On April 26th, 2015 seven members of Forest Hills Runners competed in the Cambridge Spring Classic 5k. It is not uncommon for a few members to surpass their personal record, or PR, but what made this race extraordinary is that all seven Forest Hills Runners ran their fastest 5k ever. All seven. Was it a coincidence? Or collective strength? Here’s a race recap as told by some of the members that raced this speedy course on a gorgeous New England Spring morning.
An Unexpected PR
When I was younger, I hated running. What I knew about running was times and paces and racing – I wasn’t naturally fast and didn’t know anything about ‘pacing myself’, so I found it miserable. I first learned to enjoy – and even to love - running by completely rejecting anything to do with times or paces or racing. When I started running some local races it was just to participate in the event and enjoy the community. Over time, I started to see improvement and those times and paces took on a new meaning – it was not about having a faster pace than my neighbor, it was about being better than my old self – your personal record. As someone who used to hate running, having training goals and working towards PRs was an unexpected change of outlook.
Getting a PR at the 2015 Spring Classic 5K was also completely unexpected. My last 5K PR was in December 2013 – the culmination of my best running year yet. The first half of 2014 was particularly rough, my fitness suffered, and I was never able to quite get back to where I was when I got that PR. After the holidays and the winter months, I am usually slower in the spring than I was in the previous fall, and I wasn’t expected much from this race. I signed up for this race because I had run the Spring Classic 5K the past two years and thought it would be a good benchmark to see where I measured up to my past self at this exact time of year. Additionally, I could still feel the effects of a surprisingly strenuous yoga class the Friday before the race, which didn’t bode well for racing. My goal for this race was just to enjoy it and see what I could do – no expectations.
It was a perfect day for a race, and a familiar course. As we started the race, I occasionally glanced down at my garmin (something I sometimes forbid myself to do) and saw, to my surprise, that my pace was on par with my previous PR pace. “I’m sure I’ll run out of steam soon enough, I’m probably going too fast” I thought. But, as I hit 1.5 miles, then 2 miles, then 2.5, I started to realize that I could achieve a much faster time than I had thought. Sometimes paying too much attention to the pace on my watch works against me – but at this race, it helped me realize that I could do far better than expected if I could just dig deep during those last painful 800 meters – and they were definitely very painful.
Getting a PR at this race, early in the year, makes me very excited about the potential for the rest of the year. Although I hadn’t been training for this race specifically, this was proof that I had actually had a very successful winter, maintaining fitness and sticking to a running plan, thanks largely to the community of FHR.
At the beginning of this year, finishing a 2 mile run was a small victory, regardless of the pace. I had been battling a nasty IT band injury since September training for the Chicago marathon. I went to a chiro and PT, foam rolled, strength trained, dry needled, everything, and nothing seemed to work for three months. Finally, my injury turned a course, and I was able to do short, slow runs every two or three days. As my runs got longer, I finally decided to put an “A” race on my calendar for the spring (which will be the Run to Remember Half on Memorial day weekend) and picked some shorter races leading up to it. Through all of this, I’ve remained vigilant about strength training and foam rolling/R8 rolling and believe that has really paid of not only in managing my injury, but also in getting stronger and faster in the four months I’ve been training.
I had originally planned on racing the North Shore 10 Miler on April 28, the same date as the Spring Classic (I had convinced a friend to sign up for Doyle’s 5 Miler, so in return I agreed to run this race with him). The closer we got to the race date, the more uncomfortable I felt about the length of the race. My knee was doing great 90% of the time, but still acting up, especially after long runs or intense track/tempo workouts. Fortunately for me, about a week or so before the race, my friend found out he was getting shipped out of the country for work over that weekend. I had also seen that Marc, a member of Forest Hills Runners, created a Facebook event for the Spring Classic- so I jumped ship and signed up for the 5K.
By plugging my time in from the Doyle’s 5 Miler into the McMillan Calculator, I knew I had a shot at beating my previous PR (23:46). I was hoping to start out around a 7:30 average pace and see where I could take it from there. The first mile was painful, but I clocked in at a 7:27, right on target. I started finding my grove during miles 2 and 3, keeping my pace slightly under a 7:30. I pushed the finish and crossed at 22:48 (7:20 min/mile)- almost a minute PR and a huge confidence boost going into my half. I am also very lucky that I got to celebrate with 7 (!!!) other FHR PR’s!
On New Year’s Day I ran a 5k in Needham to celebrate the New Year. While it was a great way to start off the year, I remember finishing the race and knowing I had a lot of work to do to achieve my 2015 5k goal. I was worried my 5k goal might have been a bit ambitious.
With this in mind, after over a year of convincing, I finally decided my insightful partner Marc might be onto something with his dedication to track workouts. I made it a goal to start getting to the track more, and to focus on speed interval training when I couldn’t fit track in. I also pushed my tempo runs just a little bit harder, and signed up for a few races to hold myself accountable.
Fast-forward a few months to the Spring Classic 5k; I felt confident I would see some of my hard work pay-off, though I was pretty sure I wasn’t quite at the 5k goal pace. In the car ride over to the race with some FHR friends, I remember talking about goals for the day and saying I just wanted to do a little better than my last 5k. Baby steps. I had set myself up better for this one, done a track tune up a few days before, had a good pre-race dinner (had less wine the night before), and had slept pretty well.
