Halfway There! New Season’s Best at Race #15

15 races in the books!

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More on that later.

Today’s race was the Dobbs Ferry Holiday Hustle 5K in Westchester, NY. After a night of snowfall, the roads were slick but clear and the temperature a lovely high-20s/low-30s for the 9:30am (errr…9:39am… more on that soon) start time.
Jess and my dad joined me for the run while Russell and his grandmother cheered by the finish line.

This 5K was unquestionably the most challenging course to date. Couple that with the challenging race conditions, an atypical warmup routine, pre-race nerves, and today’s great results don’t make much sense.

Race Goals:
1) Don’t get injured. ()
2) Run a season’s best (SB) time. ()

Let’s walk through this one bit by bit.

On Thursday night in New York, my dad and I had a few free minutes and decided to drive the race course to see how hilly it was. Bad idea. Sort of.

My desire to run my fastest race quickly diminished as we drove through Dobbs Ferry and discovered that the course was very, very hilly. At first, I was bummed. But this gave me an opportunity to plan out my racing strategy which wound up being absolutely critical given my want for a top time of the year.

The majority of the first mile was uphill, so I decided I would try to cruise the hills at a pace as close to 7min/mile as possible. I expected to be tired, but figured I could recuperate during the second mile, which had a lot of downhills to make up some time. After that, I would aggressively run the short uphill bursts just after mile-marker 2 and hope to hang on for the last half-mile of the race (which was mostly flat).

Great plan. But:

The morning of the race didn’t go as planned. I didn’t get to do my full stretching routine, my stomach was bothering me (85% nerves), and I forgot my Run Gum at home.

We did a bit of a longer warmup run than usual – 1.5 miles on part of the course – to get used to the road conditions. We finished just a few minutes before the race would start.

Or so we thought.

The weirdest quirk of the event was the lack of a starting line. That’s right. No line.

The event was chip-timed, which usually means there are timing mats at the start and finish that track the RFID tag (“chip”) on your racing bib. With a typical “chip-to-chip” race, your time is based on whenever you cross the start line and finish line. This ensures that nobody is penalized for starting in the back of the pack. 

Some races are “gun-to-chip”, which means that everyone’s race clock starts when the gun is fired – regardless of where you are in the pack – and your final time recorded when you cross the finish line. In these races, it’s imperative to start as close to the starting line as possible, as starting in the back of the pack simply adds seconds to your finishing time.

In every race, there’s a very clear start line.

Here, the race started in the middle of the Mercy College parking lot. Roughly at an intersection of two “roads”. There wasn’t even a line drawn in chalk on the ground.

So the lack of an actual start line was odd. At 9:30am, the race officials weren’t ready. Then, one of the race marshals took a several minutes to speak inaudibly into a megaphone while everyone stood around in the cold. Eventually, about 10 minutes after the designated start time, the giant blob of people in the middle of the parking lot got going.

The Race
Despite the untraditional start to the race, it couldn’t have gone much better.

I felt pretty comfortable over the first mile of hills and reached the 1 mile mark in 7:12 feeling pretty encouraged. Knowing that the hardest part of the race was over and second mile was net downhill, I wanted to pick up the pace and put myself in decent position for the final third of the race.

The downward slopes and well-timed playlist helped (let’s just say that while I can’t say that I “like” the song… Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ is an excellent song to run to…). The second mile felt pretty good at 6:36.

Now, it was time to attack the few short hills still remaining and try and hold on for the last half mile.

My training has really started to pay off. I was able to push my way up the hills and use them to pass a few competitors. The last half mile didn’t feel great – my core strength needs a ton of work – but I maintained pace and used the (finally!) flat terrain to negative-split once more and run the last mile in 6:30!

The Results
A last second sprint led me to a finish of 23rd overall out of 489 (21st among men, 6th in age group) with a season’s best time of 20:41*.

*So, my official time listed was 20:30, but the lack of a real start meant the clock was a few seconds behind/the course may have been about 50 meters too short. My GPS said 20:41 (6:40 pace), so that’s what I’m going with.

Jess and my dad ran great races as well!

Fighting off injury and only running a maximum of 2x/week, Jess impressively managed a 21:34 on the tough course (35th overall/5th woman).

Meanwhile, my dad, despite a lack of training and spending hours running up and down the basketball court the day before, won his age group and cruised a strong 26:07!

Needless to say, everyone was pretty pleased with the results.

Moving Forward
I’m pretty baffled, however.
Does my best result yet mean that my pre-race routine has been largely meaningless? Exactly what did I do that yielded success? Was it the extra-long warmup run? Have I been over-stretching? Was it yesterday’s day off without even a short jog? Is this an outlier, relatively meaningless data point? Not sure.

Whatever. I’ll take it! With some luck and lots of training, this result means that I can expect to finally get back to running some respectable times this spring.

Aside from a haircut, next up on the schedule is a half-marathon in Naples, Florida, in mid-January. I may sneak in another 5K later this month, but my priority will be a few weeks of hard training. Let me know if you want to go for a jog!

Importantly, I’ve reached a major milestone. The halfway point. More on that soon.



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