Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gainesville 5k - March 2013

Gainesville 5k - Gainesville, VA

2nd place overall!
What better way to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than running a 5k?  OK, fine...I guess there probably are better ways to celebrate. :)  But this race, which was on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day at Gainesville Middle School, was still pretty fun.  I had run the race twice previously in 2010 and 2012, finishing 3rd overall both times.

The Gainesville 5k is a nice, local race, which being in early March, can serve as a good tune-up for some spring races.  Or it could be used as a benchmark to see where you stand after your winter training.   I was very pleased with how I ran last year when I finished 3rd overall.  I finished in 17:32, but the course was short (only 3 miles instead of 3.1), so my actual 5k time would have been around an 18:10.  My average pace that day was in the low 5:50s.  Since I was running the same course again, it would be a good chance to compare to last year, and see where I was at with my fitness.  I have struggled with a couple of slow VO2 max and basic speed workouts lately, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.

At the start line, I immediately noticed that there were a lot fewer people here than last year.  Like the Reston 10 Miler, this race has also grown over the years, and last year had well over 300 runners.  But all week, the weather forecast was calling for a cold, rainy morning on Saturday.  It ended up being in the upper 30s at the start, and there was only a periodic light drizzle - a relatively nice day to run.  But I think the inaccurate forecast was enough to scare away a lot of people, as this year only about 150 runners showed up.  At the start line I didn't immediately see anyone who would challenge me, although there were a lot of teenagers, who can be unpredictable - both with their running, and also in a more general sense.

The race started on the Gainesville Middle School track.  You begin with a lap and a half around the track, before veering off onto a path around the back of the school, and then out onto a road.  I don't really like the start of this race, because after your first lap, you are running into the back of slower people as you come around the track for the second time, before you veer off.  I think I really startled one couple as I flew past them on my second lap!  Also, some of the volunteers didn't know that you were supposed to do more than one lap at the start, so they were telling me to veer off after only the first time around.  Luckily I was in the lead at the time, so I was able to correct them, and everyone else followed me (and the correct route).

I led the race for the first mile, but I heard a couple runners' breathing not too far behind me.  I finished the first mile in 5:50, which I was pretty happy with.  I ran my first mile faster last year, but I wanted to try going out more conservatively in the beginning and seeing if it would help me speed up my 2nd and 3rd miles, and overall time.  Right around the first mile, someone passed me, but I was able to stay just behind him.  He looked pretty young, and a lot of time the teenage runners will go out really hard in the first mile, and then just crash for the rest of the race.  I was hoping this would happen to him too, but he looked pretty comfortable.  We ran close together for the entire second mile.  Unfortunately, I only ran the second mile in 6:09.  I really wish I had run that mile faster, especially given that I had taken a little "heat" off my first mile!  I was still running right with the other guy, but realized that I would probably have to put some ground on him now if I wanted to win.  If it came down to the final kick, I didn't like my chances against teenage legs.  So, I picked it up on the 3rd mile, and surged ahead.  But the problem was that the other runner just stayed right behind me, and his breathing didn't sound very labored either.  I just couldn't put much ground between us.  Around 2.5 miles he, passed me again. I stayed close behind, but once we got close to the track for the finish, he kicked it into another gear, and really took off.  He ended up finishing about 9 seconds ahead of me, even though I was only a step or two behind him with about 800 meters to go.  I suspect he could have run the race considerably faster if he wanted, but he seemed to be just racing for 1st place.

Plaque - not the kind on your teeth
I finished 2nd place overall out of 147 runners in 18:50. (Gainesville 5k Race Results!)  My award was a plaque and a $25 gift certificate to The Running Store in Gainesville.  I have now finished 2nd place overall in two out of my last three races!  They added some distance to the course from last year.  By my watch, the course was 3.16 this year, so my real pace was 5:58/mile.  Last year the course was barely 3 miles, so I guess they were overcompensating, and made this year's course extra long!

