Race Report – Desert Classic 5k – Second Place Overall

I wasn’t expecting a good race. I knew I hadn’t fully recovered from my bout with chest congestion last week. What I didn’t expect was to run my slowest 5k ever. Of the 16 5k races, this one is by far the slowest; not by much, but the slowest. I peaked in 2013 when I ran the only sub-20-minute 5k after training hard for it but then took on running longer races.

Anyway, here’s the race report.

5:30AM: After eating pizza last night, I slept sparingly. I had already prepped for the race and laid out my clothes. It was all nicely arranged in the study. To deal with cold temperatures, I planned to wear my warm black tights, my blue Ironman skin-shirt, a plain white tech-shirt, my green Ironman cap, adidas running-gloves, adidas adiZero shoes and carry my iPod for music. It was in the low 30s when I woke up. I showered, ate some yogurt, dressed, studied the course for one final time. I could see that I would start downhill, go back uphill, turn around and reverse the course. I left my house at around 6:20AM.

6:30AM: As I drove to Rio Vista Park in Peoria, AZ, I took inventory of my thoughts and feelings. This race would set the stage for Tokyo Marathon training. I didn’t have unreasonable expectations. As long as I finished under a 7-minute pace, I would be content. You can see from the chart above that the past 4 5k races had yielded averages in the 6:50s. Gone were the days when I consistently averaged in the 6:30s and 6:40s.

7:10AM: As the sun rose behind me, I reached the race start. It was bone-chilling cold (by Phoenix standards) with the temperature just above the freezing mark. Fortunately, it was a relatively calm day with virtually no wind. I saw a few unhappy souls walking with hunched shoulders and hidden hands to keep warm. The hubbub of activity had begun. I picked up my bib (number 107). All 5k runners would have 3-digit bib numbers. Others would have 5-digit numbers. I was happy with number 107. If you have followed this blog, you know that I like number 7. After all, G is the 7th alphabet.

The announcer was announcing random instructions about the course. There were 3 races today; the 5k, the 30k and the 30k relay. The 5k was a simple out-and-back course. The 30k and relay instructions were complicated but I paid no attention.  I waited in the car with heated seats only to leave (twice) to use the restroom. I could feel a slight bit of chest congestion but I tried to block it off.

7:50AM: 5k races are the hardest. You go all out right from the start, curse yourself after a mile, try to find a smooth cadence at a mile-and-a-half, curse yourself some more at the 2-mile mark, indulge in a little bit of pep-talk at the 2.5 mile mark as you actually think about giving up, and then hang on for dear life until the end. These thoughts went through my head. I almost mockingly told myself that today would be different.

The plan was to average just under a 7-minute-per-mile pace for the entire race.


The First Mile: At exactly 8:00AM, we were off. I crossed the starting line about 5 seconds after the horn sounded. I immediately zigzagged passed a whole host of slower runners and found my rhythm quickly. Here we go, I thought; the first 10 minutes would be fine, we will see what shows up after that. At the start, the course goes north to south along an unused canal to the right. The sun had risen up above the horizon to my left. The first 3-quarters of a mile is downhill. A couple of minutes into the run, I glanced down at my Garmin to see that I was averaging 6:20 per mile with my heartrate into the 150s. Of course, we were going downhill right now which meant that the last portion would be uphill. This was not a comforting thought.

Desert Classic 5k – Course after Starting Line

A group of about 10 runners were running far ahead of me. Since this was a mass start for the 5k, 30k and relay, I knew that only a few of them would be running the 5k. A couple of girls (slender girl in a printed black outfit and short black girl with black arm sleeves) were just in front of me. They were just a bit faster than me. The gap between us was growing slowly but steadily. I could hear a couple of guys breathing down my neck as they slowly passed me. I was still going strong on this downhill leg. As I approached the end of the downhill section and took a right hand turn to cross the bridge on the canal, I was averaging 6:40 per mile. As I crossed the canal and took another right turn to go back north, I hit the first uphill section. My pace slowed as I labored uphill. The two guys passed the two girls in front of me on this short but steep uphill section. As the course flattened out, I reached the first mile marker. My Garmin buzzed just as I started to close the gap on the girls.

Mile 1 Pace: 6:50

The Second Mile: The course had flattened out with very slight undulations. The turnaround point was right after the mile-and-a-half marker. As I caught up to the tall girl, I reflected on the first mile. Should I have gone faster on the downhill section? I knew that the last half-a-mile would be the toughest portion of the race.

“STOP. Think of now. Think of your breath. 3-in, 3-out, breathe into your belly, deep fresh air, oxygen is your friend, relax and flow. Relax and Flow. Relax and Flow.”

I saw the first of the few 5k runners running back towards us on this out-and-back course. Some of them had numbers in the 10,000 range. This meant they were doing the 30k relay.

As I approached the turnaround point, I had caught up to the short black girl too. She looked like a tough cookie and picked up the pace as I ran next to her right after we turned around. I looked down at my Garmin to see that I was running just above a 7-minute-mile pace for the second mile. A girl in in a grey top passed me. Right behind her, the short black girl passed me. I was impressed with her tenacity. She was not about to give in. As my Garmin buzzed for the second mile, the girl in grey picked up her pace.

Mile 2 Pace: 7:05

The Third Mile: I felt the first real signs of fatigue. My breath had become shallow. My legs were aching for more blood. I kept up the 3-in, 3-out breathing rhythm as I caught up to and easily passed the short black girl. As I approached the steep downhill section to cross the canal, I was running briskly. A left turn to cross the canal and another left turn to go back north towards the finish line; I knew I had only the hard uphill section left.

My head was all over the place, “Why the f### am I going through this torture. Relax and Flow. I am such an idiot. Relax and Flow. I need my brain examined. Relax and Flow. Nobody cares if I run a 7-minute-mile or a 9-minute-mile. Relax and Flow. I don’t even feel good. Relax and Flow.” My thoughts and self-talk were a paradox.

With half-a-mile to go, I dug deep. I concentrated on my cadence and decided to suck it up for another 3+ minutes. I was actually able to pick up the pace slightly on this uphill section as I saw the 3-mile marker. I had no idea who was behind me. I didn’t care. I had found a new wind from nowhere. My Garmin buzzed.

Mile 3 Pace: 7:04

The Finish: With less than a minute to go on this uphill section, I was running as fast as I could. As the finish line came into view, I smiled. The end was in sight. No matter how tough a race is, it is always a good feeling when you finish strong. Thankfully, I did. It wouldn’t be my best race but I didn’t give up.

Finish Pace: 6:40   Overall Pace: 6:58

I stopped my Garmin and was disappointed to see a reading of 21:55. In the end, my official time would be 21:52 for a course that measured 3.14 miles (slightly longer than 5k). To my pleasant surprise, I finished second overall to win the Silver medal. The third place finisher was 10 seconds behind me (I had no idea that someone was running that closely behind me).

Desert Classic 5k – Medal – Second Place
Desert Classic 5k – Medal – Back Side

I put on some warm clothes, hydrated with electrolytes, collected my medal and headed home. There you have it. Another 5k is in the books, my slowest one. Tokyo Marathon training goes on!

Desert Classic 5k – Results – Top 15


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