The Fourth of July race for the Knoxville area is called the Fireball Moonlight Classic. When I first started running, it was just the “Fireball Classic” and was held on the 4th of July. Well, things changed and although the venue did not, the date and start time did. It was moved to a night race held on the 3rd of July and has been this way for some time now. Back in the good old days, they had a small bunch of fireworks before race start. However, when there was no wind, this created a plume of smoke that the runners had to run through and caused some problems. But since this was the first time that I had ran the Fireball in some time, the race start was moved to 9pm, which in Tennessee is about dusk during the summer months.
The Fireball 5k was a last minute (couple of days) decision. I wasn’t planning on running the race, but it would give me a chance to see how I was doing on my running. This way I would know how much I needed to work on in preparation for the fall season. However, I didn’t realize that I had something in me that was keeping me down, but not out. So I really was tricked into thinking I was going to have an awesome run, when I had a limiter on myself that would cause me to have another poor performance at a road race.
I was going into this race very excited. In fact, I was having major race jitters: I was nervous, my stomach was up and down. So I knew that I would have a good showing at this race. Based on some of my workout times, I was thinking that a 23:30 target would be about perfect and with some of the guess for Guess My Time, Win Crap contest, I knew that was achievable. But I kept over looking a cough with phlegm that I had.
During my pre-race warmup, I looked over the finish line. It hadn’t changed locations from years past, so I was happy. I knew what to expect at the end and how to tweak my strategy at the end. As I continued to warm-up, I got a Nature’s Do Not Call signal and I decided it best I go over and wait in the porta-potty line now and not try to “hope for the best” during the race. Thankfully, there were 10 porta potties and the line, although long moves quickly.
Just after I was “finished”, the pre-race announcements and national anthem began. The KFD had one of their big trucks with a large boom ladder up over Neyland Drive, holding up a HUGE American flag as the national anthem played.
Fireball always attracts runners and this year was no different. I knew that it was important to position myself at race start to be up with runners of my ability and not hang back and try to make up the time during the race, the traffic would be immense. I had learned my lesson well at a crowded race at the deteriments of weaving through traffic, and so I wanted to place myself strategically to succeed.
The gun went off and the race started. I had placed myself pretty well. I was on the outside edge and up far enough that the people around me were running the pace I wanted to run. I still had to dodge some people who may have thought they were faster than they thought or just wasn’t using a Race Day strategy at all. Regardless, by the first 1/4 mile I had secured a location in race and felt good.
Mile 1: 7:44
I was feeling pretty decent at this time. I was running comfortably. I had established my lane and knew in 1/2 was the turn around. I avoided the traffic of the lone water station and held my pace.
Like I had mentioned before, this race and Expo 10k turned out to be almost exact in results. Good first mile, then everything falls apart, reduced to walking and regrouping. The only difference in this race was there was no cool slip and fall.
As I rounded the 1/2 way point, the running went from okay to labored. I could tell that I was starting to slow down in my pace and things were becoming difficult. I tried to analyze what was going on with my running, but nothing was making sense. I decided to get some liquid at the water stop.
Mile 2: 8:26 (16:10)
I’m actually starting to feel tired as I get to the water stop. Not fatigued tired, but sleepy tired. I feel like I could just lie down in the road and nap. When I got the water, I stopped to walk, something that I have rarely done in a 5k race before. I finish my water and move along.
The water helped some, I feel refreshed and running feels good again. But now, my head is starting to feel funny. I actually am starting to feel lightheaded, so I stop to walk. Very strange that I feel woozy while running, that had never happened before, so I was confused about what to do, so I want to experiment and see if I can replicate the feeling. Yes, I can. I start running again and sure enough I am starting to feel lightheaded and almost like I could pass out.
I reduced my pace to the point where the lightheadedness did not exist. With all the walking and slowing down, I had moved over to the left so that all the runners could pass me, and it’s just a 5k too.
With 1/4 mile to go, I start to think about how I was going to finish. Would I push it at the end (like normal) or just mosey in and call the race a loss. I didn’t really know until the final turn at the Mile 3 marker when I am behind this father-daughter pair and I am hearing the dad encourage the daughter to run ahead to the finish line without him and finish strong. She’s about 10 and she’s very tentative about it. Right after the turn she gives in and starts to pick up speed and pulls away from her dad. I pick up speed and chase her. I did this for a couple of reasons:
1)I can let her pace me so I don’t kill myself at the end
2)She’ll know someone is behind her and this will keep her going
3)If she does start to falter at the very end, I can be there to encourage her runner-to-runner to push it to the end
We pull away from the group with about 40 yards to go. I kept to just 1-2 steps behind her and began to run coverage for her. Even though I could out kick her to finish line just based on stride-length alone, she had worked hard during this race and deserved the finish. Although it wasn’t necessary, I was running right behind her, looking over my should to make sure that if any runner was going to sprint at the end, I was going to run in that space to protect her finishing place. It’s like we were team mates with her knowing.
Mile 3.1 10:13 (26:31)
The best part of the race was the cold race logo towel that they gave finishers at the end of the chute to help cool off. That was awesome.
So what went wrong? Why did I feel mentally that I could run a 23:30 but physically managed only a 26:23? The first clue was that I realized pretty quickly after finishing that Expo and Fireball had the same result, start okay, but finish poorly. Fireball had been different because I felt woozy, while running.
I finally admitted to myself that the productive coughing I was having was something in my lungs. In fact, it very well could have been allergies because I didn’t feel “sick” at all, but I would cough. This junk in lungs was causing a lack of oxygen to get to the lungs, even though I had Breath Right Strip on and had taken an Abuterol hit before the race.
Despite a bad performance on my part, my stats didn’t look all that bad. I finished 404 out of 1064 runners and place 39 out 75th in my age group. Percentage wise, those were about right on. But the fact of the matter is that I could have done better! I should have finished closer to 28th in my age group!