The Holiday Hustle in Dexter each December is my favorite race because it has marked several milestones for me:
- First race (2008)
- First race under a 7:00 per mile pace (2010)
- First age group award (2011), on my 50th birthday
So it seemed only natural that if I was going to make my goal of a 5K finish in under 20:00 before I turned 51, the Holiday Hustle would be that race. And as fate (and the calendar) would have it, I’d been given a second chance, as the HH was just before my birthday this year. Only I wasn’t sure I was up to it. After a 20:28 in the 2011 race with an untied shoe (“No Hollywood Ending, but a Good Show”) I’d gotten as close as a 20:10 in my 2012 5K races, but my result on Thanksgiving Day was a discouraging 21:05 (a half-mile hill at the end didn’t help). So I made sure I had extra rest before the HH. No fast running that week, and plenty of sleep the night before.
I also volunteered to help set up; it took my mind off the race itself for a while. There was plenty of work to do even for a first-time volunteer like me, and while the process may have appeared somewhat chaotic, everyone was laid back, stuff was put where it needed to be, and everything was up and ready before the crowds arrived. I had plenty of time left to grab a light lunch and get warmed up; some light exercises and dynamic stretches, followed by an easy one-mile jog. Then just before the start, a few short sprints (“strides” in racing jargon) to get my heart rate up and prepare for a fast start, and a Gu energy gel to give me a little extra fuel.
I got off to a good start; too good, in fact. Here my Garmin saved me. At the quarter-mile mark it showed me running at a 5:41 pace; thrilling, but not sustainable. I backed off a bit and hit the one-mile mark bang on target at 6:20. Then the real fun began.
The second mile of any 5K is challenging, with the energy of the first mile past and too soon to feel the adrenaline surge of the final stretch. This particular second mile threw in some uphill stretches for added effect. With my body going all out and breathing painful, my brain made some helpful suggestions: How good it would feel to slow down. You’ll never keep up this pace going uphill. Remember Thanksgiving? Nope, we ain’t got it today, let’s try for the goal next time. Two things kept me going; there was no “next time” in this case, and I knew that around the 2.25 mile mark, it would be mostly flat or downhill to the finish. So when the uphill part ended, I hit it for all I had and held on.
For over two years I’d fantasized about approaching the finish line of a 5K and seeing “19:xx” on the clock. I’d always pictured it as charging toward the line while the seconds ticked steadily away – 55, 56, 57,… – then lunging desperately across while the crowd lustily yelled at me to “beat that 20.” Checking my watch at the 3-mile mark, I knew there’d be no such drama – it was in the bag! – but that didn’t make seeing the “19” on the race clock any less sweet. I surged across the line and hit the stop button on my watch. It agreed with my official chip time of 19:48.
After a recovery consisting of a short cooldown and a large peppermint mocha, I returned to the race area to confirm my time and collect my award. I was announced as the 50-54 age group winner at the ceremony, but the online results next day showed that another 50-year-old had run an 18:31. Kudos to whoever you are, Jeff Rothstein. You’re an inspiration to me to keep improving. Hope you enjoyed your time as much as I enjoyed mine.