Every so often I declare that I’m never running races again. I clearly remember saying that earlier this year, more than once.
So anyway, I ran the Freaky 5K in East Providence, RI, on Oct. 23.
Anyway, I put myself through it for a couple of reasons.
1. The race is a local fall race I’ve never run before. I like fall. Fall’s nice for running. Cool weather. Usually sunny. Leaves and such. Best season, hands down. Beats the shit out of summer, anyway.
2. My Crossfit gym had invited people to go as a team, with the promise of a special red T-shirt for team members. I’m a sucker for special T-shirts. I have two drawers bursting full of special race T-shirts. I wear the same two or three in rotation.
3. My Crossfit gym team had one rule: you had to buy a lucha libre mask and run in it. As many of you already know, not only do I already have a lucha libre mask, I’ve run in it before. More than once. That 10K I ran wearing the mask still stands as my PR. It’s actually kind of cozy in there on cold days. The downsides are that it’s hard to breathe and you have no peripheral vision and no way to wipe sweat off your brow and my beard gets damp, but anyway, yeah, as far as challenges go, this was made for me.
4. I haven’t taken a 5K seriously since May 2011. I’ve changed a lot since then. I weigh 43 pounds less. I run about a minute per mile faster on average than I did at my best in the 4 Feet Running days, and it takes less effort. I was curious how this might affect my running time. Also, periodically someone asks me if this Crossfit stuff has improved my running (answer below).
So even though I keep swearing off races, I signed up, paid my 20 bucks, and marked it on my calendar. I figured, worst case scenario I have fun running around dressed like a dipshit and get a snazzy T-shirt. Best case scenario, I find out I can still run 3 miles easily. It ended up being better than that — it’s the best performance I’ve ever turned in so far.
At first, my only idea was to get out of the house. Eventually I thought back to my previous 5Ks. I ran my first one in 2007, right after I finished the Couch to 5K plan, and it took almost 42 minutes. Firmly in Turtle Territory, somewhere around the 195- to 205-pound mark. Over the years I worked my way up to the mid- to low-30s, and then a 30:57 at the Tiara Classic 5K in May 2011, a 10 min/mile pace. I was somewhere around 195 to 205 here too. That was the fastest speed at which I could haul my fat ass.
I wondered if I could run at that level, or better, with a smaller 165-pound ass.
I hadn’t put in a lot of running since then: 152 miles. Just 152 miles total from May 2011 to October 2012. That’s about two or three months of distance for a dedicated runner, or 18 months for me.
My main goal was to match my 10 min/mile PR pace for 3 miles. My secret goal: get under 30 minutes. I checked a pace calculator and saw that to run 29:59, I’d need to be at a 9:40 pace or so. I thought I might be able to do that — I tested myself in the summer and ran 1 mile in the 9:20s — but wasn’t sure if I could maintain that for 2 more miles. Mostly because:
I didn’t train, basically.
I didn’t want to.
At least not the way I used to in the 4 Feet Running days, with a Higdon or Pfitzinger training plan with dates and charts and progressive mileage. Instead, I did what I felt like — and most of the time I didn’t feel like running. I preferred to lift weights. I figured I’d run about once a week, maybe 2 or 3 miles, whatever, to see if I could do it. Some weeks I didn’t run at all. The only rule was that, when I ran, I’d make it count. No junk miles. Run to improve or don’t fucking bother.
From August to the present, I ran 14.4 miles. Total. That’s in dedicated running miles — not counting the odd half-mile or three-quarter mile I’d run at Crossfit here & there. My friend Gordon runs 14.4 miles before 6 a.m. It took me 3 months.
Besides the occasional run, my main exercise was Crossfit about 2 times a week and heavy weightlifting at home about once or twice a week.
Why did I not want to bother with dedicated training? I’ve been running on and off since 2007, have run more than 30 road races, and thanks to strength training have become fairly fit this year. I see no point in my “training” for a 5K. It’s half-a-friggen-hour of exercise. I should be able to do that. At this point, either I can or I can’t. If I can’t, there’s something seriously wrong with me.
The best part of race day was that Nik and my daughter Malley were able to come with me. The kid’s like a month old, so we weren’t sure she’d make it, given that she eats and poops and cries a lot. And I don’t want to go to these kinds of things alone, because I’d be sad if I crossed the finish line and my family weren’t there, and just had to fist-bump a few friends, snag a banana, and drive home in silence. Nik was spectating, since she’s not cleared for this kind of postpartum exercise yet, and Malley is a couple of months too young to be pushed at a run in the stroller.
The weather was pretty much ideal for a fall race: sunny, cool, colorful leaves, what have you. I’d had two eggs and a sip of coffee for breakfast, and forgot to drink water. Typical. I never remember to drink water.
I’d mapped out the race course a few weeks earlier and knew that it was mostly flat except for a short but nasty hill toward the end. I planned to run the first couple of miles like hell, but save some gas in the tank for that hill so I wouldn’t get caught short. I got to talking to some 8-foot-tall guy at the start line, and he said he’d done this race before. He told the top of my head: “If you can run a good race before that hill, you’ll be all right.”
