Where do I start? This was just the perfect day and the perfect race, I couldn’t have asked for better. I don’t know why, but this is my favourite of all the 5Ks I’ve done. Maybe it’s just that I’ve set a PR there two years in a row now, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been blessed with a beautiful sunny day on both occasions, but I think it’s also the atmosphere – walking down the street from the station to the race, you notice immediately that all the houses are decorated with bunting, or race flags. Hanging from a few windows are displays of race shirts with start numbers from previous years. The 5K doesn’t actually leave the circuit and go through the town like the 12km, but still, you have the feeling that the whole town is celebrating.
Last year I started in quite a bit of stress having walked to the start, missing the baggage drop and then wandering around desperately trying to find it whilst the time was ticking away. This year I made sure to leave plenty of time and got rid of my bag as soon as possible. I decided just a couple days ago to run the race in my VFFs (Vibrams Five Fingers – the froggy shoes with individual toe slots). It was a bold move, but I feel faster in them, and after my successful 6K park run in them the other days, I decided I was finally ready to wear them to a race. This is the last 5K I have planned for the moment, and it knew it would take me rather a while to dare try them out in a longer race. Keeping my options open, though, I went to the race in my normal running shoes, and packed the VFFs in my bag. When I got to Zandvoort I switched and warmed up a little in the VFFs, just to be sure that I was going to be happy in them. Needless to say, everyone was staring and pointing at me, between the VFFs and the little black running dress (hereafter known as the LBD).
I decided to throw caution to the winds in another way today, and paired the LBD with my tri-shorts again, but no t-shirt. Such nakedness is totally unprecedented but the weather forecast was predicting record temperatures again, and I was pretty warm running in my normal running tights midweek. I was beginning to regret my decision when I arrived in Zandvoort, the sky was overcast and there was a chill wind. I double-checked the weather, hmmm, apparently the sun was only supposed to come out in the afternoon – I guess I should have looked earlier.
Still, luck was on my side, and by the time I entered the race course, the sun was already breaking through the clouds and the sky was getting bluer. In the shadow it was still pretty chilly, but out in the sun it was getting warm.
With plenty of time to spare, I ended up being one of the first people let into the corrals, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was in the second corral. By the time the warming up was finished, the few runners who were allowed to start in the front corral had arrived – there was only about 10 of them, and so we were all moved forwards. Before I knew it, I found myself right at the very front, with only about 3 lines of people in front of me. I was standing right at the bottom of the start banner, quite an incredible feeling.
In the past I used to feel nervous and nauseous before every race… today I was just raring to go, bouncing on the balls of my froggy feet and itching to go out there and prove myself. For once I felt no doubt, I was just going to go out there and do it!
The final countdown, 5…4…3…2…1, and BANG! So close by I could actually hear the starting pistol! The first girls went haring off into the distance, and it wasn’t long before I could see them rounding the first bend, led by the bicycles. I was keeping up a fair pace, still totally enthralled by being right in the front, watching the small stream of runners in front of me.
I never once regretted my decision to wear the VFF’s, I was feeling light on my feet and enjoying the run. The first km took us around a small loop and back along the pitlane, past the start. I knew that the 1st km marker was round about the start line, but not exactly where it was. Not having seen it as we came back over the start I decided to hit the lap button, and take my chances. I didn’t actually look at my watch to check my pace – I didn’t really need to since the official clock was running and I knew that I must have been over the line pretty quickly. The clock was showing 5:35 as I went by. Uh oh, way too fast. I tried to rein myself in but my legs had decided on a pace, and I couldn’t do much to change it! Then, just a little past the start line, what did I spot but the 1km marker… hit the watch again, figured I’d at least know where the first km really did end, even if my concept of pace was rather lost already.
I remember the second km as being tough from last year… in fact the course was undulating right from the beginning so even in the first km we’d tackled our first uphill section. At no point today did I feel like the uphill stretches would defeat me. They certainly took their toll, but I felt strong on every single one, and never felt like I was slowing down too significantly.
Before I knew it we were already at the second km marker. I hit the lap button, and then started to wonder… hang on, had I hit the lap button the first time round or the stop button? Panicked, hit start, because I thought the clock wasn’t running, then realised that I’d hit it twice at the beginning so in fact I’d just stopped it. Hit start again, think I may have also lapped it again for good measure. So that was the first 2km down and I didn’t really know if I was going too fast or too slow.
