Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Frozen 5k and JFK 20k - January 2013



This was a weekend of firsts.  It was the first weekend of 2013. It was the first time I have ever run this race. And it was the first time I have ever gone to a race on the wrong day.

1st place in my age group!
I was not planning on running the race originally. But my wife really wanted to run a 5k, and had signed up for it. I figured that if I was going to wake up early and go cheer her on, then I might as well just run it myself too.  So, we both registered early in the week, and on Saturday morning we were headed towards the race.  About 5 minutes into our drive, my wife was looking at her phone and said, "Hey, I think this race might be on Sunday." SCREEECH!  It was like a teen movie where music is playing at the dance, and then something surprising happens, and all of a sudden the record scratches, stops playing, and there is silence.  So, I pulled off into a parking lot, we looked it up and confirmed that, indeed, the race was not until Sunday!  Most road races - at least 80% by my estimate - are on Saturdays.  I guess we both just assumed that the race was on Saturday, and didn't look closely enough at the date. So, we headed back home, where I luckily was able to fall back asleep pretty easily for a few more hours.

However, this did throw off my training plan a bit. I had rested on Friday, was planning on racing on Saturday, and then running a "long run" of 10 miles on Sunday.  Now I had to decide if I wanted to do my 10 miler on Saturday and then risk being tired for the race on Sunday.  I was planning on resting on Monday too, so I chose to just push the 10 miler back to Monday, and just take one extra day of rest before the race.

So, Sunday morning, we headed back for the race site, confident that we had the right day this time. The race was aptly named the Frozen 5k, because it was only 27 degrees at the start. Brrrr!  Luckily, I actually enjoy racing in cold weather. Well, I guess I don't really "enjoy" it. But I do tend to run faster...and running faster is enjoyable.  Former US Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger discusses this in his book, Advanced Marathoning.  While running in cold weather, your heart doesn't need to pump as much blood out towards your skin to stay cool as it would in hot weather. This means that means that more blood is available to be pumped to your muscles, which means that you will have a lower heart rate while running at a given pace than you would on a hotter day.  Basically, it is physiologically easier for your body to run long distances faster in cold weather - up to a point. And 27 degrees might just be that point!

The race course begins on George Mason University's Prince William campus at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas.  It was a very flat and fast course, with the only minor nuisance coming when you have to make a u-turn around a cone, which tends to break your momentum and slow you down a bit.

I ran the first mile in 5:37 - probably too fast. A 5:45 would have been smarter, and likely resulted in a faster overall finishing time.  I came back down to earth on my second mile, and ran a 5:55.  The third mile was about the same with a 5:56.  I felt like I could have or should have ran the third mile faster - although my average heart rate was 182 during the 3rd mile, and 186 at the finish.  I actually passed three people during the last mile, which maybe deceived me into thinking that I was running faster than I actually was.  If I paid more attention to my pace, I think I might have picked it up more on that mile.  I ran the last .12 miles at a 5:40 pace and finished in 18:09 (5:49/mile pace) taking 15th place overall out of 474 runners, and winning 1st place in my age group! (Frozen 5k Race Results!)  For winning my age group, I received a nice plaque (pictured above).

The Frozen 5k was a VERY well organized event.  It is probably one of the best organized races I have ever competed in - and I have competed in a lot! Here are seven things that I appreciated about the race:

1. It was only $25

2. You got a long sleeve tech tee that was well-designed and attractive

3. Bib timing - so you don't have to attach anything to your shoe

4. After the race, they had a laptop computer set up in the gym where you could type in your bib # and instantly find out your time, overall place and age group place! Since I finished 15th, I figured that I probably hadn't won any age group award, or maybe finished 3rd place at best. Usually, once you fall out of the top 10 in a race, the probability of winning an award dramatically decreases.  But I was shocked to see that, not only had I won an award, I had actually finished first in my age group!! My wife was 4th in her age group. She missed an award by just one place! She actually has won several awards at races (including 3rd overall one time!), but it is funny too because she often seems to be just one place away. If they are giving out one award, she will be 2nd.  If they are giving out two awards, she will be 3rd, etc. But even though she didn't get an award, she ran a great race and actually tied her 5k PR today!