I started near the front of the pack — not because I wanted to, but because nobody knew where the start line was. With not a lot of fanfare (which is fine by me), the race began and I took off with the crowd.
The starts of races always piss me off. Always. I’m fucking ticked for about the first third of a mile. There’s a lot of rushing around as everybody tries to find their place, and you get the usual mix of (a) walkers who decided to start up front and clog the road; (b) speedy jerks who decided to start at the back or were late, and have to weave through the crowd at a 4 minute mile like those assholes you see on the highway veering between lanes in rush hour; (c) shitbirds who decide to run four abreast; (d) people who sprint out of the gate with too much adrenaline, get exhausted after about 200 meters, and abruptly start walking.
I tried to find myself some space to work with and found myself near a woman running in a full wedding dress, holding up the train and trying not to let her veil fall off. I thought I’d done too much work, losing body fat and gaining muscle, to be beaten by someone struggling with a wedding dress, and stepped on the gas a bit to pass her. And yet I had a feeling like I was stomping around, not performing very well. It was odd. I was passing people, but everything seemed to be going by too slowly. It occurred to me that I might not get my sub-30. I checked my Garmin and noticed I was running an 8:10 pace. I checked my watch a few times and confirmed it. I’ve only hit that speed for striders, and then just barely. I thought, “Wow, that’s nice. But I won’t keep it up.” And I didn’t, but not by much: I hit the first mile at 8:45.
The nice thing about having a Garmin is you always know where you are. So I was 1.33 miles in when some other runner who looked like he was struggling started shouting out to spectators, “How much farther is it?” and “What mile is this?” I turned around and yelled, “It’s one point three-three miles!” which may have been too specific, but what the hell. A little bit later, about halfway through the second mile, I skipped the water station because I didn’t want to walk and I’ve not yet managed to grab water and drink while in motion without shooting it out my nose. I was a little thirsty and the wrestling mask was steamy inside, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t manage for a while longer. I hit the second mile at 9:06. I still didn’t feel like I was struggling.
Around 2.5 miles I saw the hill coming. I checked my Garmin — 22 minutes had passed. By then, the fast runners had already finished and were probably having bananas and coffee. But me, I realized that I’d run several 5Ks where I wouldn’t have hit mile 2 yet. Actually, most of my races have been like that. This time I was on my way home. The only way I’d miss out on a sub-30 would be if I had to walk.
So when I climbed the hill, I put my head down and chugged up and tried to hold steady. I’m not great with hills, but I’ve gotten better. I slowed more than a minute per mile to about 10:30 to conserve energy, and got pissed off about it — it’s not fun to watch your time tick away, and I didn’t want to flame out. I kept my pace steady, and once I finally crested the hill, I stepped on the gas again past the 3-mile mark and toward the finish with a tiniest bit of ab-stitch uncomfortableness in my right side. My Garmin had me finishing at 28:46, for a 9:11 pace. Well under 30 minutes. I’d beaten my previous PR by 2:12, ran my two fastest miles ever, and finished my fastest race by far.
Even better than that: Mal managed to keep her shit together for the duration. Turns out she’s cool with tolerating loud and obnoxious noises, which is a plus since there were bagpipers.
Why I give a shit
At top is me at my first 5K in 2007. Below that is me in October 2012.
I’ve you’ve been following me from the 4 Feet Running days, you know I was The Slow One. At that first 5K, I got beaten by an overweight nun wearing a habit. My second 5K, I nearly got lost when the rest of the pack blew past me within the first mile, and I came in dead fucking last. It took me two years — two goddam years — to get in the kind of shape where I could run a 5K faster than a 12-minute-mile. Almost all my longer races have been in the 11- and 12- and 13-minute-mile range. I honestly thought I’d never in my life be able to run a mile in the 9-minute range, never mind the 8-minute range. That’s still not very fast, but it’s faster for me, and moves me pretty definitely from the back of the pack to the middle.
So this is different for me. I prefer it. Now that I finally put in some good honest work getting fit, and stopped trying to propel so much useless non-muscle weight over distance, I’ve seen good improvements. That’s nice. To answer the question, has all this Crossfit helped my running: the answer is “Very much, but now I prefer to lift weights instead anyway.”
Tearing a new asshole in my 5K PR is almost enough to make me want to try running long distances again, to see if I can erase all the old PRs that Chubby Dan set, and set those race PRs for realsies. Otherwise it’s like having to live with a closet full of my old clothes that are too big on me now.
My 5-mile race PR is 57 minutes and change. That’s fine. But I could beat that by almost 10 minutes, I bet — shit, I could probably do that right now. If Fitter Dan can drop everything and run 3 miles at a 2-minute PR pace with almost no training, another 2 miles is cake. My 10K PR is 1:07. That’s another one that Fitter Dan could probably shave 10 minutes off, maybe 15. I’ve run four half-marathons, the quote-unquote “fastest” one in 2 hours 44 minutes — 12 and a half minutes per mile. I remember walking from miles 9 to 12 and a half and then some more after that. Come on. Fitter Dan can do something better than that. He’s carrying 20% less body weight than Chubby Dan. I’d just have to work on my endurance…
Almost enough. But not quite. I probably won’t do that.