So I did the only thing I could and carried on the way I was, with the knowledge that at the 3km point I could check my pace and adjust if necessary. Quite up and down here, but I was having fun. It was warm, but not unpleasantly so, and I was enjoying the feeling of being out at the front of the pack. Sure, plenty of people had overtaken me, but plenty more were still behind me. What a novel experience!
The time was just flying by. Obviously, being the fastest 5K I’ve ever run, I was out there for less time, but still, for my perception it was also just so much easier then previous races. Most of the other 5Ks I’ve been gritting my teeth and counting down to the finish. Today I was struggling as ever with my breathing, but my legs were fresh and I had plenty of energy.
We hit the 3K marker and finally I was able to see an actual time: 5:39 min for that last kilometre. Wow, I was really flying! Given that I was feeling like I’d been running a pretty steady race I was doing better than I thought possible. I was hoping for about 5:50min/km which would have had me nicely clear of my 30:00 goal, but this was really solid.
By this point breathing was getting harder and harder, and I tried to slacken off a little, but I just couldn’t do it. Faffed around with my inhaler, as ever getting it back in my pocket was too much of a hassle – the thought crossed my mind, yet another inhaler in hand race photo then!
Hardly any time seemed to go by before we crossed the 4km marker, really consistent at 5:39 min/km. Even without knowing what I’d done in the first two kilometre as I was sure as I could ever be that the sub 30:00 was going to be mine. Now for the hardest thing, stay calm and focused, don’t start picking up speed yet, no matter how much temptation that 4km board always gives.
We came round the final bend, and was astonished to see the finish line up ahead, still a long final stretch, but closer than I realised. I was really fighting to breathe, and fighting my inclination to push on faster. Not yet, not yet, wait until the finish line is in front of you. I got a little closer, yep, my eyes weren’t deceiving me, I could see 27 on the clock.
I was thanking my lucky stars for my brilliant front of the pack start – let’s be honest, sub 30 is sub 30, and would be amazing even if I’d been last over the start and the clock was reading 35:00. But to actually have the chance to SEE my sub 30 on the clock? Oh yes, it made that moment oh so much sweeter!
Finally I was nearing the race photographers. I remembered my intention to actually try and look like I was taking that race by storm 🙂 Flung my arms up in the air, completely forgot to smile, let loose and kicked my legs up a gear into a finish line gallop and went for it! As I flew by 28:30 registered in my mind. Whether that was the time on my approach, or the time as I crossed, I couldn’t tell you. Forgot to stop the Garmin. Sigh. Whatever. I didn’t need the Garmin to let me know that I’d trampled my goal time into the dust!
Wandered past the first aiders trying to remember how to breathe, and then turned around to stop and stare at the finish line in awe. When I saw that the clock was still showing a sub 30:00 time I snapped a photo for posterity, and then went to claim my hard earned medal, tears running down my cheeks. I set the goal of running a sub 30 minute 5K in the beginning of 2010, although I guess I’ve been thinking of it ever since my first 5K in Spring 2009. It’s taken me a long time to get here.
We had a long wait then. The men’s race starts a half hour after the ladies, and we had to wait first for the whole pack to start, and then for everyone to complete their first lap before we could cross the circuit and get back to the main pavillion.
I went back to the baggage claim for my bag – toes burning… surely another blood blister forming on top off, underneath, or next to the existing ones. As I was waiting for my bag, the lady next to me admired my dress and then said ‘you got that from my sister, I guess? from hiphardlopen.nl’. I agreed, and she said, she’s over hearing wearing one of the new skirts that just came in… come meet her! Pretty cool, I really like the way they do things – a small, out-of-the-house online store, with great service and always a personal note in with your order. It was nice to put a face to one of the names! After a little chat about the comfiness of the Running Skirts gear, and a bit about my VFFs I left them to prepare for the 12km and found a place to change. Bit of a hobble back to the station, but the soles of my toes got less and less sore as I went – it’s amazing how fast they recover.
Considering that I came second to last in my 10K last Sunday, I’m thrilled to bits with these results – I’ve never been so far in the front of the field before. My time today was nearly 2 minutes faster than that of the CPC a fortnight ago, and nearly 5 minutes faster than when I ran Zandvoort this time last year. I’ve made huge progress so far this year.