One of the fragments of running knowledge I have acquired is that I do know the difference between a 5000m / ‘five thousand metres’ and a 5k / ‘five kay’ – the first is five kilometres raced on a track and the second is the same distance run on the road. A little over a week ago I ran only my second 5000m race.
The event was part of an open meeting at Highgate Harriers‘ Parliament Hill track. It was the first open meeting with a full programme that I have attended – there were four field events and the 5000m was the last and longest of six track events. All but one of the track events was organised as two or more independent races grouped by ability; the 5000m was divided into two races and I was in the second of those. I arrived early enough to relax and watch several of the earlier events before needing to prepare for my own. I particularly enjoyed the second of the three 800m races and watched with a broad grin as runners of all ages from pre-teenage girls to men approaching my own age, with age and gender representatives of most groups in between, raced in close competition and crossed the finish line within seconds of each other.
I arrived at the meeting with a target of 18:50 for my race; the same optimistic target I set for my last two 5k parkruns. I had fleetingly considered that a track should be more conducive to speed than road and hoped that I might set a 5000m best faster than my current 5k PB of 18:53. But I hadn’t considered how much better. Whilst getting changed into my race kit I chatted with another runner who suggested, in an encouraging way, that the track might be worth 25 seconds or so over a road 5k! I hadn’t considered it might be quite that much, but didn’t reflect further at the time; my 18:50 target was pretty optimistic anyway.
By the time I lined up at the start for my race (8:43pm according to my Garmin) it was dark beyond the floodlights of the track and I was feeling just a little tired – I was about to start a race around twelve hours later than I typically do! I had also warmed up anticipating an 8.20pm start … But enough excuses already, I was still excited enough to start quickly and glancing at my watch just after we passed the finish line for the first time confirmed just how fast. My pace was well inside 3:40/km and knowing my 18:50 goal required an average of 3:46/km I needed to slow down. I only wanted to slow down a little, but running in such close proximity to the others – I was in the middle of the 13 starters as we traversed the second bend – I wanted to be sure I didn’t compromise anyone else’s race. I quite enjoyed the sensation of looking around to make myself aware of the runner on my shoulder and those just behind me and then carefully modifying my pace on the second straight. Several runners took their cue and passed me before the next bend.
By the time I reached the finish line again, and saw the 11 laps to go board, I had settled in and a lap later finished the first kilometre in 3:47. By this time I think I was already in thirteenth place and focussed on running my goal pace. I completed the second kilometre in 3:48 and already knew I was not going to be able to achieve my goal pace for the entire race. I modified my goal to sub 19:00. There was a slight, but still significant, wind in the back straight and running unprotected by other runners it had some effect on me. I completed the third kilometre in 3:54. I could still see the runner in twelfth place, within 100m of me, and tried to avoid being dropped further. The rest of the field though were out of sight – I was glad I’d asked before the start about the etiquette should I be lapped. I think it was during the next kilometre that the twelfth place runner slowed down and we swapped places – it was definitely him slowing; I completed kilometre four in 3:53.
Running essentially alone I found the decreasing laps to go board something to aim for and having seen it showing two laps to go I was on the final bend when I became aware, at first from the cheering of the crowd and shortly after from the noise of the runners themselves, that the lead runners were completing their final lap and in so doing were catching me up. Quite quickly. I didn’t look round, but accelerated slightly as I approached the one lap to go board to ensure I didn’t get in the way of the finish. And to make sure I didn’t get lapped. 😉
This, and my own finishing push in the final 150m or so, helped to ensure that I completed the final kilometre in 3:39. My official time was 19:01.53. I was initially disappointed not to run inside 19:00, but reflected that I had run my fastest five kilometres of the year so far and in so doing had beaten my two competitively paced parkruns of the year – 19:15 run at Dulwich eleven days earlier and 19:04 in Poole just four days, and twelve hours, before the race.
So, hypothetically, how much is a track worth over a road at this distance? A 5000m time of 19:01.53 produces an age grade, for me, of 75.21% which in turn equates to a 19:27.39 5k. Or, from another perspective, my 18:53 5k PB produces an age grade of 77.49% which equates to a 5000m time of 18:27.97. Both of which seem to make last week’s performance look less positive. Ah well.
Perhaps I’m not in the most positive frame of my mind right now; last week I joined in a track session for the first time in about a year and had to abort the main workout when I strained a muscle in my right calf. It has now been five days since I last ran.