20 bags of mulch and 23:4?

Through a series of divine interventions, the ability for me to run the Spring Sprint 5k came to life at about 10pm Friday night. Even though I was coming off an injury, I was drooling at the ability to run a 5k, it would give me the feel on how:

1)the status of my healing

2)See if attacking my 5k PR time on May5th is still feasible.

The only thing I had to do was get 20 bags of mulch.

I had run the Spring Sprint 5 other times, so I was very familiar with the race location as well as the race course. I knew that a Lowe’s in Alcoa wasn’t to far away. I could (in theory) take the van, get down to Lowe’s, get the mulch, go to the race, run the race, go home and unload the mulch.

This could all be done before 10:30am. When I checked the forecast for the morning, it didn’t look good. Actually it looked all green (rain). This was the same system that in 2 days would pound the runners at the Boston Marathon.

But when it was morning time, it was wet but not bad. So, I was off at the crack of dawn to Lowe’s. I was running about 10 minutes late, but I had some buffer of time to work with. If I could just get to race signup with 15 minutes to spare, I should be okay.

My plan when I go to Lowe’s was to get one of the flat carts, put the 20lbs (40 cubic feet) and haul it to the van. When I got to the garden center, the door wouldn’t open… oh great. But an employee came through and I was in the outside part of Lowe’s. Next, I needed to find a flat bed. Sure enough, someone had put tons of flatbeds all near all the big bagged outdoor stuff (mulch, grass seed, soil, etc). So that was nice…

Then I realized that 20 bags of mulch is going to be ALOT of mulch and that I would need 2 flatbeds instead of 1. So, I find the mulch that I need and start piling it on, 10 bags to a cart. Then I have to pull the cart through the garden center back into the store because the garden center’s gate was closed and locked.

But another sign that I was going to make it to the race, one of the workers comes over to check me out and let me out the door. However, the machine wouldn’t read my card, but she worked it out and opened the gates. I wheeled the cart over to the curb, ran to the van, drove it over, piled 20 bags of much in it, which took 2/3 of the van floor and headed to the race.

I made there in plenty of time to register, get back to the van. I even recorded new audio for Episode 10 of Gravity@1053 which details my experience as a volunteer on the Knoxville Marathon course. My previous attempt at recording ended in me getting very angry at the wind! Bastard!

So, I moseyed to race start, not really sure what to expect. Would I run fast? Would I run slow? Would the rub come back? I didn’t know… I was running on proverbial unchartered territory.

The gun went off and I moved with the mass of 200+ runners. The start is downhill for about 0.2 of a mile and then proceed to go up a hill for about 0.3 of a mile. I proceded with caution as I hit the uphill. I wasn’t sure how the hill would affect me, if at all, but I found a groove that seemed to feel good but I wasn’t sure exactly how fast I was going… I couldn’t tell if the pace exertion was because I was still injured, out of shape, just going up a hill or a combination of them all.

To be safe, I was “drafting” behind other runners to get me up the hill, but I was picking people that were slowing down on the hill, not maintaining their speed. So, I was forced to move forward when I could. At the top of the hill, it leveled off and I tucked behind for a few steps before pulling alongside him to pace off of him as I recovered from the him.

At the first mile marker, there was a sign saying Mile 1 and there was even a guy with a watching, looking at his watch as if to say the time at the split. But nothing ever came out of his mouth, nothing, no indication of our times. I was kind of anxious to see how I was doing, I could tell that I was running a good tempo pace but with the lack of running for over 2 weeks, the feel of that pace would be relative.

The runners in the group I was in started to mutter about not getting their split time, even though the guy was acting as if he was going to do it. So, I looked at my watch and called out “Seven forty-two give or take a few seconds.”

7:42? Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice. That’s no landspeed record but it sure is speedy given my conditions. So, I’m in the race now… and my thinking changes. It drifts to Episode 91 of Phedippidations, A Duel in the Sun, about the 1982 Boston Marathon in which Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley battle in warm conditions during the Boston Marathon. One of the methods that Salazar used during the race was to draft behind Beardsley to keep up with him and match his pace; Beardsley would watch Salazar’s shadow and adjust his pace accordingly if Salazar sped up.