The day was perfect for racing; little wind, great temperature, and a flat fast course. We did a warm up, stretched a bit, and got in the corral. There were a ton of people there, and I made sure to move up to the group I thought might be running my goal pace, knowing this would push me to run harder. Then suddenly the gun went off and the crowd of people in front of me went with it. The excitement waiting for that moment gave me the initial kick of adrenaline I needed to turn the first two corners onto Mass Ave, but once there I started to have the thoughts that often plague me during the first mile of a race. “Oh gee, I don’t think today is the day. I’m not feeling great.”
I made the decision to just run my best, without the pressure of reaching a goal. About this time, my watch beeped for the first mile. I looked down at my wrist and read my goal pace across the screen of my watch. “First mile excitement” I thought. Surely this will slow down.
Straight down Mass Ave we ran, turning at a water stop, turning again to another straight-away ever so slightly sloping downward. Another beep. Goal pace still. “Can I hang onto this?” I thought. Even if I didn’t, I was proud and encouraged by the fact that I had made it two miles at that pace. If today wasn’t the day, I was surely closer towards getting my goal than ever before.
The course kept going, along where we had previously warmed up , and I recognized how far I had left until the finish. I had been watching a couple in front of me for the past mile or so, who seemed to be going my pace and I decided to just follow them, hoping they would pace me to the end. My watch beeped for the third mile. Faster than goal pace! Realizing I was going to get my goal with only 0.10miles left in the race gave me even more energy to hammer it in to the finish.
On my right, Jimi and Marc screamed my name. As I crossed the finish, knowing I had done it, an uncontrollable smile spread across my face. It was an incredible feeling, knowing I had accomplished something I had worked for, but also a lesson to not limit myself. This was made ever more apparent when I learned that all the other FHR racers had also PR’ed. I am so thankful to be part of such an amazing community of people who challenge me to be my best and inspire me daily! On to the next PR!
After running for several years getting a PR becomes more and more elusive. Many things have to line up, and this day had it all; flat course, long straightaways, an extremely friendly elevation profile, and a fast field to keep me pushing.
I ran the first mile hard, maybe a little bit too fast, but I held on, resolved to keep mile two honest. I looked across the course to a large reflective row of windows and thought, “hey, looking good, keep that form tight!” I had settled in with a very fit looking guy who I had talked to just before the start of the race, staying about 5 to 10 feet behind. Everything was going well and we were keeping even, but around mile two and half I noticed that he was starting to lag. This was the crucial moment for me in the race, it was hurting quite a bit at that point so it was a fine time to ease back a tiny bit, but I got mad (sometimes it helps!) and edged around him determined to push harder and harder for the last section of the course.
I tried to push as hard as I could while keeping a little bit in the tank for the push on the home stretch. Hitting the last turn I stepped on the gas and was very psyched to have Jimi on the side of the course shouting me in, which made me give it all I had for the last few hundred feet.
This was the best executed race that I have ever run, and looking down at my watch at the end I knew it was going to be good, but I was ecstatic to see 17:45. I’m pretty sure I let out a yell or grunt and threw my arms out after the line, which is kind of ridiculous, but when you run enough races you know that your only true competition is yourself. On this day, I won.
“So what are you shooting for?”
“I don’t know, what are you trying to hit?”
“Eh, can’t really tell how I feel… what about you?”
“Not sure either…”
This was the conversation that took place at the starting line of the Cambridge Spring Classic just moments before the race began. The field of approximately 3,800 participants was seeded per the honor system with runners lining up beside their respective pace markers.
In lieu of verbalizing any particular commitment to a net outcome, our intentions must have been (at the very least) somewhat obvious by the sheer fact that a group of us congregated just a few feet from the start line. Maybe we were just afraid to verbally outwardly project, “I am going to crush this run” and instead opted to understatedly shake our legs out at the front of the crowd.
A round of Good Lucks was shared and before we knew it the race began.
I knew I went out a tad too fast, but the funny thing is I felt really strong and I didn’t get that ‘uh-oh feeling’ within the first four minutes. My first mile was around 5:48. I knew this was a little ambitious but I just went with it.
After Mile 2 I knew a PR was in the works. I did slow down a bit but ended up averaging a 5:57 mile and a finish time of 18:31. While I only shaved off 8 seconds off my previous PR, what made this so exciting is my previous 5k PR didn’t come until late last Summer—essentially when I typically peak during the year. This race, in particular, really made me fully aware that the insane triathlon training, the FHR group runs, the biking, the tertiary FHR tri-swims, the FHR track work-outs—all of it, continues to make me stronger and faster.
It’s such an amazing feeling to be able to constantly improve; but also to share this phenomena with a group of people all committed to achieving their best, standing strong at the Start line… even if it’s not always verbalized.
Congrats to Marc Almanzan, Maartje Bastings, Katie Merrill, Sarah Murray, Rachael Brust, Laura DeDonato Wiatt and David Ziegler-Voll for the PR's and awesome FHR representation!