19:59*

I DID IT!

I FINALLY RAN A 5K IN LESS THAN 20 MINUTES!!!

Well, sort of. That is, I *technically* did it, but I didn’t *officially* do it. Okay, so what does that mean?

It basically means I actually did it, but according to the official results, I didn’t do it.

* * * * * *

Since before I met her last fall, my girlfriend, Andrea, had been planning to run in last month’s Indy Mini-Marathon. As things progressed, I eventually—like a good boyfriend—committed to making the trip to support her. However, as a runner myself, I wasn’t particularly interested in being at a race and not racing.

If you’re not familiar with the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon, it’s basically a massive half-marathon event held as a sort of kick-off to the festivities leading into the Indianapolis 500. It bills itself as one of the premiere half-marathons in the country, and I’m pretty sure I even heard someone say it’s the largest half-marathon in the country. I’m not sure if that’s true, and I don’t feel like fact-checking, but I can say there were 24,759 finishers of the half.

As it should, the event definitely had a “big race” feel to it. The packet-pickup expo was the largest I’ve ever seen, race day had a post-race party area with tons of food and music (as well as a “PR bell” you could ring if you set a PR!), there was an emcee near the finish line announcing the race, and the event also included another race distance: the Finish Line 500 Festival 5K (which had 4,009 finishers of its own).

Now, as a runner who doesn’t really like racing much longer than 5K, I decided to register for that. I’d be just coming off of the Sweet Home Milwaukee 5K, and would have some time before one-mile season started. I’ve typically neglected May as a race month in the past, so why not get one in this year?

Andrea asked me on the drive down the day before the race what letter value of importance I’d give this race, and I said I wasn’t sure. Maybe a B? I said I had sort of just lumped Sweet Home MKE and this 5K together, since they were only two weeks apart and they were my first two back after my stair-season rib injury. I wanted to see what I could do at them both more than anything. Ultimately the race weekend was more about Andrea, though, since I more or less was just tagging along to support her, with a tack-on 5K thrown in. I mean, of course, I wouldn’t just do a 5K without giving it my best, tack-on or not.

The closer the race got, though, the more amped up for it I became. The week before, my running coach, Ryan, had told me he’d like to see me “get after it” for this race. That popped into my head more and more as race day approached. Then, once Andrea and I were at the event, it was such a big event it was hard not to get energized. It sort of reminded me of Milwaukee’s Rock N Sole race (but like triple the scale), which I used to do the 5K at. I really got pumped up for that race, and I felt that way again.

The downside of how immense the scale of this thing was, is that I didn’t really have a good place to warm up. Andrea and I got to the race about 30 minutes before the 5K start, which ran before the half-marathon. We were stuck in traffic, so she dumped me out on the street, and I made my way to the race area while she found parking. Once I entered the start line vicinity, I could hear an announcer saying 5K runners needed to be in their corral. WHAT??? But there’s still a half hour!

I knew I had time before start, though, and I didn’t want to hurry there, then stand around, bunched in, just waiting. So I basically made my way to where the start was, but off the street/start area, outside the dividers, and found a little alley/cove between a couple restaurants that seemed to have a decent amount of area to run. I couldn’t get any sort of street run warm-up in, but I did probably a dozen or so easy run loops in this cove area before going through some stretching, then a few more down-and-back loops, with some strides in one direction, then easy jogs back.

I saw a girl warming up near where I was who looked in pretty solid shape, with a pretty serious looking warm-up routine. I felt about as good as I thought I was going to, so right before I hopped in the starting corral, I walked up and asked her what she was hoping to run. I had done the same thing at Sweet Home MKE, and it worked okay (I finished in 20:41), so I figured why not try again? After all, my 5K times do tend to be around women’s podium range at smaller races. But then she said, “around 19, 20, probably 19.” So then I was all, “Oh crap.” I wasn’t quite sure I could hang with that pace.

The race had pace flags for a start guide in the 5K corral… 7-min, 8-min, 9-min, and maybe a 10-min, too? I made my way through the divider opening closest to the start line, then started working my way to the front. I noticed the few other serious-looking runners doing the same thing then, too. I figured they were just going straight to the front, in front of the 7-min flag. That was my plan. There was some additional shuffling that took place before the start, with wheelchair racers getting moved through the crowd to the front… by the time everything was settled, I was in the second row of people, right behind a late teen/early-20-something looking kid who looked pretty legit. I’ve been that close to the start before at a few 5Ks, but not in that clustered of a crowd.