5. I finished the race at about 9:00, and by 10:30 a.m. I already had an e-mail that read as follows:

"Congratulations Duane Novotni on finishing the BRATS Frozen 5K on January 06, 2013.  For your records, the weather that day was sunny, 27 degrees F, calm wind. 
 There were 16 finishers in the Male 30 to 34 age group and 473 finishers in the 5K Run division.
Your overall finish place was    15, your age group finish place was 1 and your gender finish place was 14.  Your time of 18:09.53 gave you a  5:51 pace per mile.
 For a full listing of results please visit http://mettleevents.com/results.php or http://www.bristowtriandswim.com/BRATS_Frozen_5K.html.  We hope to see you again next year at BRATS Frozen 5K, and at upcoming MettleEvents.com timed races."

 Wow! Talk about efficiency! I have never gotten that much detailed feedback, especially just 2 hours after finishing. Amazing!

6.  Then, just one day after the race, I received another e-mail.  This one actually had a link to a VIDEO of me finishing the race!  Incredible!  I have seen this before - at Cherry Blossom 10-miler, and at Richmond Half Marathon for example.  But for a $25 5k race to make this service available is just outstanding. 

7.  Finally, it was a flat, fast course that is fantastic if you are gunning for a PR.

The Frozen 5k exceeded all my expectations.  I plan on running it again next year, and this time I hope to go on the correct day!  I would definitely recommend this race to anybody who is not faster than me and in my age group.


This was the 2nd time I have competed in this race. I ran it for the first time last year, and we actually had a couple inches of snow the night before, which made for a wet and slippery race.  Luckily there was no snow this year, although it was still very cold - high 20s or low 30s. The race is put on by the DC Road Runners (DC Road Runners ) and takes place on the C&O Canal Towpath, starting in Carderock.  You head down the trail towards Georgetown for 10k, and then turn around and return to the finish.  The towpath is a great place to run, and I actually complete many of my longer training runs there. It is a soft surface, with mostly packed dirt and small rocks, running parallel to the C&O Canal, and also the Potomac River at some points.

 Chillin' at the finish
 Probably the best thing about this race is that it is only $5!  You don't get a t-shirt or a medal or anything, but it is still a great bargain for a 20k.  Just like last year, I was not planning on running all-out at this race.  I was treating it as a long lactate threshold training run.  I wore my heart rate monitor, and the goal was to keep my heart rate just under my lactate threshold heart rate (about 172 bpm) for most of the race. Lactate threshold is basically how close you can get to your maximum heart rate (VO2 max) while running before your body starts to accumulate lactic acid and are you forced to slow down.  According to former Olympian Pete Pfitzinger, the best way to improve your lactate threshold - and be able to complete long races faster - is to accumulate time training at your lactate threshold pace.  This is generally somewhere between your 15k and half-marathon race pace.  You also can just go by heart rate - lactate threshold pace corresponds with about 85-92% of your maximum heart rate.

So, my plan for the race was set. Unfortunately, I caught a cold early in the week, so was not feeling 100%.  I had a very runny nose all week, and ironically, runny noses do not actually help you run fast.  Still, I thought I could manage to get through the race at a 7:00 per mile pace without too much difficulty.

I arrived at the race and met up with a couple of friends who were also running that morning.  They are training for a half-marathon in March, and were using the race as a training run as well.  We headed over to the start line to begin.  There were far more racers this year, compared with last year. I think the snow scared a lot of people off last year.  But I really didn't care what place I finished - I was just going by pace and heart rate.  Unfortunately, I started off a little too quick, running 6:42 and 6:41 for my first two miles. I really need to stop starting races off so fast!  But then I settled into a nice pace after that.  Here are all of my mile splits along with average heart rate for each mile.  

