Sunday was the Fitzgerald’s 5k Lager Run in Glen Ridge. And it was hot.
Not brutally hot, like the Tom Fleming 5 Miler in Bloomfield last June. But it was hot enough.
I didn’t do quite as well as I had hoped. But I managed to eke out a PR – at least a PR for an official timed 5k. Keep reading for the race report below.
Race Day Routine
The Fitzgerald’s 5k Lager Run is an evening race. A bunch of the local summer races start in the evenings around here. I guess the thinking is that the heat and humidity will break in the evening and result in better weather than a morning start.
That changes up the routine. The race wasn’t until 5:30, so I slept in a bit and started the day off with a short shakeout on the trails – 4 miles. Came home and had my coffee like usual. I didn’t want to eat a big lunch, so I had a large-ish breakfast – some protein waffles and honey.
I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon being lazy. Drank coffee, read a book (Running While Black, by Alison Desir), took the dog for a walk. Ate a light lunch – a leftover pork kebab, shepherd’s salad, and a pita from the night before. I snacked on an apple at some point, and the last thing I ate was a banana two hours before the race started.
I left the house a little after four, so I could get parked and situated with plenty of time to spare. I parked about two blocks away and made my way over to the starting area. The place was crowded – in a good way – and a lot of the local running groups had their tents set up. I registered, put my bib on, and jogged back to my car to drop off my shirt and my phone.
As I jogged back to the starting area, the kids race – the Nipper Mile – had started. The kids were super cute running their race, and I wrapped up my warm-up jog. Hit the porta-potty, met up with a few of my friends who were running, and then set off to do a few strides and a few minutes at threshold to finish warming up.
By then, it was 5:20 – and time to line up.
The Route and the Plan
For more on my training and goals, check out this post from a few days ago.
The course is described as fast and flat. It goes north for about a mile, loops around, and comes back to the park for a track finish. The first mile is slightly downhill, and then there are two moderate hills. After the second hill, the course goes downhill for most of the last mile and a half – although there’s a brief, gentle incline heading back into the park.
It was pretty warm Sunday. The high was in the low 80’s, and the temp at the start was probably right around 80-81. The dew point was in the 50’s – so it was fairly humid but not horrible. It was partly cloudy, and the streets of Glen Ridge were tree lined so the sun wasn’t too much of an issue. But I knew going in that I should be a little conservative due to the weather and not try to push things too hard.
I wanted to finish under 20 minutes (6:26/mi pace). My plan was to start the first mile easy – with the slight decline a 6:30-6:35 mile should be easy enough. From there, I could let up a little on the hills and pick up the pace in the second half of mile 2 to split 6:30-6:35 again. With the long downhill on mile 3, I should be able to speed up, pick up a little time, and split 6:10 to 6:20 for the last mile and change.
Solid plan, right?
The Actual Race
But you know what they say. The best laid plans of mice and men …
I had lined up towards the front, but not all the way up. This race was the open 5k championship for USATF-NJ, as well as the women’s masters 5k championship. So there were plenty of faster people there, and I didn’t want to clog up the front.
When the gun went off, we slowly shuffled to the start line. It was cramped. But once we crossed, it opened up quickly enough. I had to dodge around a few people in the first couple hundred meters, but within a quarter mile or so the pack had started to string out.
About a third of a mile in, we took a turn and had a steep decline coming off an overpass. I opened up my stride and flew down, and then slowed down when we hit the flats. I waited about 20 seconds and then looked at my watch to see the average pace – it was a little slow. So I picked it up.
Turns out, I picked it up a little too fast. We turned left, and about a half mile later we hit the first mile marker. Split – 6:17. Oops.
From there, we headed right into the first hill. We also passed the first water stop. I figured it was a short 5k, I felt fine, why slow down for water? I let up on the pace a bit during the incline, trying to maintain my effort but not push the pace too hard. I got to the top, and I recovered a bit during that short respite. We hit the second hill, and I slowed down a bit more. At the end of this one, I was more tired than I thought I should have been. Not super out of breath – but my legs were getting heavy.
Just ahead of me, there was a young woman from one of the local track clubs – wearing a bright yellow and black jersey. I tried to maintain the gap and just keep pace with her and not let her pull away. In the end of the second mile, I tried to pick up the pace. I was able to speed up a little bit, but not enough. I split the second mile – 6:58.
