Time: 9 a.m.
I often envision myself finishing a race in a personal record time and then pumping my fist and/or leaping into the air in celebration. Sort of like a basketball player hitting a game-winning shot, a baseball player hitting a walk-off home run, or a football player scoring an amazing touchdown. Y’know: basically, a massive energetic display of excitement and enthusiasm.
The primary problem with this that I’m usually so tired at the end of a race that I don’t have the energy to celebrate in such a fashion.
It’s a shame, because I have some really awesome celebrations choreographed in my brain.
Anyway, I was out of town and back in Michigan last weekend for a bunch of things: the Fourth Of July, my mom’s birthday, to pick up a cool old-school style street bike (with pedal brakes and all) that my uncle was giving me, and to run in a 1-mile race I’ve been interested in running for a some time now. (To be fair, anytime I can find a 1-mile race within driving distance from where I live, or in a location where I have people I can also visit, I’m automatically interested in it.)
Billed on its website as “one of the fastest miles in the midwest,” the Clawson Firecracker Mile was exactly as advertised.
Coming into the race, the finish window I was hoping for/expecting was rather small. I was expecting to finish somewhere in the neighborhood of the 5:57.24 I notched 10 days earlier at the Schlitz Park Miler. Knowing how difficult the Schlitz run was for me, though, I was mainly just hoping I’d stay sub-6; however, knowing the Clawson race course was nothing more than a totally straight, totally flat stretch of road, I was optimistic I might also dip below my PR of 5:52.04, set at the 2013 Schlitz Park Miler.
I’d been doing some productive speed work in the weeks leading into both of these two 1-mile races, which also helped me remain optimistic. According to the Clawson run’s site, splits would be read at each quarter mile, so I devised a plan to finish in about 5:50. Basically, my idea was to hit the first quarter mile at about 1:20 and then maintain a 1:30 pace for each subsequent quarter mile. I knew I could run a quarter mile faster than 1:20, but I figured if I could hold back to that pace, that’d leave me enough energy to keep a 1:30 pace for each of the last three quarter miles.
The problem is I don’t have a Garmin or any sort of pace tracker. When I get out there in a race, or even when I train on the road, I don’t know what speed I’m running. I just go. I back off when I feel I need to, or when I’ve forced myself to by burning out.
So, of course, when the start gun shot off, I just ran by how I felt.
Unlike the Schlitz run, I don’t really remember much about the race. It was just straight forward running. I do remember lining up behind some kids I felt like I would pass near the start line. I remember passing them. I remember moving from the left side of the road to the center at one point. And I remember two of the splits being read.
When I approached the first split reader I saw, I heard him counting into the megaphone, “2:29, 2:30, 2:31…”
So then I was all, “WHAAAAAAA???”
My first thought was, “That CAN’T be the first quarter mile! I’m not running THAT slowly!” I then decided I was at the halfway mark already, which then prompted the realization that I had basically run two consecutive 1:15 quarter miles, and I was halfway to a 5-minute mile. I knew that was unsustainable. I thought about trying to back off slightly to save myself from completely burning out, but I didn’t feel too terrible, so I tried to maintain as best as possible.
I was feeling like I legitimately started to fade near the end of the 3/4 mark, but I was still on pace; the split reader there was somewhere around 3:45 through 3:49-ish when I passed by.
My brain was trying to do math to figure out what my pace was. I didn’t realize in the moment that I was, in fact, still on pace for right around 5 minutes. That’s probably because the race became a struggle at that point.
I finally lifted my head up. It had been down the whole race until then. But now I was looking for the finish line, and I knew it was at the next intersection. I felt like I needed to slow down, so I did, although not as much as I felt I needed to. Let’s be honest: I was ready to start walking.
But when I saw the stop lights at the intersection, I got mad because I realized people were running past the intersection to the finish line. I’m sure I provided some entertainment to the guy running next to me at that point, because I yelled, in a an angry tone, some sort of sarcastic question about where the finish line was. Then it hit me that — although the distance between the start intersection and finish intersection was exactly one mile — the course didn’t start exactly at the previous intersection. It started shortly after the intersection.
So I dug in to tough it out for the remaining 1/8 or whatever I had left. I heard my dad yell, “C’mon, Josh!” really loudly, so I got a slight boost of energy, but it was right about then I saw the finish line clock ticking in 5:20s. I decided I was doing well enough that I didn’t exactly care to try to kill myself for the last few yards. When I got to the finish line I thought I came in at pretty much 5:30. Finishing three seconds below that was a bonus.
In total, I’m approximating my splits to be about 1:15, 1:16, 1:18, 1:38. It’s probably not exactly that, but I think it’s close. If that’s the case, well, sure, I dropped 20 seconds between my third and fourth quarter miles; however, if that’s the case, I also ran 3/4 of the race faster than the pace I wanted to run for just the first 1/4. And the final quarter mile was the only one slower than the pace I wanted to maintain for each of the final 3/4.
I definitely think I can improve on that, but for now I’ll take it. Easily.
Afterward, I watched a video of the finish that my dad recorded on his phone. I looked awful. People were passing me all over the place and I just looked slow. Stephanie pointed out that it doesn’t really matter since that’s the fastest I’ve ever run a mile. She asked something along the lines of, “Would you rather look terrible and do the best you’ve ever done, or look good and not do the best you’ve ever done?”
Umm… can’t I have both?
I think I have some more work to do if that’s my goal. For now, though, I’ll simply settle for a new PR in a distance I really want to do well in.
* * * * * * * * * *
* This is the second race my dad was there to watch me run. The other was the 2013 Summerfest Rock ‘N Sole 5K, where I set my 5K PR, which still stands. Two races, two different distances, two PRs. I think this means my dad qualifies as a good luck charm or something.
* To put my 30-second improvement in perspective, according to Jack Daniels’ Running Calculator, which calculates VO2 based on race times, dropping from 5:57.24 to 5:27.30 in the mile is equivalent to dropping from 20:19 to 18:43 in the 5K. That’s crazy. And I did it in 10 days. Considering I still struggle to run 3 miles without even a 20-second walk break right now, I’d say I’m pretty much just better conditioned for the mile. Plus, the conditions were perfect race morning.
* Speaking of conditions being perfect, I took two days off prior to the race. Usually I take just one. I wasn’t sure if that or the flat, straight course made more of a difference, or if both were major factors. But I do know the last time I took multiple consecutive days off before a race was right before the Sweet Home Milwaukee 5K due to the onset of my neck issues. I then ran that in my second fastest 5K time ever. So maybe multiple days off before a race is the way to go?
* Unlike the Schlitz Park Miler, Stephanie ran this one with me. Her goal was to finish sub-7. She thought she finished about 10 seconds sub-7, but wasn’t sure, as there was a problem with the results. All times between 6:25 and 10:57 were missing. After a couple updates, final results were finally posted the morning of July 8, four full days after the race. Stephanie was right. She finished in 6:49.7.