1 - 6:42 (170 bpm)
2 - 6:41 (166 bpm)
3 - 6:54 (168 bpm)
4 - 7:04 (172 bpm)
5 - 7:11 (165 bpm)
6- 7:06 (162 bpm)
7 - 7:02 (168 bpm)
8 - 7:16 (172 bpm)
9 - 7:14 (172 bpm)
10 - 6:59 (173 bpm)
11 - 6:57 (177 bpm)
12 - 7:03 (178 bpm)
last .48 - 6:28 pace (180 bpm)

As you can see, I got a little antsy in the last three miles, and picked up the pace.  There were three runners who passed me after the turnaround point, and by the time we hit the 10 mile mark they really weren't that far ahead of me.  They actually were almost an annoying distance ahead of me....not that close, but not too far that I couldn't easily pass them if I wanted to either.  So, I decided to pick it up a bit for the last few miles and pick off those few runners.  I finished in 1:27:24 (7:01/mile pace), taking 28th place overall out of 155 runners. (JFK 20k Race Results ). 

Overall, I was pleased with my effort. I ran the pace I wanted to run, and kept my heart rate about where I wanted it as well.  I think my heart rate would have been even lower if I hadn't been sick that week too. After the race, I caught up with my friends, chatted for a bit, and then headed home to warm up!

So, that was it for January!  Now I will continue with my training, and prepare for some fast spring races. I have three running goals for this spring:

1. New 10 mile PR (under 1:03:19)
2. Under 38 minutes for 10k
3. Under 18 minutes for 5k

To accomplish these goals, I will focus on completing a lactate threshold run and/or a VO2 Max workout each week.  In his book, Road Racing for Serious Runners, Pete Pfitziner discusses the best ways to train for various race distances.  For races longer than 10k, lactate threshold is the most important factor.  For 10ks, lactate threshold and VO2 Max are equally important.  But for 5ks, VO2 Max workouts are the best way to improve, assuming you have already built a solid distance base.  A perfect VO2 Max workout would involve the following four things:

1. Running intervals that last for 2 to 6 minutes each.  For me, this basically means anything from 800 meters (which would take me about 2:50 each) up to 1600 meters per interval (which would take me about 5:45 each).  A lot of people run 400s for "speed work."  But with 400s, you are actually not accumulating much running time at your VO2 Max.  By the time your heart rate gets high enough to really benefit you, the 400 is almost over.  On the other hand, if you run 1200s for example, you are accumulating several minutes running at your VO2 Max on each interval.  And this is how you improve at 5ks. You are training your body to do what you need to do to run a successful 5k - namely, run very fast when you are very tired. You basically are getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

2. Running your intervals at your 3k to 5k race pace - or just slightly faster than your 5k pace.  If it is a really hot day, you can also just go by heart rate, with the goal being to get your heart rate up to 95% or higher of your max heart rate for as long as possible during the workout.

3. Running 2.5 to 5 miles total of intervals.  So, for example, I could run 3x1600, which would give me 3 miles total of intervals.  Or 6x800, which would also give me 3 miles. Or 5x1000, which would put me at a 5k.

4. Recovery time in between intervals should only be 50-90% of the time of the interval itself.  So, if I were running 800 meter intervals in 2:50.  I should only rest for somewhere between 1:25 and 2:30 in between each one.  Recovery can include easy jogging or just resting, but easy jogging is preferable.  If you rest for too long in between, it is more difficult to get your heart rate up to where it needs to be for the workout to really benefit you and help you improve.  Again, you are trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. So, you should be a little tired and working hard while you are running your intervals, just like you will be in your 5k.


  1. Congratulations on the Frozen 5K and JFK 20K! I haven't read Pfitzinger's book Road Racing for Serious Runners but I'm sure its good. He's working on a new version of it and hoping to make it as good as Advanced Marathoning. For 5Ks and 10Ks I mostly do 400-1600 repeats and mile repeats are great too for half and longer races. I do them at or faster than 5K pace and even with the recovery it still makes goal race pace feel a little easier. I usually do 2-3 miles easy before intervals and a 2 miles easy cool-down after. I think you're gonna have a great year in 2013 with a lot of PRs!

  2. Thank you Tyler! Yeah, the book is definitely worth reading. A bit of overlap from the stuff he writes in the Advanced Marathoning book. But I like it because it has individual chapters and training plans specifically for 5k, 8k-10k, 15k-half marathon, and marathon. He even has a chapter on cross country. Hope your training is going great. Congrats on winning your last 5k too!