a shiny new PR. I’ve gotten in a good block of training over the past month so thought I had a shot. Well, at least until I checked my early pace, which was a bit over 7 minutes per mile. I was already moving comfortably hard and didn’t think it wise to push more than I already was. So I accepted that this wasn’t going to be my day, but vowed to myself that I would keep grinding until the finish line.

Right before the boardwalk narrows, I passed my son who had gotten a little bit ahead of me. I grunted what encouragement I could muster and slowly slid by him. I was ever so slowly passing people so stayed towards the center of the boardwalk.

I hit mile 1 and was happy to see a seven flat mile flash up on my watch. This meant that I had been able to pick up the pace a little bit even though I hadn’t really increased my effort. The course was fairly crowded now with two-way traffic as the lead runners were now going back the other way. I still had enough room to maneuver around other runners, but just barely.

Eventually, I hit the turn around and was conscious to slow down an extra little bit as the boardwalk seemed a little slick. Last thing I wanted to do was slip and skid off onto the beach (though that would be a great story). As I headed back, I kept looking for the other family members who were running the race however only ended up noticing one niece and that’s because she was pushing a stroller.

All through this mile, I kept glancing at my pace so wasn’t too surprised to see a 6:52 flash up when I hit mile 2. I couldn’t believe I had managed to speed up. Now all I need to do is hold on for another mile. I kept repeating “smooth” to myself over and over again in through here. I have no idea how this word became my mantra. I typically don’t use them and hadn’t planned on using this or any other word. It just seemed like the right thing to focus on rather than “don’t blow up” or “hang on”.

Part way through mile number 3 I’m running some math in my head and realize I’m getting close to my PR time. I managed to find another quarter gear somewhere and “smoothed” my way to a 6:37 split for the last mile. Unfortunately, I’m looking ahead and the finish next to the music pier is still a looooong way away. I keep my head down (figuratively, literally would be poor running posture) and finally cross the finish line in 21:44.

I truly couldn’t be happier with my race. My time was only 16 second off my PR from 2016 and 2 seconds back of where I ran in 2015. I’ll take a half second per year drop off in performance (Ha!). But time aside, this was far and away my best executed 5K. Typically, I go out too fast, hang on for dear life, and just completely suffer for 15 minutes or so. This year I felt in control the entire time. Mile three was hard, but not cough up a lung hard as in years past. I guess I just needed more practice racing the distance. Or I got lucky. Probably the latter.

While it’s nice to see the faster splits as the race went along (the final .19 was 6:26!), it means I did a poor job warming up prior to the race. Instead of standing around in the cold temps hopping from foot and doing the occasional leg lifts, I need to run a couple miles to get my legs loosened up. My bet is I could have just squeaked out a PR if I was able to get into my groove sooner. Or maybe I would have tired myself out and finished with the same time.

Guess I’ll have to wait another year to find out.

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