In literally the last 5 seconds before the start, some 7- or 8-year-old kid slipped in between me and the fast kid I was lined up behind. I was sort of annoyed, but didn’t have time to let it soak in much. Then the horn went off, and off I went. I did something I usually don’t at races—I brought my stopwatch this time to try tracking splits (not a GPS watch that does it for you… just an old-fashioned stopwatch). I hit the button right as I took off, but at the same time, I also got elbow-jockeyed for position by some older dude. I remember my coach warning me about this before last year’s WISCO Mile, which is a track race. I don’t remember it being too much of an issue then, but it definitely caught me off guard at this race.

Whatever. I didn’t have time to let that get to me, either. A couple dozen or so yards in, I passed the kid who had slipped in ahead of me at the start. He had a few quick first steps, but then he slowed waaaaaaaayy down. I felt annoyed by him again. But, again, whatever. I passed him and never saw him again.

For the first little bit, I just tried not to go too fast while simultaneously trying to go fast. I had the warm-up girl in my sights, and I was pretty close to her and the pack she was in, but didn’t feel like I was burning rubber or anything. I thought to myself, “Oh, I bet she’s going for some pretty serious negative splits…” So then we kept going for a while. I drifted back a little… maybe about 7-ish seconds by the first mile. By that point one interesting thing to me was that a small handful of people had already passed me, and a small handful had already faded behind me.

There were clocks at the mile markers, and when I noticed this, I saw 6:10. UH OH. “This might be too fast,” I thought, even though I wasn’t quite to that spot yet. I clicked my watch as I passed the marker — 6:18. “Okay, manage this next one and you’ll be fine.”

On the way to the race, I figured I’d aim to be at mile 2 around 13:00 to 13:05. Between that and trying to push it after the last turn of the race (which was about 0.75 miles from the finish), I didn’t have too involved of a strategy. I wasn’t angling for sub-20 or even just to beat my 20:12 PR. I just wanted to have a good, well-paced race, and beat what I did at Sweet Home MKE. But then having run a 6:18 first mile, I wasn’t sure how the rest of my race would go.

After the turn at the 1-mile mark, I basically decided to pretend the girl and the pack she was with didn’t exist. They seemed to be picking up steam anyway, so I found a 14-y/o or 15-y/o kid a few seconds ahead who seemed to be running a manageably quick pace to stick with. He didn’t look the part of much of a runner, but seemed to be decently in shape anyway. I passed some other kid about the same age — who did look the part! — right when I started to focus on the other kid up ahead. The kid I was passing didn’t seem to like it. He was fading, but seemed to be trying to use me as motivation not to. Out of the corner of my eye I kept seeing him catch up, then fade, catch up, then fade. It was only a couple times of that before he was gone and I didn’t see him poke forward again.

(Quick note: there was a rapper and a DJ performing around the 1.5-mile mark that got me hyped up. There were other musicians along the route, but just standard, boring guitar-band type groups. They were background noise to me. This dude, though, busting freestyles about running, helped keep me pumped up. Shout-out to that guy.)

I just tried staying at my pace and keep the kid I’d picked in sight. I felt like somewhere between 1.75-ish and mile 2 he seemed to be losing steam. I was inching closer to him. I never thought, “I need to pass this kid.” Leading up to mile 2, I saw 12:40-something on the mile clock, remembered my pre-race 13-ish goal for that point, and then did sort of a quick self-assessment: “Should I slow down and then give it a final push after the final turn, like I had planned?” “No. This is pretty quick, but I actually feel pretty good. Keep the pace strong.” I hit the mile mark just a few seconds under 13.

