Ever been a (self-imposed) victim of the podium?
Let me elaborate....once you snag a coveted age group award, at a particular race, you may find yourself returning (in subsequent years) with the hopes of grabbing another. It can be both thrilling and stressful.
The thing is, there are no guarantees.
Case in point, my most recent race.
I first ran the Sully Freedom Fun Run 5K in 2014. I'd heard many great things about this event, and was excited to see what it was all about. The course is pretty flat (there are a few rolling inclines, but I would not call them "hills" by any means), and involves two loops around a huge part of the small town of Sully. The grand finish has the racers rounding the town square amidst all the spectators.
The race went well for me, so well that I finished with one of my fastest 5K finish times ever (25:27). Most of my runner friends know that I am not a fan of the 5K distance...so when I learned that I'd placed 2nd in my age group, I was ecstatic!
Fast-forward to 2015. At the time, I had not been routinely bringing home AG hardware (for any distance). I didn't go into the 2015 race with any grandiose expectations, but having placed second the year prior (in the exact same race), I was a little hopeful. This race didn't go as well as it had the previous year, but I finished with a fast-for-me time of 26:22 (almost an entire minute slower) but still felt satisfied. Low and behold, I wound up with another second place AG medal (the gal who'd gotten first place in 2014 had also taken first place in 2015).
In 2016, I finished with a similar time of 26:28. With 27:00 being kind of my benchmark for 5K's, I consider anything under that to be somewhat fast (for me). The same gal got first place (again) and I brought home another second place AG medal. Yeah, by now it was getting kind of comical LOL.
I had to DNS the 2017 race because of my knee surgery. When I got the email with the race results, I noticed the "first place gal" (from the three previous years) wasn't mentioned. Go figure! The one year I don't show, neither does she!
When the 2018 race rolled around, I was both nervous and excited. I had rallied back from the surgery with success, but was anxious to face this race course again. I clocked a 26:57 finish time...just barely under that 27:00 mark. Having run the other previous races faster, I was a bit disheartened. Even though I knew I did the best of my ability on that particular (hot and humid) day, it still was a buzzkill to not have done a little better. Much to my surprise, the "first place gal" was a no-show (again), so my "slowest" course time of 26:57 actually carried me to a first place AG. Huh.
I ran a different 4th of July race in 2019, so it was my turn to no-show that year. In 2020, I returned to the Sully Freedom Fun Run 5K (Yes! The race was able to take place, albeit with numerous Covid protocol measures in place). I ran what I thought was a respectable 26:35 (minus the Garmin, that had gotten left behind #mybad)...and that landed me a 3rd place AG (and the usual "first place gal" wasn't there that year either).
That brings us to the 2021 event, that just took place earlier this week. I didn't see the "first place gal" before or during the race itself, but I did spot her after I'd finished running (and she was wearing a race bib). When I saw our names on the monitor (prior to the awards presentation), I was in disbelief. I'd finished ahead of her, by a mere 11 seconds. I took first (26:06), and she took second (26:17). We looked at each other, smiled, laughed, and shook hands.
So, the purpose of this blog post?
It's not to elaborate on my cunning racing and pacing skills. Honestly, the 5K is still my least favorite distance to race, and I still feel like I'm a work-in-progress. I wanted to share some observations, though...how about five?
*While I love the race day atmosphere, I do not consider myself a competitive "racer." I say that with absolute honesty. I do not get any special thrills in trying to outrun others. The friendly "competition" (I use that term rather loosely) between myself and this other gal was just that - friendly. She's a much faster runner than myself (her previous first-place finishes were well ahead of mine). For me to actually finish faster than her was a pleasant surprise. I seriously doubt I could do it again.
*I've said it many times...How you pace (or race) is on you, but how you place is contingent on who else shows up. I think my finish times prove that. There are some "fast" finishes that weren't fast enough; and there was that one "slower" finish time that placed first.
*You can run the exact same race course, under very similar conditions (the 4th of July is always hot and humid in Iowa), and have very different experiences. Some days the miles just come easier and your finish times will reflect that. Other times, it's a struggle bus endeavor.
*For me, snagging a PR is more fulfilling that claiming an AG award. Don't get me wrong, I do love my hardware. But if I've run a strong race and finished feeling great with my efforts, then all is well. If I happen to get a medal for my efforts, then it's just a bonus.
*Don't discount "small" races as "easy" victories. I have found, at least in my age group, as the ladies get older, they get more competitive. There may be fewer of them (at these smaller races), but the ones who are still at it are taking the sport pretty seriously.
So, there you go. A few parting thoughts and observations on my experiences with this one particular race. As mentioned, this is a relatively small event. As with many small events, the "competition" could either be minimal or intense...again, you never know what the day will bring. The same goes for your energy and/or mojo.
Talk to me...Have you ever repeated a favorite race? If so, how did your finish times compare? Ever have any friendly "competition" with one particular fellow runner?