Saturday, March 26, 2011

Running' down a dream (St. Pat's 5k)

The St. Pat's 5k was the third and final race in the Tour de Patrick series, to which I devoted my March racing schedule. Last year, I was hoping to win the race, but I was extremely nervous because I knew there would be over 3,000 people there. It ended up being a tough battle just as I had feared and visualized, but in the end I did win, immortalized in this awesome photo (which was published in New England Runner magazine and led to months of teasing from my runner friends!)

This year, I walked downtown with three other runners from Brown, and we arrived over an hour early, giving us plenty of time to chat with various people. One of the photographers working with George even took this nice picture of our group:

I had a nice talk with the man (IB) who does the announcing for all of Charlie's races, whom I had met several times, but we had never chatted off-microphone. He told me about Ireland, and in particular that I should look forward to ham sandwiches and tea. IB said he thought I would certainly win the race that day. I thought about how humbling it is to look around at the thousands of people who are milling about, and think that I will beat every single female who is wearing a race number (and most of the men). It is a strange and unbelievable feeling.

I also talked to my photographer/runner friend SM, and we agreed that it is dumb when people stop their watch just as they cross the finish line, because (his reason) it makes for bad photos, and (my reason) you can look at the results later to see your exact time.

I did my two-mile warm-up and then changed into my flats. Because I had walked there, I didn't have a car where I could stow my stuff, so I left it with IB at the announcer's table, where it would be safe. Thus, as the race was about to start, I was very near to the announcer's table, and as I was about to head to the starting line, Charlie pulled me aside and asked if I could say something on the microphone to all the people (because I was the current Tour de Patrick leader). No pressure -- there are only 4,000 runners, a couple of hundred spectators, and the mayor of Providence! IB asked me some easy questions; I thanked everyone for coming out and said I was so excited for the race, then gave a thumbs up:

As I was leaving the area, Mayor Taveras shook my hand and told me good luck! That was nice of him.

Okay, now for the race. I hadn't been doing a great job at my Tuesday workouts, and I had the series title well in hand, so my coach told me to only run between 18:40 and 19:00 in this race. I thought it would be cool to win all three races in the series, so I was hoping to win this one. But then I discovered that my friend KJ was at this race, and she ran 18:15 last fall, which meant that winning the race and running slower than 18:40 would be mutually exclusive goals. I decided to go out behind her and run only just fast enough to win (if I could win -- KJ is fast).

The siren sounded and I was ready for it this time -- you can see that my reaction time was faster than almost anyone else's. That's because I was prepared for the fact that I would only barely be able to hear it!

I jumped off the line, but then slowed down until KJ came up even with me, then ran beside or just behind her. She was chatting with Nate. The pace seemed relatively comfortable, but it was hard to tell exactly because we had a big headwind. After maybe 3/4 of a mile, KJ wondered aloud what pace we were running. Nate consulted his GPS watch -- "5:38," he said. "Oh no! That's too fast!" KJ said. I told her that we were not going 5:38 pace, that Nate's watch was wrong, but she decided the pace was too fast, and slowed down. The pace seemed plenty comfortable enough to me, so I abandoned my plan of staying behind KJ, and just kept on at the same effort level. I went through the mile in exactly 6:00.

A funny thing happened on the way out -- I was running with men, trying to draft off of them into the headwind. Every so often, one of the spectators would notice that I was the first female, and would say "go first woman!" or something. A guy who was running just ahead of me apparently thought that this was insufficient, so he kept trying to drum up support in the crowd. "Hey guys, she's the first female! Cheer for her!" he exhorted the spectators. I was embarrassed, because it's not like I need cheering in order to keep up my blistering 6:00 pace, and also it was an out-and-back course, so I knew what I was in for. "It's okay," I told the well-meaning guy, "I'll get it in spades on the way back." (This is literally what I said -- "in spades." I don't think I have ever used that phrase before.)

We made the small lollipop loop with the short downhill and uphill, and then headed back along Smith Street to the capitol building, running right next to the slower runners who were still heading out. Just as I rejoined Smith Street, I heard a group of female runners shout, "go Diana!" and I knew it was my friends from Brown (two of whom are pictured above). Basically the whole way back, people cheered for me as the first female! (I think the singlet helped.)

Here's the part of the story where you know I'm a scientist. I mentioned that there was a headwind on the way out, so I was looking forward to a tailwind on the way back. However, on the way back I was unhappily surprised to find that there was once again a headwind! What the heck? On the warmup, I had a tailwind! Then I thought back to a run I did recently along a highway, where I had a headwind in both directions because, running on the left, the cars nearest me were always going the opposite direction. That was what was happening here -- because thousands of people were running in the opposite direction from me, they were actually creating a headwind. Crazy.

I went through two miles in 12:06 -- okay, but not very fast, and I could see KJ's blue singlet behind me. I kicked my pace up a notch. Just as I was thinking, "man, I'm having to work really hard to run this speed," the quantity of runners/walkers going the other direction tapered off, and I got a nice tailwind. Sweet. I drifted along with my tailwind and worked on getting to the capitol. On the way, I made sure to pass Nate and BH, whom I had beaten in the previous two races and didn't really want to finish behind.

I went through three miles in 17:48 and was very surprised that the third mile was so fast! I momentarily wondered if TH's course record of 18:21 might be in reach, but I remembered that I had agreed to not run very hard, and I figured it would take 40 seconds to reach the finish, so my time would be over the course record; too bad. Ahead of me I saw them putting out a tape and I ran for it. Someone on the other side was gesturing for me to put my hands out, so I did:

I had done it! I won all three races in the series! Wow!