So, there I was, looking ahead at the runners before me, getting ready to attack the longest hill, with a renewed sense of victory for this race and thinking “What can I do?” I saw a guy with a bright yellow shirt with the number “32”, way far away and thought he was too far, but there were 10-15 other runners between us, so I make a plan… over take runners.

During the climb on the hill I paced alongside another runner sizing up who I could catch and who I couldn’t. I knew that I had less than half the race to go, so I would have to run a little gutsy. The one thing that doesn’t intimidate me is hills, in fact, pass the milk, I eat hills for breakfast! So on the climb, 4 or 5 runners were history.

At the top of the hill, it was judgment time. Here was the last flat part of the course, I was at the lead of the pack of runners and not too far, but not very close was another pack of runners… so what do I do? Do I play it safe with a 7:42ish pace and hang where I am, or do I speed up and catch the runners ahead. Time was running out, I was running out of flat meters before hit a substantial hill and then undulating hills to the finish.

My mind drifted back to the Phedippidations episode and I thought, “what would Salazar do?” He’d run “balls to the wall” and so in a “I race to see who has the most guts” Prefontaine move, I sped my pace and pushed it to leave the pack that I was running with and catch the last runner in group ahead of me.

Mile 2: 7:37

I had to recover while going on the uphill, but still managed to keep my pace. As I crested the hill, but who did I see Yellow 32 dude, a whole lot closer…

New goal… catch Yellow 32.

The one part that I hate about hills is going down them… I don’t have enough proper technique practice to make running downhill efficient. So, I would pass people on the uphill, but would get passed on the downhill. I was pushing to keep my pace, to catch Yellow 32.

The final approach to the finishline, is to turn right at the midpoint of hill you ran up at the beginning of the race. This means that the last 0.2 of a mile or so it slightly up hill but where you turn, you still have 0.2 of a downhill to negotiate. So, I turn for the final approach and lock onto Yellow 32.

I will have to give it everything I have to catch him and even then, if he knows that I am coming (and trust me, I sound like a loud elephant when I sprint) he can speed up and it’s all over. I speed up some, there are 4 runners between us. At the base of the hill where police officers are guarding the intersection, I pass 2 more runners, 2 runners now between us.

I turn on the juice and am running nearly 90% for the last 0.2 of a mile. I have just a small boost if I need it, but the exertion level is eating that up quick. I pass another runner with 0.1 of a mile. I am at full throttle now… I am giving it everything that I have and the finishline is closing rapidly but the distance between me and Yellow 32 is not.

Yellow 32 crosses the finishline and all I can do is tuck behind the runner infront of me as we cross the line. My net time (not official time) 23:40. I ran the last 1.1 mile at a 7:36 average pace. I was exhausted… it took me a while to catch my breath and I could tell that my rub was back. It didn’t hurt and it didn’t hinder my race, but it was back… poo.

I went to the post race area to get some water and bananas and tried to access how much of my rub was back. During the awards ceremony, I won no door prizes… and there was a glimmer of hope that my 23:4? time might have clout to win an age group award. There was another big race in Knoxville that day, plus a popular race in Chattanooga that would draw some runners.

When they announce my age group with “…in third place with a time of nineteen…”, I left. I was very pleased with my time and though trying for my 5k PR time at the beginning of May seems a little far, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. I would have to drop 2 minutes off of my time. I think technique and a flatter course would take 15-30 seconds off, so it would be conditioning for the other and what I am doing now will show up near race day. So, even if I couldn’t get the 5k time, it would set me up for my 10k time at the end of May.

After the fact: Yellow 32 dude finished only 3 seconds ahead of me. My official time was 23:46, which was my second fastest time for this course. I finished 61 out 214 finishers and 8th out of 17 in my age group.

About planet3rry

I'm a husband, father and runner in the Knoxville area. I love the way that running makes me feel and how it has changed my thinking. I am always looking for the new PR whether in the 5k or the marathon