3.09 is Close Enough

I’m calling it a victory! My quest for a sub-20 minute 5k is over.

The Garmin may think 3.09 miles is not 3.1, but it’s not the boss of me.

In my recent race—a rare evening run in the last of the summer heat (90 degrees at start time)—my watch told me I’d crossed the line at 19:29. A bit less than a minute later, as I wobbled around the finish area,  my watch buzzed. Apparently I hadn’t really hit the stop button, and it was happily informing me I’d set a new 5k record—20:10.

Later I put it all together. The watch recorded the race as 3.09 miles, but my fatigued stumbling after the finish gave me that extra .01 miles… and in a mere 40 seconds after my 19:29 finish.

I could have surrendered to the will of the GPS gods, I suppose, but this one was too much—or more accurately, too little. So when I got home I ran the numbers and figured .01 miles represents about 4 seconds at my pace. Then I edited the activity, and, just for good measure, added six seconds (a whopping 50% penalty!), and changed the distance to 3.1 miles. Voila, a new record!

Image of a Garmin display, reading 3.10 miles distance and 19:35 time.

Frankly, I’m pretty thrilled. I figured I could break 20, but to do so on a ninety degree day, and on a course that included some trails and a lot of grass, is better than I expected.

Oh, and I beat my nemesis.

Of course, the question now becomes… What next?

In the short term I’m going to start prepping for the McAllen half marathon in January. Last year I ran a 1:42, but I was absolutely crushed by the wall at mile 10, so there should be plenty of room for improvement. My new goal? 7:30/mile pace, or about 12 sec/mile better than last year, which should put me at 1:38. All the calculators are telling me I’m supposed to run at seven-flat given the 19:35 5k, but all the calculators clearly have no freaking idea what they’re talking about. I am quite aware that the farther races get from 5k, the worse I am. Still, we’ll see how it goes over the next eleven weeks. Running Science surely has some ideas.

And in the medium term… maybe a sub-19 really is possible in 2018. Maybe. Probably not. (But maybe!)


Under 20:00 5k! (Sort of)

Today was the goal race. It was perfectly scheduled (by accident, I’ll admit) on the last day of “my” sixteen week plan. The taper went smoothly. It was a fast course—flat and all on roads. It was big field (though not many at the same pace as me, unfortunately). And the temperature, as if by the hand of fate itself, went from high 70s a week ago to low 50s today.

I was fit. I was healthy. The course was perfect. The conditions were perfect.

In short, it was the perfect setup for a total disaster. Had I blown it, there would have been absolutely nothing to blame but myself.

But, I didn’t blow it.

My final pace was 6:21/mile, which is right what I was aiming for. And my final time was 19:10, which would be truly fantastic for me… if it were real.

The course, unfortunately, was 3.02 miles, or .08 miles short of a full 5k. Assuming I could have held that 6:22 average pace for the missing .08 miles, my real time would have been 19:40. So… success! Sort of. It is a record for me, and I’ll call it a half accomplishment of my 2017 running goal of a 19-something 5k, but my Garmin is unforgiving, and still lists the 20:20 5k from March of this year as my 5k PR. That half of my goal—the electronic acknowledgement—will have to wait.

And just because I care about such things, a couple notes about the race itself.

  • I started deliberately slow, standing several rows back at the line and trying not to dash around the joggers and children who seem always to claim the front for a couple hundred meters before fading. The net effect of this was to bring my initial ¼ mile split to 97 seconds, which is almost exactly on pace. In other words, by forcing myself to go out freakishly slow, I ended up going out just right.
  • My mile splits were 6:30, 6:28, 6:06 (plus five seconds for that spare .02 miles). So very negative splits. Frankly, I’m a bit stunned at that last mile. When I run mile intervals, with six minutes rest in between, I only hit 6:15 or so on my third interval.
  • I felt great all the way through. In fact, I kept expecting to have that moment of agony when I just couldn’t sustain my pace, but it never really came. There was the usual steady pain, of course, but no crushing I-must-slow-down-or-I’ll-die sensation. I think this means I probably could have gone out a little faster. A little. Next time I’ll make a bit more effort to stay at 6:20 pace during miles 1 and 2.

In any case, here is my updated race time graph:

Race Times_October 2017

Oh, and my nemesis beat me. I’ve beaten him two races in a row with considerably worse times, but apparently he and I both had great days today, probably because of the weather. His was a little greater, though. One week from today, a rematch.

But for now, I’m happy that the last sixteen weeks have added up to something. A 21 second PR may not seem like much–it may not BE much–but cross one item off the bucket list. Okay, half an item. Stupid Garmin.


An Easy (!) 40 Mile Week

I just wrapped up week 15 of “my” training plan, and am headed into the final full taper week in anticipation of my two goal races next week and the week after. But this week was a sort of pre-taper: I kept the miles, but cut down the speed work, ending up with only 18% “quality” miles instead of the 25% or so for previous weeks.

