Sub 20 5K: Slightly Disappointing (?!) Goal Accomplishment

My last 5K was mid-December. On a very challenging course in cold conditions, I ran a strong race for a series best 5K in 20:41* (see: Race Recap), averaging about 6:40/mile. Since then, I focused on a good amount of longer-distance running in preparation for my mid-January half-marathon. That was a big success too.

Coming off these races and a decent few months of training, I had high hopes for this race. In the end, I achieved my race goals thanks to a few rabbits, but I walked away feeling a bit underwhelmed.

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Race Goals:
1) Break 20min ()
2) Run the first mile hard (sub 6:20) ()

Not a great start to the day.

I woke up early and felt groggy. Russell, my pup, buried his head under his blanket when I turned on the light, reminding me that it was too early. I had a light breakfast, walked the pup to investigate the rain (which wasn’t too bad at the time), and stretched a bit while watching some Olympic biathlon.

At this point I wasn’t feeling very confident, but I figured I could snap out of it.

I picked up one of my rabbits. Enter: Lindsay. We drove out to the race where we met rabbit #2: Murat. I would be in good hands today.

We jogged a bit to warm-up but I still felt sluggish. It had been raining for about 24 hours so the roads were slick, but the rain wasn’t too bad at this point and the temperature was a pleasant low 50s. No wind; fair conditions overall.

Murat convinced me to ditch my undershirt for just my 30@30 racing singlet and arm sleeves. A bold move to make a relatively-unplanned uniform change two minutes before the race. But hey… if this goes poorly, now I’ve created another excuse!

Lindsay and I each change out of our wet socks into fresh pairs and throw on racing shoes. I opt to rock the Brooks Launch 4s after my success with them in the half-marathon.

Four minutes to race time. I pop in a Run Gum and try to do a few strides. I don’t feel ready, but hey, here we go. I just need to stick with my rabbits.

The plan was to take advantage of the net-downhill first mile. With Murat and Lindsay keeping time and pace for me, I hoped to break 6:20 for the first mile knowing that it should feel like a 6:25 (goal pace). I asked Murat not to tell me our split after the first mile, just to tell me whether or not we were ahead of 6:20.

One mile down. Murat gives me the thumbs up and Lindsay echoes. We’re at least at 6:20 pace. Feeling okay. Not great, but not terrible.

One interesting aside that I notice: a handful of runners are passing us. I don’t normally start near the front of the pack, instead opting to start close to the middle and pass runners while attempting negative splits. Here, some of the faster runners have employed that same strategy, only this time I am their victim.

Now the plan is to cruise around a 6:25 pace for mile two. A few smooth and slow hills. About halfway through the race, my right hamstring feels a bit tight. My breathing is actually decent, but my legs don’t feel very powerful. I bite down on my Run Gum to squeeze out every possible ounce of caffeine. I can probably hold this pace… but will it be fast enough? I have no clue how fast I’m going. It feels faster than 6:30, but my sense of timing doesn’t feel very precise.

After dancing around a few runners, we hit the second mile mark. As was our race plan, Murat and Lindsay would let me know the second mile split, but not out overall time.

Both GPS watches bark out 6:26 for the second mile. I know we’re technically ahead of the overall sub-20 goal pace given our quicker first mile. I also know that I am beginning to tire and that the final mile is the hardest of the three. The rain is also picking up.

Murat points out a runner ahead of our group to chase down (look out, struggling white-shirt guy) and I try to focus on running sharp tangents as we hit the final hill.

I am generally out of sorts. I don’t know how much firepower I have left and my leg turnover doesn’t feel too strong. I can probably maintain a decent overall pace but I need to pick it up on these hills.

I’m good at hills. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy them, but I’m confident about my ability to economically power my way up hills. Hills are one of my running strengths. 

We charge up the final hill – the biggest on the course – and I feel relieved knowing that the final section of the race is downhill/flat. At the three mile mark, with just 0.1 to go, Murat says “it’s gonna be close”.

It’s that last 1/10th of a mile that is always longer than I expect.

I’m very tired and my internal clock tells me that we are suited to dip well-under the 20min barrier. I have a hunch that Murat is just saying “it’s gonna to be close” just to motivate me to pick it up in the final stretch.

We must be close to 19:40-19:45 pace.

We round the final corner and Murat (who has been jogging the entire race, by the way) looks ahead at the finish line – about 75 meters away – and says “the clock says 19:41 right now.”

“Time to go, Jake!” instructs Lindsay.

Oh, shoot.

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I open up a pretty serious sprint finish kick while I stare down the clock. I really need to pick it up and am in an all-out sprint for the last 40 meters.

I glance up at the clock and remind myself to run all the way through the tape.


I managed to do just enough. Phew.

Goal accomplished!

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Okay! I wanted to break 20 minutes and I did! So why do I feel somewhat disappointed?

I am pretty wiped and take two minutes to catch my breath. It doesn’t help that Murat and Lindsay basically aren’t breathing.

I’m relieved but confused. That effort felt like a 19:40 pace.

If that’s what was required to hit 19:57, I have a ways to go before achieving one of my chief 30@30 goals of breaking 19min.

There were plenty of reasons for this race to go south: Slick roads and rain. A course that I’ve struggled on in the past (aside: I think I race better when the first half of the race is more challenging; this course is just the opposite). Racing without music. A morning where I’m just not feeling sharp. All things considered, it’s good that my general fitness could carry me to a sub-20 despite the non-ideal conditions.

Still, I left feeling a bit underwhelmed. I’ve got to train harder and smarter.

Thank goodness Murat and Lindsay were there or I would have packed it in early and ran a really poor race.

That said, I crossed off a major milestone and feel really hungry to improve my speed. My 19:57 (6:26/mile) was good for 19th overall* out of 291 (14th overall men; 4th age group).

*This considering that Murat and Lindsay were both jogging and let me beat them down the final stretch.

This week should be a fun one, too! I’m working with my new sponsor – the GW Weight Management & Human Performance Lab – on some elite fitness testing and nutrition planning. Then, I head to Southern California where I’ll run a 5K this Saturday morning. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you’d better join me!


3 thoughts on “Sub 20 5K: Slightly Disappointing (?!) Goal Accomplishment

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