As it turned out, my time was only 1.15 seconds from the course record. That's a little annoying, because I could certainly have gone two seconds faster at any point throughout the race. But I am very happy with the result! I did another microphone interview, and told the crowd (as per Charlie's instruction) "I'm not going to Disneyworld; I'm going to Ireland!" Ha ha, very funny. (The irony is that I have never seen any of those commercials. I just don't watch TV!)

After the race, I talked to lots of people -- Alan finished despite his food poisoning; Sarah and Kasondra had an epic sprint finish separated by only 0.1 seconds in which they both ran PRs; people I didn't know gave me high-5's. I also did an interview with SM from the Pawtucket Times, which was apparently also for New England Runner! The article has lots of nice quotations:

Pretak, Davis cop individual titles at St. Pat's 5k
PROVIDENCE — After battling a stiff headwind for the first mile of the St. Pat’s 5K, Stephen Pretak knew his goal of running close to 15 minutes would not happen Saturday morning.
But the less-than-favorable conditions in the Providence race didn’t stop him from breaking the tape a winner.
The 26-year-old Connecticut native captured the final stage of the inaugural Tour de Patrick, finishing the out-and-back course with a time of 15:31.7. Pretak held off defending titlist Eric Lonergan of North Kingstown, who claimed the runner-up spot at 15:35.4.
In the women’s race, Providence’s Diana Davis defended her crown from last year by taking 30th overall among the 3,547 finishers with an 18:22.5 clocking. She beat 32-year-old Kim Jackson of Providence, a second-place finisher (35th overall) at 18:36.0.
Davis’s performance completes a victorious sweep in the Tour de Patrick, a three-race series that awards the overall male and female winners (based on cumulative time) a trip to Ireland. The 25-year-old Brown University PhD student also copped the Irish 5K in Pawtucket on March 5 and the Celtic 5K in Worcester last Sunday. Lonergan, a victor in the two previous races, was declared the men’s champion of the series.
“I won (St. Pat’s) last year so I sort of wanted to go in and win it again,” Davis said. “It was nice to win all three, but I was definitely the most nervous for this one.”
Pretak, a 2007 graduate of Southern Connecticut University, was making his second appearance at the St. Pat’s 5K. He was second two years ago in the initial race when he ran a personal-best effort of 15:02 to former Providence College All-American Mark Carroll’s course record of 14:26.
“My goal was to run as close to 15 flat — if not under — as possible,” Pretak said. “Two years ago I ran close to that and was mad at myself for not doing it. Today, I went out a little slow and it’s tough to come back from that.
“The whole mile out we were just running right into the wind. I kind of realized (running 15 minutes was not possible) when I saw 4:59 at the mile mark. It was not the pace that I was looking to run.”
For about the first 1,200 meters of the race, Pretak and Lonergan ran alongside each other on the moderately, challenging course. Pretak broke away from the former all-stater from North Kingstown High before he hit the mile mark.
Coming down the final stretch on Smith Street, he had just enough in the tank to hold off Lonergan to the finish, just in front of the R.I. State House.
“I heard his footsteps the whole time through like 2 ½ miles,” Pretak said. “Then he came alongside me at 2 ½ and I knew he had a kick. I guess I just had a decent kick today.”
Davis was more than 25 seconds slower than her winning time of 17:56.2 at the Celtic 5K last weekend, her fastest clocking in the series. This race, however, was her most difficult to come out on top.
“Absolutely, no question,” she said. “The other two I won by two minutes. This one I won by (about) 10 seconds.”
Davis assumed sole possession of the lead after about a half mile, but then had to worry about Jackson during the late stages of the race. Third place went to Framingham’s Amanda Van Cleave, who also dipped under 19 minutes with her time of 18:57.3.
“There were some fast people that showed up today,” Davis admitted. “(Kim) and I were running together at the beginning. She thought the pace was a little fast so she slowed down, but she really caught up the last mile.”
“It feels great,” she continued. “I was nervous the whole way because I knew Kim was behind me, but when they put out the banner I knew I had it. I am really, really happy.”
Nathaniel Broomfield of Pawtucket was the first R.I. local runner to cross the line. The 38-year Broomfield placed 31st overall in 18:24.9. Lincoln’s Richard Botelho, 50, was 54th overall at 19:18.2.
Tiffany Spearman, a onetime distance ace from Woonsocket High, was fifth among women and 59th overall. The 29-year-old Spearman, who now resides in South Boston, ran a time of 19:24.4.

The online version, linked above, only has a picture of the male winner, but the print version has a nice photo of the whole starting line. Also, the part in there about my time being 25 seconds slower than at the Celtic 5k is a little misleading, because the course in Worcester was short.

I have now run 18:25 three times this year, or four if you count the 17:56 on a short course. So now we have:

Four ways to run 18:25
(Super 5k) Kill the first mile, loaf the next two, and then sprint in the finish.
(Irish 5k) Run hard the whole race, uphill and/or into a headwind.
(Celtic 5k) Do a tempo run before the race; go out comfortably and then accelerate in the second half.
(St. Pat's 5k) Run the first two miles comfortably and then negative-split the heck out of the last mile.

I am very happy about how this series went. It's a steep hill from downtown Providence up to Brown University, but as I walked home from the race I basically floated up the hill, ecstatic that I was able to not only win the series but also win each of the three races. I expect that this series will gain in popularity over the next couple of years, and I'm happy to have done it in the inaugural year.


Anonymous said...

Great writeup. Enjoy Ireland!

Diana said...

Thanks! I will!