Shortly into mile 3, I started catching the kid. I briefly thought to stick with him, but then I remembered a stair race where I caught up to and stuck with a guy I knew was good, and never tried passing him. And then I ended up with a time I was disappointed in. I feel like that was a lesson learned: people can help you, but they can also hurt you. If you feel good, pass. So then I passed the kid. I got to the final turn and checked my my watch. I honestly don’t remember things too clearly at that point. I do remember thinking that I was in range for a PR, but I wasn’t sure I could get sub-20. I knew my PR was close enough, though, that I better try for it, because, well, you just never know. I know I can turn it up, but I just didn’t know how much I had left. I figured I better just leave every last drop of everything I had out there, though, and find out.

I hit mile 3 and somehow managed to have the awareness to click my watch. I was already running pretty hard, but for that last 0.1, I pushed it even harder. I saw and heard Andrea off to the side yelling, then I saw the clock at the finish. I don’t remember what I saw; I just knew it would be close, so I kept cranking. Run through the finish line, not to it. I clicked my watch as I crossed it.

20:00.24.

UGH.

Of course, I know my watch isn’t the race clock. How far off was I, though? Were my clicks in favor? Or were they against me?

I was just hoping the official time would be under 20.

Now this is where the whole thing is stupid. If you look online at the full website, it says my time is 20:00. And then, if you expand my results on the full site, it still says 20:00. The race had an app for mobile devices, though, which included runner tracking and results. When you search for me, or track me there, it says 20:00, too. But then when you expand the results there, it gives the precise clock and net times.

Clock: 19:59.5
Net: 19:59.1

The app is all I had access to in the immediate aftermath of the race. When I looked at it, I saw it say 20:00 on the main screen, but I focused on the sub-20 in the detailed results screen. I was elated about my time for the rest of the day. I rang the PR bell, got a picture with it with “19:59” on the clock next to it, and was texting people about it while I waited for Andrea to finish the half. She PR’d that, and it was an all-around good day of racing for both of us.

The next day, though, I looked at the full website results and saw nothing of my sub-20. So, as any aspiring sub-20 runner would likely do, I emailed the timing company to find out what my actual time was, and ask why they list it multiple ways. I included screenshots from the app and everything. They emailed back, confirming my 19:59.1; however, they callously informed me I’m listed in the results as 20:00 because, “According to the USATF rules, any portion of a second is rounded up to the whole second, so a 19:59.1 is officially a 20:00.”

No “sorry, dude” or “unfortunately” anywhere in the message. That would’ve softened the blow. But, no, just a cold response to burst my bubble. It was pretty deflating.

I knew the course was USATF-certified, but I’ve run on plenty of other USATF-certified courses at races where the results were listed by the precise times, not the rounded-up number. Figures this would be the one where I encounter it.

I mean, I feel like I still did it. Technically, I’m closer to 19:59.0 than I am 20:00.0. And I’m not delusional… I still have a ton of work to do before I feel like I can say I’m actually a sub-20 5Ker. I would need not only to do it again—multiple times and/or simply on a consistent basis—but also to do it by even more. Doing it by less than a second is barely doing it at all. But to me it’s still doing it. Trying to get past this hurdle has been tough, and it’s taken a long time. Then, yet, the moment I actually do it, officially, I didn’t actually do it.

It’s like my 1-mile PR. People ask, and then, depending on who’s asking, I might go into this whole thing, “Well, 5:20, but really, 5:26. People say the course was short at the one I ran the 5:20. Blah, blah, blah.”

Different scenario, but still the same unsettled, asterisk-type feeling.

I still feel pretty darn good about how I ran, though. And all the training I’ve put in. It’s a PR nonetheless, and I gritted past a point I thought I was able. My splits were 6:18, 6:40, 6:32, 0:29.

If I truly did run my last 0.1 in 0:29, that’s a 4:50 pace! Granted, at that point it was REAAAALLY hard and for only a short distance, but that’s fast! That’s what I wish I could be doing the one-mile in! But especially after 3 miles of 6:30-ish? I’m thankful to my coach for getting me to a place where finishing that strong after a 6:18 first mile was possible.

I don’t doubt I can do it again—and do it by more—and I’m looking forward to it. It sucks that I have to sit on this 5K result for a while, even if it was a PR, but I am looking forward to this summer’s one-mile race season. Hopefully I can avoid any asterisk-type results with that distance in the meantime.

(Side note: that girl I talked to before the race won for the women with a 19:15, and the kid I passed in the last mile finished with a 20:08.)

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