So this was my third 40+ mile week in a row. And it was a breeze.

The fact that I can say that says something about how much this plan has changed me as a runner. I may be a bit behind on grading and class design and academic research, but what used to be unthinkable miles and frequency can now be called a “light week.” Nice.

Of course, I have no idea yet if this will translate to a faster 5k. I’m suspicious, frankly. All these long slow runs are awfully far away from the specificity of that particular race. At the very least it’s a nice foundation for the half marathon I’m planning in January, and I think it’s also been good for injuries as my legs feel generally stronger and so are perhaps a bit less fragile. Plus, it’s kind of cool.

Still, I can taste that 20 minute 5k. It’s going to hurt, I know. I can run a dozen 400s at 5:30 mile pace. I can run three one-mile repeats at 6:10–6:15. And I can hit a comfortable tempo run of 7:15 for five or six miles. But does this mean I string together three consecutive miles at 6:25? Nothing in my training says that’ll be anything other than just at the edge of the possible. But I suppose possible is enough. Give me a fast course, enough competitors at my goal pace, and a cool day, and it just might come together.

My first real shot at it will be in one week. Stay tuned.

40 Mile Week!

I just finished my first 40 mile week since I was sixteen years old.

I know this isn’t much for many people, and is around the extreme lower end for marathoners… but it’s pretty cool for an old guy like me. And regardless, I’m training for a fast 5k, not a marathon.

For the next couple weeks I’ll stick to this level, keeping up the five day schedule of “my” plan, slightly modified to include with two speed workouts, one tempo, one long slow run (12 miles most recently), and one medium length slow run (7 miles).

I think I’m getting faster. My four mile tempo run felt solid at just over 7 min/mile, and my last round of 12x400m were all coming in at about 1:25 each with about the same rest in between. Of course, it might just be the fact that it’s slightly cooler these days.

Anyway, three weeks from now I’ll start a two week taper with a 5k race at the end of each.

And one of those races better be the magic sub-20 I’ve been working on for the past months!

Compared to What? An Old(ish) Runner Ponders Race Times in South Texas Summer

Here I am on a Saturday, having finished week 8 of “my” Unofficial Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks, as well as the fourth of five races in seven weeks. Oh, and it’s the most brutal time of summer in a region where summer starts in February and ends in November.

I’m surviving.

The plan is going well; I’ve adapted to five days per week and made my initial mileage bump to 32/week (25% of those being high intensity miles).[1] And my accidental plan for 5k racing as 5k training seems to be working also.

But am I getting faster? The answer to that turns out to be surprisingly complicated.

My first trail run this past July was 6:56/mile, and today I ran 6:46/mile, so that would say yes. But my fastest 5k was a 20:01 in April, which is 6:30/mile, so I’m actually much slower now. But that April race was all paved road, and the trails were much tougher (read, slower). Plus, it was substantially cooler in the “early summer” of April.

All this led me to want to see my times in a graph. So after an hour of data entry, here it is, my 5k race pace since I started running again a bit over two years ago:

Steve's 5k Race Pace_9_2_17

Some observations:

  • You’ll note first that I’ve taken the vertical axis down to 5:45/mile. Have to leave room for miraculous improvement!
  • Those times sure did drop fast when I started running.
  • They sure stopped dropping fast by the onset of fall, last year. In fact, that’s a darn flat line from October 2016 – May 2017. Darn flat indeed.
  • Summers are slower. (Note that N=2 here, so consider significance accordingly.)
  • This summer has been a lot slower, but that’s in part because of my injury and sickness, neither of which was quite gone for my June 2017 race, and the fact that three of my summer races were trail runs. The one road race I’ve done (while healthy) was a respectable 6:36/mile. So actually, this summer is, on average, probably a bit faster than last summer. Maybe?


So here’s what I think is going on. Basically I’ve got three major trends intersecting in this chart, along with some other smaller and more variable inputs:

  1. As I get in better shape my times get better, but that’s a curve that flattens. It was much harder to go from a 6:45/mile pace to a 6:30/mile, than it was to go from 7:45—7:30.
  2. As I get older I’m getting a bit slower. I don’t know the slope of this, but I hope it’s a very shallow line. Very very shallow. But, of course, it slopes up. My gains from training are fighting against my losses from age.
  3. There is a seasonal pattern, with time jumping in summer and dropping in winter. Remember, a South Texas “winter” rarely requires more than a long sleeve shirt. Our marathon is in January. (And it was still too hot this past year!)

Other stuff matters on a smaller scale. I haven’t been tapering for races because I’m using them as part of my training rather than as goals, for example. And then there’s course conditions, start times, and the many variables of food and sleep and so forth. But the three trends above are the big ones.

So, am I faster? Yes, I’m faster than I was a month ago, and faster than I was a year ago, but not as fast as I was six months ago.

