I had spent the better part of Friday psyching myself up. Since I'd just run the Surf City Marathon not two weeks ago - and having spent 4:23:38 on my feet - I was more than prepared for the shorter distance and shorter time. Thus, I was set to give it my all for the race.
I swung by my buddy's apartment complex and he jumped in my car, and 10 minutes later we were at the site of the race. After putting our bibs on, running about 10 minutes to warm up and sitting through some lengthy announcements, we were off, walking towards the start line.
I had the usual pre-race jitters, the usual pre-race self-doubts but I tried to focus. I didn't want to start out too fast only to crash and burn the last mile but I also knew that my margin of error in this race was razor thin.
BAM! The gun sounded and we were off. I didn't cruise onto the course at all. I immediately demanded a lot from my legs and they responded. Since I was towards the front of the crowd, I didn't have to do much weaving and after two turns, the runners really thinned out. This was a smaller community run so there wasn't a mass of speedsters out there. I wasn't towards the front of the pack but I wasn't far behind, for the first half-mile or so anyway.
My legs felt good, which was a good thing since I was being quite demanding of them. My chest was heaving hard, though, and I tried to control my breathing. I didn't want my lungs to burn out and have a freak jabbing pain in them like I had at the end of the marathon two weeks ago.
Mile 1 was ahead of me and when I passed it, my Garmin read 7:08. Holy hell!! I was simultaneously excited and worried - excited because, well, it's a freakin' 7:08 and worried because I didn't know if I'd be able to keep that pace up for the entire race.
My friend, Martin, hadn't run a race in many years, he said. In high school he ran cross country and said he ran a 5K once in about 19 minutes but was just easing his way back into running. He didn't know what a good time for him would have been on Saturday but he used me to gauge himself. At about the 1.5 mile mark he appeared next to me. I wasn't sure where he was since I got ahead of him early but I had a feeling we'd see each other on the course.
I felt as if I was slowing down but I was keeping the same pace. I suppose I did slow down a little since my second mile was in about 7:30 but I was feeling good. I wasn't feeling strong as I like to feel during races (I wasn't quite a gazelle loping effortlessly across the course) but I wasn't struggling either.
Okay, I didn't hit a wall but I was expecting to fall apart. I saw the finish line a bit off in the distance, picked up the pace and tried to maintain it. Martin skirted past me and I just tried to keep my focus. I wasn't necessarily racing him or anything and I honestly didn't care that he got past me, but I didn't want to lose ground.
I looked at the ground in front of me instead of the finish line, which didn't appear to be getting any closer.
Finally, I turned a corner and was heading straight towards the finish line. I kept my pace until I crossed the line, saw 21:50 on the clock and was surprised. As soon as I stopped running, I realized that I had in fact been giving it my all. I gasped for air. I was in some discomfort and felt like I was a minute or two from falling over. I sucked down a water bottle, inhaled some orange slices and plowed through another water bottle.
Martin and I were all smiles, though. He was proud of himself for having just ran a race and I was feeling good about my effort and my time. Martin kept saying "I can't believe it's over" as he'd been preparing for this even for some time.
My body certainly believed it was over as it didn't have much to give afterward. Even though it was "just" a 5K, I gave it my all, gave everything I had, wanted to leave nothing on the course. And I'm pretty certain that I didn't.