Speaking of race course measurements, a friend recently sent me a good article (In GPS We Trust - Article) about problems with relying on GPS watches in races.  If you don't feel like opening the link and reading the whole article, then here is the gist:  Basically, GPS watches are not as accurate as the USATF certification, which is done with a calibrated bicycle, using a Jones-Oerth counter.  One reason GPS watches frequently give you a "long" reading in a race is that the calibrated bicycle measures the shortest possible path you could take on a race course.  In real life, we swerve to pass other runners, get water, etc., so we usually do end up running farther.  Another reason is that to get a course USATF certified, you actually need to add 1 meter extra per every 1,000 meters to your course - to ensure it is not short.  This means that a certified 5k is actually 5,005 meters (not 5,000).  Only an extra 16.4 feet, but that can add distance to your watch reading, especially as you get into longer distances like half-marathons and marathons.  Finally, the actual measuring technique of the watch can cause some inaccuracies.  The watches are effective 95% of the time within 3 to 10 meters.  The other 5% of the time, the watch could be off by more than 10 meters - per reading! The watch does not actually follow your path 100% of the time.  The satellites give a reading once every 1 to 20 seconds, and then the watch just connects the dots, which might not reflect the path you actually ran, especially if the readings are closer to 20 seconds apart, or if several of the readings are off by 3 to 10 meters (or more).  The article compared a GPS watch to a dog that starts and finishes your run with you, but veers off sometimes to chase a squirrel or run through a puddle along the way.  In the end, you may have run 4 miles, but your dog (metaphor for the watch), ran 4.18.

Your GPS watch - 95% of the time, it works every time!

Anyway, going back to the race - I know I finished 2nd place overall, which is great, but I was actually not very happy with my performance.  Last year, I averaged a 5:51 mile pace on the exact same course.  I feel like I should be faster this year, but it just didn't happen today.  I was actually about 7 or 8 seconds per mile slower this year!  Also, I ran an 18:09 just two months ago, back in January. Why am I running slower now?  I think I need to run the first mile of my next 5k faster.  I tried slowing down my first mile this time, but then I didn't even really run the second mile that fast.  Or maybe if I do slow my first mile down, I just need to really focus, dig in, and push the pace harder on the second mile of my next 5k.

 I am also worried that I might have tried to do a little too much over the winter this year.  Last year, all through January and February, all I did was build up easy mileage.  I did eventually build up to 50 miles per week, but I rarely ran anything faster than an 8:00 mile in all that time.  I didn't do any serious races in January or February either.  At the end of February, I took one week off completely, and then, in the beginning of March, cut my mileage back to 30-40 miles/week and then went into hard core basic speed and vo2 max workouts.  I think taking it easy in January and February helped my body to recover from the fall races, and supercompensate, and lock in my fitness gains before getting back into racing again in the spring.

This year, I trained really hard up through the Philadelphia Marathon in November.  I did take a couple easy weeks afterwards.  But I kept doing some LT and vo2 max workouts throughout the entire winter this year.  I also ran two tough 10k races at the end of December, a fast 5k in early January, a 20k in January, another 5k in February, and a 10-mile race in early March.  I wonder if I would have been better off just running easy mileage through the winter like I did last year?  I guess only the rest of my spring races can provide the answer to that question!

I did feel kind of flat in this race, so I decided to do something drastic last week, before my big April races - take a week off from running for the first time in over a year! Now, I will focus on low mileage/high intensity training.  Maybe 30 to 35 miles per week with lots of basic speed (all out 200s, 400s, hill sprints) and VO2 Max workouts (800s, 1000s, 1200s, 1600s at slightly faster than 5k pace).  Hopefully the week of rest, combined with lower mileage, and higher intensity runs, will give me that extra boost I need to run 10-mile and 10k PRs in April.


  1. I use GPS too but it does tend to read long in races. Ryan Hall's from Boston had it at 26.4 and mine had 26.4 as well. Ryan was up front and able to cut the tangents too. Course are usually certified a little long as well to be keep it accurate. GPS comes in handy in training so you don't do some runs too fast and it can help you nail your faster stuff but in racing, especially a 5K just go off feel. You may surprise yourself.

    As far as your race performance, it happens to all of us. Could have been anything. The best way to race is usually to negative split or try to but it's never easy to pick it up at the end regardless of how easy you go out. You're on a roll in your races so far this year though.

    1. A tip I have on GPS is to turn the auto lap off before races and hit the lap button at the official race mile markers. This will keep current avg lap pace more accurate. You'll get a distance reading of 0.99-1.02 usually at the official mile markers.

  2. Thanks Tyler, good advice! That is really interesting about the Boston Marathon. I like your lap button idea too. I think I might try that this Sunday at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler and see how it works.

    Sorry about Duke too. But you are welcome to hop on the Syracuse bandwagon with me for the next week - there is plenty of room!