We passed the second water stop, too. I thought about grabbing a quick drink, but there was a crowd so I just kept going. I’d be done in a few minutes – so really how bad could it get?
I was behind schedule, but I was hoping I could turn things around in the last mile. I was still keeping pace with the black and yellow jersey, so even if I was fading it couldn’t have been too bad. We turned onto the last long straight away, and I tried to speed up … but there was nothing there. We had a mile to go, and I could barely get back to a 6:35 pace – let alone make up time beyond that. My legs just kept getting heavier.
Towards the end of that straight away, black and yellow started to pull away. I continued to fade. I turned onto the last street before the park, and that tiny incline was hell. At this point, my pace was down to 6:50-7:00. I just wanted to finish.
We turned onto the track. I heard someone coming up on my left, so I moved into lane 2. We passed the marker for mile 3 – 6:53. I was disappointed, but I felt a little life in my legs and managed a small surge for the last segment. I crossed the finish line – officially 20:49.
The top 100 men and women each got commemorative glasses. I didn’t think I’d make the cut – but as I crossed the finish line, I was handed a pint glass. Cool. I checked later, and I was #98 on the men’s side – just made the cut.
Grabbed a bottle of water and chugged it while I watched other people finish. I was super thirsty and regretted not taking any water throughout the race. Then I walked over to grab my free beer, poured it into my pint glass, and enjoyed it with a pretzel.
I waited for my other friends to finish, and we chatted for a bit and took a picture. Everyone suffered through the heat, but we all made it to the end. After a second beer and some chit chatting, my wife and I left for dinner. Eventually, I made it home for a nice hot shower, and we crashed because by that point it was bedtime.
Reflections on the Race
From the moment I crossed the finish line – really from about the 1.5 mile marker – I was thinking about what went wrong. Because clearly something did.
Technically, 20:49 was a PR. My previous best in an actual 5k race was 20:59. That was also on a hot day, last Labor Day. But I’d also run 40:59 – and split the 5k at 20:15 – in the Cherry Blossom 10k only two months ago. So if everything went according to plan, finishing under 20 minutes should have been a foregone conclusion.
I think the first place to start was that first mile. I planned to take it out slow – and I got carried away. That 6:17 start was too fast. I think I cooked myself then and there, and by the time I got through the hills I was too overdone to recover. A slower start, would have resulted in a better finish.
Combine that with the heat, and the problem is magnified. On a cold day, I might have been able to get away with that fast first mile and recover better later on. It still wouldn’t have been optimal, but I wouldn’t have suffered so much.
Third, and my other tactical mistake, was not taking water. On a nice day, I don’t take any water on a 5k or a 10k. I figured 20 minutes was too short to get seriously dehydrated. Boy, was I wrong. By the end, my mouth was super dry, and I’m sure the dehydration was starting to effect my performance as well.
I had the same experience in training over the past couple of weeks. I went out for a workout – not super long, about 1:10 or 1:15 – without water. I was very thirsty by the end, and I faded in the last few reps. The next week, I brought water with me, and I felt great through the last rep. From here on out, in warm temps, I’m going to make sure I drink something – even if it’s only a 5k.
I was hoping for a confidence boost. I didn’t get it. But I’m just going to go with the fact that I made a couple mistakes, and the odds weren’t in my favor this day. I know I’m still in great shape, and if I execute better next time I’ll be fine. It’s all part of the process.
There is another local 5k in two weeks on June 26. I’m watching the weather – it looks a bit warm, too. If it’s hot that day, I’m going to skip it. I really don’t want to suffer through another hot 5k. But if the temps are going to be in the 70’s, I might sign up last minute and take another crack at it.
Otherwise, next up is the Erie Marathon in September. Sunday marks twelve weeks to race day, and that’s when training starts. I’ve sketched out a modified version of Jack Daniels 2Q, peaking at 85 miles per week.
I’ll re-evaluate when I get closer to race day, but my tentative goal is 3:05. My ultimate goal is to qualify for Boston 2024 – which requires 3:10 for my age group – so I may take it out more conservatively. But if training goes well, I might give a go at breaking 3.
I’ll report back six weeks in with an update on how training has been going.
Once that’s out of the way, I’ve also got my eye on a few shorter races in October, November, and December. I’ll have a few cracks at the 5k to 10k distance – and I’ll have better weather, too.