Can I get a 19:59 5k before I age out? That’s only a few seconds per mile better than my best, so probably.

Can I reach my super-lofty goal of an 18:59? It’s not looking good. That curve seems to be flattening about 20 seconds/mile too slow. But I’ll give it a go. The plan is harder than any I’ve done, and I’m not getting any younger, so if it’s going to happen, it best happen soon.




[1] I should note that I recognize that five days and/or 30 miles/week is slacking for many people. But isn’t for me. And one thing I’ve (mostly) learned from running is that you can only compare yourself to yourself in the end. I’ll never belong on a course with the elites, and though I may be faster than some weekend joggers, who’s to say they suffer any less? So I’m after a PR, or a few, and that’s it. No apologies.

Trail Races are Hard(er)

I just wrapped up week 6 on my Unofficial Running Science 5k Plan for Old(ish) Folks with a 5k trail race in place of the planned superset. And I have to say, trail races are significantly harder (read, slower) than your regular street 5k. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. Today’s race comes in at 6:53/mile, as per the Garmin.


The plan seems to be going well. This week was the same total miles as last week (32), but had a bump in hard miles (from 18% to 25%). Still, I felt good. The hard runs were hard, but the long slow recovery runs actually did the “recovery” part quite well, and I felt almost as good at the end of my recovery days as I generally do at the end of a rest day. Almost.

So the question is, why was this run 17 seconds/mile slower than my street 5k a couple weeks ago, and a mere 3 seconds/mile faster than the trail run three weeks back?

I have some ideas:

  1. As noted in the title, trail runs are just harder, or at least slower. This course was about 75% winding single-track with switchbacks, tons of roots, some overhanging branches, and a few ups and downs (though not really much of the last). All of these things force you to slow down, and this slowing in turn makes it easier to settle into that slower pace without realizing. Plus, it can be deceptive: all those branches whipping by make it seem like you’re flying along. So maybe I need to compare this run only to my last trail run?
  2. I’m being ridiculously impatient. I was a bit out of shape after the injury/sickness/traveling layoff, and though I feel like I’m back in regular shape, it has only been six weeks. The plan calls for sixteen.
  3. I’m fatigued. The jump in mileage in week five and the jump in intensity this week might just have tired me out. I took a rest day yesterday, before the race, but I’m in the middle of a ramping-up section of the plan, not a taper, so I’m supposed to be fatigued! That’s the whole point of this part of the plan: get fatigued so my body will adapt.
  4. My running isn’t paced correctly. I’ve never been a long-slow runner before, so even though it’s only a couple days per week, I still feel a bit strange about those runs. The old “principle of specificity” says training is most useful when it’s closest to race pace. Obviously this would mean my plan is trash, so I’m not going here just yet (talk to me after week 17). But, I am thinking I might add a couple miles at lactate threshold into the middle of at least one of my long runs.
  5. It’s too hot. This feels like a bad excuse, but it is crazy hot here in the depths of south Texas just now. At 7:30 this morning it was about 80 degrees and 88% humidity. A slight change to those numbers and I’d be swimming. I know this matters, and one reason I started the plan now was so that I’d finish in late October or early November once it had cooled off (into the 60s at least). Still, I resist this explanation. Perhaps stupidly.
  6. I’ve hit a plateau. This may well be the case. Part of the impetus behind creating this plan was to break through that barely-over-20-minutes 5k plateau. But I’m not even back to that level. I’m a plateau down from my plateau.
  7. It was just an off day. They happen. Eat something that sets your stomach off, miss some sleep, forget your lucky socks: who know what causes them, but they happen. But again, that’s one reason I love the 5k—I can race another in a week if I want!

Any of these are perfectly reasonable explanations for a mediocre run. Maybe all of them.

But for the moment none of this is important. All that matters, really, is that I get up tomorrow and head out the door for my scheduled slow six miler.

My Life in Miles

Five weeks in, and I’ve survived the big mileage jump. Actually, it wasn’t bad at all.

The last three weeks of “my” plan were about 25 miles each, with a bit less than 25% of that consisting of “hard” miles (intervals, etc). Week five, though, had a scheduled jump to 32 miles, and I was worried.

I’ve never been a high-mileage runner (I’d rather go fast than long), only breaking the 30-mile mark a couple times since I got back in to the sport two years ago, as you can see from the chart below:

weekly miles

But part of my plan was built on the realization that I just wasn’t covering the miles I needed; fast is great, but long and slow is vital as well. I did try to soften the blow of the (totally rule-breaking) 30% jump in mileage by ensuring pretty much all those new miles were also “easy” miles. It helped. Now to add in some more quality miles.

Maybe before too long I’ll put together another chart of my 5k race times to see how it matches up to the above graph, but for the moment it’s fun just to look back at all those little blue bars and think of the many hours they represent, and more importantly the countless momentary decisions to get up early, to head out the door, and to keep going even when it hurt.