This morning I ran my first 5K in about 3 1/2 years--the annual Aurora Labor Day Classic 5K around scenic Sunny Lake in Aurora, Ohio, a beautiful country community southeast of Cleveland.
(Parenthetically, I think Sunny Lake, with a well-maintained 1.7-mile paved path around the entire lake, would be an awesome venue for a 24-hour event. But I'd really like to see the next 24-hour event come back to Olander Park, the former venue of the 24-hour and 100-mile national championships, in Sylvania, Ohio.)
My last 5K, the Run with a Cop 5K in our former hometown of West Lafayette, Indiana, was in the early spring of 2005--just before we moved to Cleveland. I ran like a 19:18, finishing second by more than a minute by local great Gary Romesser. For this latest 5K, the question wasn't whether I would shatter my 19:18 PR. I knew I'd do that based on my recent track and tempo run times. The question was whether I could go sub-18 minutes. But after the weekend's combined 32 miles, I was seriously questioning whether I could.
It was a beautiful day for racing--blue skies, moderate temps and no wind! I got to Sunny Lake at 8 a.m. and collected my number while finding out that the 5K started at 9:00 a.m., not 8:30 a.m. as I'd incorrectly thought. So I hung around for a bit, chatting with Steve G. (last year's winner) and Elizabeth H., watching the one-mile fun run and then finally warming up for about 20 minutes. As I always do before a race, I peed about nineteen times. Nerves....
At last, at 8:55 a.m. we all lined up for the start of the 5K. I was in the front "row" next to Steve, who I figured would win since he's faster than I am. When the "gun" went off, both Steve and I exploded out of the gate like cannons. Finally, I settled into a 5:35 pace about 20 feet behind Steve, who was cruising right along as he always does. I could hear runners behind me for the first quarter-mile or so...and then things went quiet. It was just Steve and me for the rest of the way.
The distance between us largely stayed the same for the rest of the race. We ran around Sunny Lake twice, starting and finishing in separate locations only about a 1/3 mile from each other. I got into a groove during mile two--just as Steve got into his and added a little distance between us. The sun was really beating down on me and I had had to take water. But then about 3/4 of a mile from the finish, I could see that Steve was beginning to struggle just as I was getting stronger. I closed some of the gap between us but not in time for the finish line.
I finished 10 seconds behind Steve with a time of 17:45. That breaks down to 5:42/mile. Upon crossing, both Steve and I were spent. We'd both just endured more than 17 minutes of suffering. No matter the distance, if you run a race hard it's going to hurt. He rested in the grass while I stumbled around. About a minute later, the third-place finisher came in. I then stumbled over to the picnic shelter for--what else?--a recovery pancake breakfast. By the time I got to the shelter, I had regained my breath and was hungry.
The guy flicked two pancakes onto my plate and I scarfed them down. They were some of the best pancakes I'd ever eaten...seriously. I resisted the sausage because I don't eat pork, but I wanted some sausage and saying no to it was hard! The pancakes were delicious. After a second helping, I was feeling quite satisfied. Still, I wanted more but didn't want to be the guy who hogged them all, and so I walked away.
Unfortunately, I had to cut out as we had family arriving anytime for a day's visit. After downing my pancakes, I looked for Steve but couldn't find him, and then walked to the car to get changed into dry clothes. I hoped Steve would collect any award I might have won, which he did (he called later on). After changing, I drove home, thinking about the race, and I called Anne to tell her how I'd fared and inquire as to whether our visitors had arrived.
Honestly, I was and still am really pleased with my 17:41. This was a great day for a race. I'm glad I returned to the 5K and will surely be back again soon.