Spring Sprint 5K: Room for Improvement

Event: Spring Sprint 5K run and 3K walk
When & Where: 9 a.m. Saturday, May 17; Elizabeth City N.C. Riverside Ave. neighborhood
Results: 23:36 (7:36 min/mile), 4th female overall, 3rd female 18-40 age group, 8th runner overall

I take every opportunity I can to enter the less-than-handful of local races. This morning’s Spring Sprint 5K allowed me the luxury of sleeping in my own bed the night before and, I hoped, would provide an opportunity to truly give a race effort so I could see where my current fitness is. I have never done this particular race before and had heard questionable reports about the organization, but ended up satisfied with the overall experience.

My back was stiff and sore when I got up, the result of a hard pilates practice yesterday after taking a short break from core training. Again I was reminded that it’s easier to maintain all kinds of fitness rather than re-build. I did extra stretching for my back, and didn’t feel like the lingering muscle soreness would affect me on the run.

My neighbor and running buddy Amy and I carpooled, arriving with an hour until the start. We immediately met up with our other partner Noel, got our packets, found a bathroom, and went for an easy warm-up along with Jennifer, another woman we know from the Y. About half a mile in, Noel screamed “Snake! Snake!” and we all sped up after we caught a glimpse of the large, coiled up dark green reptile she had almost stepped on. By the end of the warm-up I had worked through the morning’s slight chill and felt very comfortable in the breezy 60s temperatures. It was an absolutely beautiful morning with the “Carolina Blue” sky reflected in the harbor water.

The Spring Sprint is a very low-budget, small 5K that benefits Elizabeth City’s Junior Woman’s Club. This means no frills and scant publicity, but the upside of that was watching a small team of unpaid organizers, all women, put on a still well-managed event. Registration was up by more than 20 participants in the race’s third year.

The race was scheduled to start at 9, and my anticipation of a late start proved correct. Shortly after the hour, race director Danielle pointed out the Start/Finish line “that concrete patch on the bridge,” and reviewed course directions. We lined up behind the police car assigned to lead the field and on Danielle’s “Ready-Set-Go” we started with a short uphill over the Charles Creek bridge.

The flat, partly waterfront course is a modification of the local fall Waterway 5K. I run on it often and know it very well. I had no plan other than staying as close as I could with Noel, who has more natural speed than me, and truly giving a race effort. Not too long into the race, I was glad I didn’t have a specific goal pace, because there were no mile markers! I don’t run with a GPS device, so would have to go by feel rather than any measurable feedback.

My hope was that Noel, Amy, and I could finish close together and all have satisfying days. I purposely started just behind both of them to try to avoid going out too fast. For about half of the course, the three of us were leading the women’s field and I thought how fun it would be if we captured the top three spots. In what might have been the second mile, a high-school runner moved up and a little later another woman came past all of us, despite running with shoes that had come untied! Amy and I stayed next to each other behind Noel into what I assume was the final mile, when I pulled ahead slightly.

With no course timing other than my watch’s overall time, I gauged my pace on breathing and effort. As we made the final turn with a little more than half a mile left, I felt the way I wanted to — borderline struggling. I knew exactly where the finish was and it was much too far. My lungs were begging for air, my stomach threatened to become all-out queasy, and my brain was questioning why I would ever enter such a painful distance race. My legs felt absolutely no fatigue, so I focused on keeping them turning over down the still-too-long road, back up and over the little bridge, and across the makeshift finish line to a time of 23:36.

I wasn’t out to compete with anyone other than myself, and while I didn’t PR today, this little race did mark my first Top 10 overall finish. Although I was third in the 18-40 age group, the awards were miscalculated, giving me the second-place award and overlooking Noel, who rightly earned it. I believe it’s because her name could be mistaken for a man’s name, and plan to pass my medal to her. Amy should keep the bronze medal she was given since her kids will get a kick out of it and she scored a new PR today!

I would have loved to have PR’d today, but am pleased that I got a good snapshot of current fitness. Realistically, I haven’t approached my 5K PR of 23:01from 18 months ago in the last year.  My last three 5Ks have all been right around 23:30. I scored my personal best (so far) at about 5 lbs. lighter than I currently weigh, and soon after I’d started training with my coach. I was a little leaner and reaping the new benefits of improved training back then.

If I want to break 23 mintues, now I’ll need to push through the fitness plateau with more speedwork — not to mention push back from the table just a little sooner and bring my weekly mileage back up to burn a few more calories. As I’m healthy and motivated, I look forward to the challenge and continued progress. That’s a big part of what makes running a rewarding, lifelong sport.




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