a stress fracture in the heel bone of my left foot in January 2010 kept me out of the race. I did volunteer at that event, but was sorely disappointed that I couldn't participate. What's more, my running goals in 2010 had to be scaled back significantly because of the setback of the fracture. Running this year's event, to me, symbolized a bit of a "rebirth" of running for me -- a chance to reset what went wrong last year and go at it with renewed gusto.
I should explain the Groundhog Run a bit further before we go on. The whole dang thing is underground in industrial caves. The event is a charity run for Children's Therapeutic Learning Center in Kansas City, a school that helps kids with disabilities. It's a great way for runners to comfortably wear lightweight running gear for a race in January (when the temperature outside this morning was around 22 degrees F) and also support a worthy cause.
I decided to run this race in Vibram Fivefingers Sprints. I didn't want to run it barefoot, as I remembered from volunteering last year that the pavement underground can tend to be pretty rough. I hadn't had a chance to keep my bare feet conditioned and thought it'd be best on the soles to wear some kind of covering.
I was signed up to run this year's 5K race as part of a four-person team for my employer, a children's hospital in Kansas City. The team leader knew fully that I am a slowpoke compared to them, but he was happy to have me on -- I think he knew that my time would be thrown out anyway, as only the top three runners on a team had their times counted.
My wife and I showed up about an hour ahead of time and claimed a spot inside the VIP team area to drop off our stuff and for me to warm up. That was really nice. Instead of the requisite porta potties that most big races have for runners, the "VIPs" could use the official restrooms in the reception area where we were allowed. No lines, no plastic lavatories. While warming up, I noticed that I had a really sore spot in the muscle of my inner right thigh, just above the knee. I worked on it to try to loosen it up.
When it was time to race, I lined up about halfway between the 8-minute-per-mile and 12-minute-per-mile signs, as I expected to run around 10 minutes per mile. The starting area was PACKED. It's one thing when that's outdoors, but when there's stone pillars all around and a solid rock ceiling overhead, you begin to feel a bit like sardines. The right thigh was still feeling a bit sore.
The race began and I started off at what I thought was a pretty decent pace. I tried not to waste too much energy by running too fast, but I also didn't want to make it harder on myself by running too slow. The tight muscle in my leg really started to loosen up and I felt really good upon hitting the first mile marker at 9:47. Not bad.
In the second mile, I started to tire a little bit. My abdomen was cramping just a little bit and I was ready for a drink of water. I would have just taken a swig from my running bottle, but I had decided to leave it behind for this race. That was probably a poor choice, because I think it would have helped me when I needed water instead of having to trudge to the water station. I normally run with the bottle and should not have broken the "don't change anything on race day" rule that all runners are recommended to adhere to.
I'll be honest: I had to take a couple of walking breaks just to catch my breath and recover momentarily. None were more than about 30 seconds long, but it bugged me that I had to stop running AT ALL -- even if I know that walking breaks can lead to a faster overall time. It was disappointing to me, though, because for my first 5K last year after my injury I was able to run the whole race...with a big hill in the middle of it.
I was getting near the end when I noticed a blistery spot developing on the inside ball of my left foot, just behind the big toe. My Fivefingers shoe was rubbing me the wrong way, literally. I kept on going, thinking that I didn't have too much farther until the finish. Then I looked down and realize that what we'd been running on really wasn't that rough. In fact, it was certainly adequate for running without shoes!
Instead of contributing to the developing blister by keeping my shoes on, I decided to stop with about half a mile to go, remove my shoes and finish barefoot. It was GREAT! My feet felt awesome, the ground felt wonderful and I was so happy to be running on my own two feet. The blister didn't end up being bad at all when all was said and done. I'd call it a "pre-blister." I put a little bit of tape over it to protect it from the Fivefingers for when I walked around afterward and left to head home.
I finished the race in 31:05 for an overall pace of 10:01 per mile -- a new personal record! That time beats my previous 5K PR of 32:50 and was the 6th best pace of any run I've had since I returned to running in late 2009. It was definitely the best pace of any organized race I've ever run.
I'm pleased with my performance in the race. I had wanted to finish in less than 30 minutes, but this was a respectable time considering that I did take walking breaks and stopped to take my shoes off. Heck, it still even beat my last PR in a race that I ran the whole thing!
Here's hoping that the gains I've made going into this race continue as I gear up for a half marathon in June -- the same race in which I PRed last year, just 10 miles longer.