The last time I ran in a 5K race, I was six days removed from a marathon and more concerned with the 6-pound post-race milkshake than my finishing time.
While I’ve run quite a few marathons and half marathons over the past two years, I haven’t run any short(er)-distance races, so I sought out to try for a new 5K PR. My previous best, 22:35, was earned at the 2014 Freeze Your Buns Run 5K. I figured I had a very good shot at eclipsing that time considering I’ve been doing more speed work through marathon training and weekly November Project workouts for more than a year.
Eventually, I found the Pikesville 5K, a summer race that takes place in my old stomping grounds of Baltimore County. Much of my family ended up registering for the race, so I had a bit of an added pressure to do well.
Heading into the race, I was aiming for sub-21:00, though taking home an age group award would be pretty awesome, too. I think I got spoiled, though, because at the 2014 Freeze Your Buns Run, I placed 3rd AG. I knew it’d be harder to podium this time around, but when we arrived at the race and saw a handful of legitimate runners, I curbed my expectations and focused on just setting a new PR.
After a one-mile warm-up run around some of the course, I took one more visit to the bathroom before heading over to the start line. There, I put names to some of the faces of fast-looking runners, including Dave Berdan, a two-time Baltimore Marathon winner and current cross-country coach at Stevenson University. He, and several others around him wore the short shorts and singlets that are synonymous with seemingly effortless speed.
Just like my new expectations, I took a step back from the group I assumed would be the lead dogs. I cued up my watch– which was set to beep if I ran a pace slower than 6:45– and, a moment later, the race director announced the start. We were off.
I mentioned that I set my watch with a maximum pace, but I also should’ve set a minimum pace. After the opening straightaway and turn, I found myself about 10-20 yards behind the lead group, but I was still going too fast. Like I said, my goal was to PR, not to break the speed of sound. Yet, for much of the opening mile, I was running at a sub-6:00 pace. It seemed the adrenaline of having the lead pack within sight was enough to boost me to previously unimaginable speeds. The first mile clicked off and nearly one-third through the race, I was running faster than I ever have before.
Mile No. 1 (6:01)
For another six-tenths of a mile, I continued on the out section of the course, trying to avoid the 6:45 beep on my wrist. The honeymoon of running with the wolves was starting to wear off. I noticed I was panting and sweating like a mad man. At one point, I tried propelling some loose spit out of my mouth and onto the sidewalk, but managed to get it all over the side of my face. Fortunately, few people were around me to see the discombobulation that was trucking along. Only a dozen or so runners had made their turn before I did, so I figured I was doing alright.
Mile No. 2 (6:28)
Just a mile-and-change to go. As I ran for my life back to the finish line, I saw more and more runners on the out section. I ran by my dad who rooted me on and said that I was “Lucky Number 13.” With no time to do the math in my head of whether or not I could still place top-three in my age group in the 13th overall spot, I continued running as fast as I could.
It was clear that my legs lacked the fuel to keep up with my prior splits’ pace, but I did know that I banked a bit of time by running well faster than the 6:44 pace I needed to hit sub-21:00.
The final mile included a lot more of my watch beeping that I was running slower than my goal pace, but I still felt confident I could PR.
Mile No. 3 (6:41)
Thanks to some downhill straightaway action, the last chunk of the race was relatively enjoyable. Two or three runners did pass me at that point, but after we hit the final turn, I managed to use every ounce of energy I had remaining to sprint and edge them out at the finish line.
Mile No. 3.1 (5:33)
I crossed the line, paused my watch, and let a volunteer take my chip all before looking up at the clock. Could it be? Did I really run sub-20:00? My watch read 19:51.
One chugged water and 60 seconds of catching my breath later, and I walked back up the course to cheer on the rest of the team. Jen, my uncle, and eventually my little brother and dad all hit the 2.9 mark, where I jogged them in to finish. Soon after, we all gathered at the finish line to see my mom and stepmom finish strong. It really was a family affair.
Once everyone finished, it was time for the overall and age group awards. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I also knew that I had a shot. I figured that I was somewhere in the top-15, so if many of those ahead of me were either top-3 or in different divisions, my chances of securing a spot in glory would increase.
Unsurprisingly, Dave Berdan was announced as the No. 1 overall finisher with a time of 16:20.1, a 5:16 pace. A friend I follow on Strava picked up the No. 2 spot, and a teenager grabbed the No. 3 spot.
Next, they went through the female award winners. I compared my time against each group and realized only the No. 1 female finished faster than me. It also turned out that the No. 2 female was one of the runners whom I passed in the final meters.
Finally, it was time for the male age group winners. I didn’t do the math in my head as it happened, but in some of the younger divisions, runners had faster times than me– which was good for my chances. When they were about to announce the male 19-29 year division, I knew that if they announced third place had a time faster than 19:50, than I wasn’t going to place, but, the race director said my time and my name along with “third-place” and I scurried up to pick up my award and take a picture with the No. 1 and No. 2 finishers in our division. I was smiling from ear to ear!
I know it’s not a huge deal, but I’ve only placed in my age group once before, so I was stoked.
After taking some celebratory pictures, I finally had an appetite, so I went over to the brunch spread and devoured a few plates of food.
Then, later that day, as promised to my Instagram followers, I ate an entire box of cereal because I set a new PR. It was the most victorious four gigantic bowls of Honey Bunches of Oats I’ve ever eaten.