I didn’t have any strong aspirations for the 5k race in Spreckels, CA. I knew that the course was flat. I knew that the weather would be perfect for running. Unfortunately, my left knee has been bothering me for the past couple of days. I’d go all out in the beginning but gauge any signs of discomfort and react appropriately.
|Getting ready for Spreckels, CA 5k
On Saturday (July 3), we stopped by Spreckels, registered for the race ($40) and picked up my bib. I was assigned number 791. Spreckels itself is a farming community nestled in the flatlands between two mountain ranges. The community is a friendly, tight-knit group of hard working, blue collared Americans.
I saw the course layout during registration. It zigzagged through town with a few sharp 90-degree lefts and rights before finishing the 5k. 10k runners would have to run a longer course but also mostly through town. It would be a small race in small-town USA on the 4th of July. It would be fun and festive!
6:00AM: I woke up and drank around 20 oz of water. The race was scheduled to start at 9AM. My knee was not at 100% but was easily good enough to race.
6:30AM: I showered and got ready for the race. Our hotel was a 25 minute drive from Spreckels. I wanted to get to the start about 45 minutes early to scope out the atmosphere, stretch and warm up. I had a quarter cup of coffee, ate yogurt and left the hotel at 7:45AM.
8:15AM: After parking, I headed to the starting line. It was comfortably chilly out; temperature hovering in the high 50s with overcast skies and virtually no wind. It was perfect running weather. Runners of all shapes and sizes were expending nervous energy. Some were standing and chatting in loud voices while others were stretching and jogging aimlessly.
I was wearing a plain white dryfit shirt, gray shorts, my neon Saucony A6 shoes and my matching neon Ironman visor. There was a 1-mile kids’ fun run in progress as I walked towards the starting line. There were vendor tents, BBQ smokers, hundreds of US flags and scattered runners with their family and friends everywhere. To warm up, I ran a couple of blocks including a 30-second sprint. I stretched my quads, calves, back, ankles and neck. At 10 minutes before race start, we all gathered at the starting line. Someone sang the national anthem and soon after the countdown began.
|Festive spirit on 4th of July in Spreckels, CA
9:01AM: The race started at exactly 9:01AM. I started a few rows back but crossed the starting line a mere 5 seconds after the horn rang. As always, the start was the most chaotic part of any race. I weaved through a few kids and other slower runners. A mere two blocks into the race was the first 90-degree right turn. I settled into a smooth rhythm quickly. I mentally checked my knee. No sign of pain. No discomfort. Good. I could concentrate on my breath and not worry about my knee!
Since the 10k and 5k runners had started together, we were bunched up tightly at the start. Within the first quarter-of-a-mile, the faster runners had already started separating from the second group. We all turned right again. I continued to pass a few slower runners and found my key. A bald guy in black was running a 6:45 pace. I ran behind him. The course takes two more right turns and finishes the first mile at exactly the starting line. I looked down at my Garmin when it buzzed and it showed 6:33. Nice! I was going faster than expected but felt good.
9:08AM: A left turn, another left turn and a right turn later, the course left town towards the fields. This portion was not on the course map that I had seen. I ran behind the bald guy in black as a girl in red joined our group. The three of us were bunched up in the second group of runners. I saw the faster runners take a gentle right turn and curve around further to the right towards town. It looked like they were running in the fields on dirt roads. I had no idea that the course was partially a trail run!
As we took the gentle right turn and turned around, sure enough, we were on uneven dirt roads. Fortunately, the dirt road was dry. The bald guy in black slowed a bit as the girl in red ran ahead. Another guy in blue with a white beard caught up to us and passed us by. I decided to run behind him. I was uncomfortable running on the dirt road but felt no discomfort in my knee. “Relax and flow” has always been my mantra. As I felt the first sign of fatigue, my self-talk started with my mantra.
I ran mile 2 at a 6:51 pace. Not bad on the partial dirt track!
9:15AM: My breathing was getting heavier. My heart rate was well into level 4. It was time to invite the pain and run on at a brisk pace. I couldn’t keep up with the guy in blue. He had caught up to the girl in red and passed her. I could see that the dirt road was about to end. There was a water station where I grabbed a paper cup and drank a sip. Another right turn awaited us. I was running alone now with half-a-mile to go. Relax and flow. Relax and flow. Keep up the smooth rhythm; smooth stride. Relax and Flow.
|Finishing 6th overall at the Spreckels, CA 5k
The 5k and 10k runners separated at the next juncture. The guy in blue went right towards 5k. The girl in red ran on straight towards 10k. I took a right turn and another right turn. The end was close now. Two more quick left turns and I would be home. As my Garmin buzzed again for the 3-mile mark, I saw 6:53; still a decent pace. With the finish in sight, I picked up the pace knowing fully well that I wouldn’t catch the guy in blue. I suspected that there were half-a-dozen runners ahead of me who had already finished.
|Gorgeous blues skies in Monterey Peninsula
: I finished strong with an official time of 21:42. My Garmin showed 21:37
(which makes sense ‘cuz I started 5 seconds after the horn sounded). Unfortunately, the course was just a bit longer than a 5k. It was more like a 3.21-mile route (around 50 seconds longer). For 3.21 miles I had averaged 6:44 per mile. It was far from a PR but it was a pretty decent time. I had finished 6th overall (2nd in my age group and 5th male overall).
I waited a few minutes to catch my breath but didn’t wait around for the medal ceremonies. It was festive in Spreckels. The smell of BBQ was inviting. The spirit of the 4th of July was contagious. I wish I had time to stay on but we had plans at 11AM to go see Otters in the Slough at Moss Landing. I’ll write more about that in the next couple of days.
After a couple of cloudy days, the skies finally opened up to reveal gorgeous blue skies in Monterey. There were tons of pups on the beach. I sadly thought of Simi and Missy; but I was happy to see all the dogs enjoying the sounds and smells of the ocean.
We return back to Arizona tomorrow. It’s been a quick trip. My knee hurts more than it did before the race. I will ice it and rest it for the next couple of days.