After 6 months of preparing Marathons and Half Ironmans, I decided to go to the opposite extreme of running a 5K race with no specific preparation whatsoever. I couldn't really resist taking part in a race that was taking place barely a kilometre (and a down hill one at that) from my house. The fact it started at a reasonable time (10:25) made it that much easier to squeeze into my weekend although, by this time, the sun was starting to assert itself.
I rolled down to the start line on my bike hardly having to pedal and found that there was already a hive of activity with some kind of open air aerobics class, a live band and about 1,500 runners warming up for the first edition of the Ciudad de Pozuelo 10K / 5K race. I saw a number of familiar faces from my work as well as spotting David López, one of the guys who went on the training camp in Morocco with me a year and a half ago, as he toed the start line of the 10K race (he went on to finish second). I had decided to take part in the 5K race.
The course is a loop along main roads that were closed to traffic but consisted of a steady climb with a couple of steeper sections that served to spread us out a bit. Of course, what goes up must come down, so the way back was gravity assisted but, as usual, never enough to compensate for the price paid going up. I managed to work out that I should just be able to beat my best time in 5K and, if I was really lucky, I might even be able to get a podium spot in the Veteran category... It's always hard to tell other runner's ages, especially when you are running with your tongue hanging out.
Just as I was in the final straight, literally counting down the seconds from 100 until the pain was over, someone decided to pick exactly that moment to cross the road. To be fair, I think their idea was to walk right up to me, wait for me to pass, and then cross immediately behind me - but when you are in the final throes of a competition, the last thing you want is someone to distract you and make you have to watch out for them. I mean, for f´s sake, could she not have crossed in the 21 second gap in front of me or the 8 second gap behind me or - better still - just not crossed the wrong side of the finish line at all? I shouted "get out of the way" in Spanish in such a way that she looked a little startled. The problem with local races is that she could turn out to be the parent of one of my son's friends, a colleague at work, etc... Sorry for shouting but I can't always control my actions at the end of a race.
As I crossed the line in 18:05 - a Personal Best time by 7 seconds! - I heard the announcer say that they were waiting for the second Veteran to be confirmed so I thought I was in for a chance. In the end, I finished in 14th position overall and 4th in my category, so I got that bitter-sweet reward of being just shy of getting a trophy to take home and impress my kids with.
People always say "a 5K race? That must be easy for you, an Ironman, etc" to which I explain that the shorter the race, the faster you run it and the more agonic it is. My lungs feel as though I've swallowed a blow-torch. Still, it's nice to be able to pull a best time out of the bag in a week when I have hardly been able to walk for most of it. The recovery after my odyssey in Lisbon last week has been the slowest and most painful that I can remember (not counting problems with raw skin that can usually be prevented). It's always the way, the worse the race goes, the tougher it is to finish and the longer the recovery.
I sat getting my breath back talking to a fellow runner about the merits of running in Vibram Five Fingers (he did ask me...) as a friend, José Miguel, crossed the line of his first ever running race (and one that I had encouraged him to take part in). Hopefully it will be the first of many.
This week has been a bit of a difficult week mentally as well as physically. It is all very well to cheerfully say that I am going to cut myself some slack but it is another to refocus my goals so that I don't suffer from that gnawing guilt with every gramme that I put on or every minute less of training. The goals now are longer term (don't worry - I'm talking about after summer, not about "retiring"!) and the immediate ones are of a different nature - no less important but certainly less measurable: enjoy sports and the family and recharge my batteries. A few low key races like today will definitely help the ego fend off the guilt trips and they come at a fairly cheap price in terms of training time (not to mention entry fees and travel expenses). The only problem is that, as it gets hotter I have to accept that my performance will most likely drop as it usually does. Having such great weather in Spain has its down sides...