Wrapping Up the Racing Season: A Final Mini Race Report from Rutgers

It’s been a productive fall racing season. Since I ran the Erie Marathon in September, I spent some time recovering, put in a little training, and ran a series of shorter races.

The additional mileage I put in for marathon training paid off, and now that I’ve had a chance to actually focus on shorter, faster races I’ve been able to make a lot of progress.

The last race on my calendar for the year was the Rutgers Big Chill 5k on December 9. Here’s a quick recap of the season, my training leading up the race, and how things went.

Season Recap

Since this is the final race of the season, I want to take a moment to reflect on how the last two months have gone.

First, I spent five weeks recovering from the Erie Marathon. The first two weeks were straight easy running, the third week incorporated some strides, and the fourth and fifth weeks incorporated some light workouts.

Going into this season, my 5k PR was 20:49 – from the Fitzgerald’s Lager Run in June.

The first race this season was the Paramus Run in mid-October. The first mile went well, but I faded a bit in the second mile. I ended up with a 20:25 – a new PR but slower than I thought I was capable of. But this was also my first race back, so I was just looking to set a baseline.

The following week, I headed to Liberty State Park for the Everybody’s 10k. It was a beautiful morning, with a great view of the Manhattan skyline. The first three miles were perfect – then I faded slightly in miles 4 and 5. I finished in 40:25, although I think the course was slightly short and this was really more like a 40:35.

The following week, I ran the Running with the Devils 5k in West Orange. Other than the rain on race morning, this race went about as smooth as it could go. It started out with a mild hill in the first mile, so I started out on the easier side. Once we crested that hill, I increased the pace slowly over miles 2 and 3. Eked out a sub-20 finish in 19:59.

After that, it was about two weeks until my next race – the Boardwalk Run in Atlantic City at the NJEA Convention. I did a couple small workouts, and I went into this race knowing I could comfortably break 20 minutes. There wasn’t a lot of competition, so I found myself running alone at the front after the first mile. I’ll blame this for slightly fading in the second part of the race. But I finished in 19:42, and I was really happy with that.

From there, I had a couple weeks until the Ashenfelter 8k on Thanksgiving. I had time for a few solid workouts, which went really well. My goal was to finish under 32 minutes, and I came through in 31:52. Other than losing the pace for a little bit in mile 4, the race was executed well. Ground out the first three miles, and dropped the hammer to finish hard in mile 5.

From there, I had a couple weeks before the Big Chill. And I finished the following workouts:

  • 8×3 minutes at 6:10/mi, with 2 minute jogging recovery
  • 12x400m in 83-84 seconds, with 400m jogging recovery
  • 5×2 minutes at 6:06/mi with 2 minute jogging recovery (light, race week workout)

Given how the workouts and the previous races had gone, I figured 19:30 was a given. My stretch goals were 19:15 (somewhat realistic) and 19:00 (big stretch).

Race Morning

The race doesn’t start until 10, so there was plenty of time for a leisurely morning.

I woke up, drank my coffee, and went through my usual pre-race routine. I drove down to Rutgers (about 45 minutes) and walked up to check in. The race also serves as a toy drive, so I dropped off my unwrapped toy and picked up my bib.

I was ahead of schedule, so I killed a little time in the car until it was time to warm up. To warm up, I first did a quick lap of the race course (the full 3.1 miles) at an easy pace. I wanted to remember where the hills were – because the course is full of rolling hills.

I meandered around the start area for a bit, and I grabbed some hot chocolate. I hit the porta potty, and then finished up my warm-up with a mile that included some strides and about 2-3 minutes at race pace.

Then, it was time to line up at the start and wait the five minutes or so until the gun went off.

The Race

The race starts in front of the College Ave gym and heads east along College Ave. There’s a gentle downhill, followed by an incline, and then a steep decline down to George Street. From there, it’s all rolling hills and inclines back to the start.

I shot out at the start to get ahead of the crowd, and maybe because of the initial decline I started a little hit (~5:45/mi). The hill going into the turn slowed me down, but then I stormed down the bigger hill and settled into a nice pace (6:05-ish) at the bottom. I had planned to come through the first mile in around 6:05, and I hit that first mile marker at 6:00 – so a little fast but nothing crazy.

From there, I didn’t look at my watch through the second mile. I knew I’d be a little bit slower, with the rolling hills and the overall incline. But I just kept pace with everyone around me. We passed a group of volunteers (college kids) with a bullhorn, and one of them yelled, “It’s a real live Forest Gump! Holy shit!” I’m assuming he was talking about me with my pony tail and bushy beard.

As we got into Buccleuch Park, I finally looked down at my watch and the pace was a little slow. If I could have clung to 6:15 in that second mile, I figured I’d be on pace to finish strong in the end. But I started to slip a little and I came through the second mile in 6:20.

But still, if I could drop the hammer and push hard in the final mile, I’d be fine, right? But there was one final hill coming out of the park, and I couldn’t push any harder than 6:30/mi pace in the beginning. Once we got out of the park, I did manage to speed up a bit. With about a half mile to go, I pushed the pace to 6:15. But the damage was done, and I split 6:25 for the mile.

We got to the final turn, and with about 200m to go I booked it home. I went a little too hard, too early with the kick, and I faded a bit in the last 50m. But my Garmin clocked that last bit at about 5:30/mi pace overall.

Official time: 19:28.

Post Race and Reflections

After the race, I walked down to my car to get my phone and I stood around at the finish to watch some of the other runners. Then, I walked down College Ave to RU Hungry. If you’ve ever been to Rutgers, you know about the fat sandwiches they sold at the Grease Trucks.

I grabbed a Fat Fillipino, walked back to the start, and sat down to eat it while the stragglers came in. It’s a big race, and some people walk it more than run it. So 45 minutes after the start there were still some people coming through.

Looking back, I think I could have done better. I probably went out too fast in the first mile, and I paid for that through the hills on the back end. My legs felt dead at the beginning of the third mile, in a way that they hadn’t in the previous two, well-paced races.

I think with a couple more weeks and another chance – maybe on a less hilly course – I could have gotten down to 19:15, no problem. But it wasn’t in the cards for this season.

Looking Ahead

The next big race on my calendar is the Jersey City Marathon in April.

I’ll take it easy for a couple weeks and then launch into training for that come the new year. I’ll write more about my training for that later, but I think I’ll keep up with the focus on faster intervals. I know it’s not traditionally the best way to improve at the marathon, but I think I spent so much time focused on the marathons that my speed is underdeveloped.

Then, I can switch back to a more traditional, high mileage, threshold focused marathon prep for Chicago in the fall.

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