Last weekend, I ran the Publix 5K in Atlanta, setting a +25 second personal best at 41 years old! A PR was an unexpected yet well-received result. The event is sponsored by Publix and hosted by the Atlanta Track Club.
The Publix 5K is part of the Publix Marathon weekend in Atlanta. The 5K takes place on Saturday, with the Half Marathon and Marathon on Sunday.
A goal of mine this year is to race more. In the past, I race once, maybe twice per year. My “A” race is typically a marathon, and I have shown up for that race rusty with high nerves. By racing more, I hope to return to feeling energized and motivated by races instead of nervous and dreading at the start.
I also want to build speed. I am not getting any younger, so while I can, I hope to increase my leg speed to allow me to run faster and complement the endurance training of longer distances. A series of 5Ks at the beginning of my season seems to make the most sense.
The Publix 5K course is a challenging route in midtown Atlanta. It starts at Centennial Olympic Park, descends north, makes an abrupt turn, climbs rolling hills past Georgia Tech, and culminates in a steep climb past the Coca-Cola Global Headquarters before returning to Centennial Olympic Park.
My previous personal best on this course is 19:23.
Number pickup began at 6 am, so I was up at 5 am. I have been experimenting with Cup of Noodles as a race day morning meal, drawing inspiration from pro triathlete Lionel Sanders. I have not had Ramen or a Cup of Noodles since college, but the logic makes sense. Cup of Noodles is warm in the cold mornings. It is packed with +40 grams of carbs, as much as an entire bagel, and seasoned to taste. It has +1,500 mg of sodium, which is great for race day but not daily consumption. Before heading out the door, I did light foam rolling and muscle activation with the Theragun.
Number pickup was easy, so I had time to wait before the 7:30 am race started, aimlessly scrolling on my phone.
Forty-Five minutes before the race started, I began my warmup. I paid closer attention to a proper warmup for this race. I ran two miles easy around Centennial Olympic Park, followed by leg swings and light static stretching. Five minutes before the race, I ran four strides over the starting line.
When the horn blasted to start the race, I bolted. My race plan was to hover around 6:10 mile pace before letting it loose the last mile. At half a mile, I was in a small pack running 5:55 pace. I felt good, so I continued. This was also the downhill section of the course. I crossed mile one in 5:56. A good start, and my heart rate had not climbed about 150 yet. I held the pace over the rolling hills, finishing mile two in 5:57. I was on record pace with one mile left! At this point, I put my head down and just ran. I knew it would hurt and prepared myself to accept the hurt. With 1,000 meters left, I hit the steep hill. I ground forward, not focused on my pace, instead keeping the effort and breathing high, but not redlined. I crested the hill for the last 800 meters and drove as hard as possible. My arms and legs were aching. It was a similar feeling to that last rep exhaustion in speed workouts. I drew confidence from having been there before, even though the agony was much greater now. I climbed one more short hill, turning left for the final 400-meter push to the finish. When I crossed the three-mile mark, I dug deep, summoning all the 200-meter speed I hoped I had, and sprinted (or as close as my tired legs would move) for the finish line.
My final time was 18:33, a 26-second PR at 41 years of age. This time was faster than I had ever run cross-country in high school, and breaking 19 minutes was beyond my imagination at the start of the race.
By racing more, I am trying to learn to “race” in races instead of treating them like a hard workout. I am working on getting more comfortable with the discomfort and the pain of racing – embracing it as a measure of effort and a test of tolerance and mental strength.
What’s next? At my age, I rarely plan on setting PRs. But, maybe, I could have run those mile splits about 5 seconds faster….