For the past two years, I've attended this meet as a spectator, so I was excited for a chance to compete. Several weeks prior, I ran 14:26 at the Vanderbilt Invitational, leading the whole way. I've greatly improved my fitness since then and even though I am training for the half marathon, I felt like I had the wheels to make a run at breaking 14:00. Not only did I feel like I would make a run at it, I felt like I would break it. When it comes to my running goals and life in general, I'm very much a realist. I see things for how they are and I only speak of things that I am confident in. Before the race, I was telling people I was shooting for sub 14 and honestly believed it would happen.
I spent the week leading up to this race obsessively checking the weather forecast. The past two years, this race was insanely hot but Accuweather was suggesting race time temperatures in the mid 60s, while not perfect for a 5k, but as good as you can get for a race in June. I spent the days leading up to the race planning my strategy and unfolding the race in my mind over and over again. I would tuck into the back of the pack and come through the first 1600m in the mid/upper 4:20s, come through 3200m in under 8:55 and then kick in the last 1k as hard as I could to finish under 14 minutes. With how my workouts were going and how the projected forecast looked, I was expecting it.
I got to the race a couple of hours early so I could watch my friends Jeff Edmonds, Travis Crouch, Jeff Bandy, Hunter Hall, John Ramsey and Jacob Carrigan compete in the 5k. Even though the weather was warm at this part of the day, Jeff Bandy and Travis went on to set new personal bests. Swiftwick was also sponsoring the race and gave a every competing runner a free pair of their new socks.
About 40 minutes before the race, Connor Kamm and I went for an easy 15-20 minute warm-up. I then knocked out a couple of dynamic drills and jumped onto the track for a few strides. I felt loose and ready to roll. I then started getting really nervous/anxious because I felt like my sub 14 destiny was getting closer.
I was seeded 5th with my time of 14:26. Deus Rwaheru was the top seed but I felt like Patrick Cheptoek, who is a machine on the roads, or Tim Ritchie, who ran 3:58 for the mile indoors and 28:44 for the 10k would be the favorite. When the gun went off, I got a little bit boxed in, but Connor scooted aside so I could squeeze through. I settled into 10th place or so and it felt like we were flying. With the effort I was putting out, I expected to cross the first lap in 65-66 but I was shocked when I saw a 68. Rather than play it cool, I freaked out, swung out wide and surged over the next 150 meters and moved into fourth place. That second lap was around 65 seconds, which was way too fast but I felt all right. Shortly before the first 1600m ended, some of the guys upfront started pushing the pace a bit. I didn't feel smooth at all but came through the first 1600m in 4:26, which was right on my expected pace. I was at the back of the pack and after the 2k, I started to fall back a bit. I should have known better because once you give up a few meters to someone, it quickly turns into a lot more.
I started falling further behind with each additional lap. Rather than attacking the second mile and preparing for an assault on the third, I was just going through the motions. When reality settles in and you realize you aren't going to achieve your goal, it's hard to keep fighting and stay strong.
I don't remember much of the last mile. I lost focus and just wanted to finish. I do remember stepping on the inside railing and almost completely wiping out. I remember seeing Patrick not too far ahead but instead of attempting to chase him down, I didn't respond. I think a large part of that is that he is such a strong runner and I feel he's on a different level than myself. I felt that if I would have caught up, he would have blasted me, so my motivation to go after him wasn't too strong.
I ended up finishing in 14:13. Tim pulled out a killer final sprint to beat Deus with a time of 13:56. I didn't know what my time was at first and I really didn't care because I was bummed with how it turned out. 14:13 is a new personal best but I was not happy with how I ran mentally. If I would have run that first mile well, gritted my teeth during the second and dug as deeply as I could and run a 13:59, I don't believe that would have shown a lot of mental toughness. I would have been in a lot of pain but would have gotten the positive reinforcement after each lap, knowing I was a lap closer to my goal. To me, mental toughness is gritting your teeth and digging deeply when things are going badly and your goal is out the window. Rather than doing that, I mentally shut my mind off so I didn't have to presently accept reality. Even with a perfect race, maybe sub 14 wasn't in the cards that day. I do feel that if I would have woken up mentally during the last mile, I could have run 14:05.
But the biggest mistake was freaking out after the first lap. In all of my hard workouts, I struggle a bit at first, then find my rhythm and close very well. Most people race how they train and if I would have played it cool, I could have potentially moved my way up throughout the race and be in striking distance with a few laps to go. I'm upset that I didn't show a lot of confidence or maturity in that aspect but that's a mistake I'll have to learn from.
I guess the main positive I can take out of this race is that when I went into cruise control mode, I was still clicking off 4:40s. I think it shows my aerobic system is strong, which will help me in the half-marathon championships. I don't know when I will race another track 5k, but I'm looking forward to getting back on the roads again. However, I'm not doing chasing sub 14 yet.