Peter Gagarin gave me a free entry coupon to the Northampton 5k race that is run every week, so I figured I'd go check it out and see how my 5k times were looking. I haven't run a cross country race since highschool, although I've run a handful of road races since then. To the best of my knowledge, I only broke 22 minutes on the 3-mile courses, never on a 5k (3.12mi) course, and given my 22:15 in July, I was expecting to run somewhere around 22-ish. This course had hills, but the weather was a lot nicer, 65 and damp. I was also wearing my new Innov8 shoes, which are super light, at least compared to sneakers. Warming up, my legs felt all bouncy - always a good sign!
I lined up sort of mid-pack, as it turns out, I should have started much further forward. After they said go, it took 3 seconds to get to the line, and then I suddenly found myself behind a middle-aged woman who was trotting along at 9-minute pace. Ma'am, might I suggest that you start a little further back in the pack next time? Anyway, the course headed downhill and then flat along the Mill river, and I tried to hold back to a comfortable pace. My goal was to start at a reasonable pace for the first mile, then speed up and stay speeded up.
We turned up a fairly long, gradual hill at half a mile, and I kept things controlled, I was running with a couple guys, one with an ipod, and one or two girls who didn't look very serious. We hit the first mile in 6:50, and I opened my stride a bit coming back into the field and turning to start lap 2. I think I let loose a bit too much on the second mile, it was downhill and then flat for a while, so it should be fast but I hit it in 6:24, at this point I'd dropped ipod-man and the girls, and I could see another girl in pink up ahead. An old dude in a singlet was pacing with me, nice and steady, but I could tell I was starting to work.
Shortly after the two-mile mark, we headed into the woods and up a steep hill. The singlet dude took off, and I slowed down to something that felt a little more sustainable, just hoping to hold off pink-girl now that I'd passed her. We got to the top and the course flattened out, I was in a world of hurt by now, full-on fat-kid-with-asthma breathing. At ~2.6mi, the course went up a little hill, and that little speed bump damn near killed me. The earth finally tilted downhill, but I couldn't speed up much, when I eventually passed the 3mi mark in the field, I'd done a 7:07 mile, and suffered for every step. Just 200m of paved finish chute left, and I didn't have much to give. How did I used to have such a good kick back in highschool?
Anyway, my finish time was 21:02, a new PR for any sort of 5k (track, road, xc), by a long shot. Results, I was the third woman and 30th overall. Most of my cooldown was spent trying to figure out how I just went 1:14 faster than in July, especially when I feel that I have more reasons to be slow these days than fast. I think the cooler temperatures and lighter shoes is what clinched it, I'm not sure it has anything to do with training, and after driving to Canada and back while racing three times, I know I'm not rested. I guess I'll just have to run another one of these later in the fall and see how it goes!
The post-race refreshments were quite a production - they've been running this race forever, so they have a good system down, but they had apricots and strawberries and cookies and popsicles, and flowers in vases on the tables! Every last detail, I was quite impressed. Of course then the fun bit started, I had ridden my bike to Northampton, and had to ride 12 miles back to Amherst, and the sun had basically set by the time I left. I have emergency lights on my bike, but those don't do jack for seeing where you are going, just making you barely visible to the cars. It was a harrowing experience, and I was very glad to have made it home in one piece.