A recap and analysis of my first-ever race at age 48
I did it! I completed my first ever 5k race yesterday, with a ominous 13.1-mile half marathon looming about 5 weeks down the road. For those of you with a lot of running experience, this post may take you back to your first running race. Those of you that ran the same race yesterday, you may have experienced the same feelings, emotions and physical things that I did. But for those of you who have only “thought” about running a 5k (or longer), I want you to run along with me in your mind as I take you through my race. Warning – I don’t want to offend anyone, but I want you to know what I was thinking, feeling and doing during my run; profanity may follow…
As many of you who follow this blog know, one year ago I couldn’t walk 3.5mph on a 3.5% incline for 10 minutes on a treadmill. I was very overweight and unhealthy. I’ve since loss 60 lbs and am the healthiest I’ve been in my entire 48 years. But I’ve worked out for six days a week since March 17th, 2010. I’ve paid my dues.
Because I committed to running a half marathon in Indianapolis this coming May, I’ve been on a training schedule to increase my running distance, improve my time and build up endurance. I’ve never been a runner, so my training has been very challenging.
For this 5K, my training schedule was set by my coach (and daughter) Karli. Karli is 15 and a high school freshman who runs cross country for one of the top high school teams in Indiana. She is a very strong runner with college scholarship potential. Karli wrote out my training program for the week leading up to the Underground Railroad 5K. I completed this program to the letters.
- Monday: 40-minute long run (4.5 miles)
- Tuesday: Four 800m thresholds with a 90-second rest between each
- Wednesday: 35-minute run in the pool (take strain off of legs)
- Thursday: Two threshold 800s followed by two 200m sprints
- Friday: 16-min easy run followed by two 100m sprints and a 300m accelerate
I really felt that this plan, which Karli’s cross country team follows, helped me get a better feel for what to expect in the race. And because the forecast called for cold temps, I did my runs outside so I could get used to sucking in cold air.
I slept about 7.5 hours and woke up at 6:00am. I ate a breakfast of oatmeal, a banana, coffee and orange juice. I took a Gatorade 1 pre-fuel and a Cliff energy bar with me to Westfield High School where the race was being held. I arrived at the school around 7:00am, two hours before the 9:00am start.
At 7:40, I ate another banana. At 7:50a, I ventured outside for a 16-minute warm-up run around the school. During this run I kept thinking… “Damn, it’s cold. My first race and it’s freakin’ 21 degrees!”After my warm-up run, I stretched with Karli inside the school. She had running practice that morning and returned from an outside run just before I did. She gave me some final race advice. “Go out at a comfortable pace and then when you feel like it, increase your speed.”
At 8:20, I ate ½ of my Cliff energy bar. At 8:45, I started getting ready and slurped down my Gatorade 1, pre-fuel and headed to the starting line. I was feeling a little anxious, but good.
When I got to the starting line, I saw a lot of familiar faces and we were all bouncing up and down trying to stay warm. The sky was clear and the sun was rising, warming things up just a bit. But the wind was still gusting 15- to 20-mph.
After the playing of the National Anthem, I found a spot in the middle of the pack. I thought, “I don’t want to start way back here. Move up!” So, I worked my way up toward the front group. Had I made the right move by getting up there with the more experienced runners?
And… we’re off!
The horn blew; I started the timer on my watch and took off. I was not even 50 yards past the starting line when I thought, “Holy f%#&, we’re running really fast!” Remembering what Karli said about going out at a comfortable pace, I tried to slow down but had already gotten sucked into the quicker pace. I was in the middle of a stampede of quick runners. “Oh well, here goes nothing!” I think it was pure adrenaline that got me through the first 800 meters.
As we made the turn into a neighborhood, runners started to spread out a bit. I could see the leaders making a turn way up in the distance and thought, “Here’s where I need to find a comfortable pace.” I saw a guy in front of me that I thought had a good cadence; I got right behind him and matched him stride for stride for about 800 meters. But, I felt I could push a little more, so I eventually passed him and found my stride, which I thought might still be a little quick.
As we ran north against the wind and toward a hairpin turn on a county road, I could see the flashing lights of a police car escorting the lead runners back south. We scooted over and I began looking for anyone I knew in the lead pack. There was Karli’s cross country coach Scott Lidskin and the assistant coach right up there with the leaders. As they passed the one mile mark, I heard the spotter shout “4:55, 4:56, 4:57…”. I was thinking, “Wow! That’s fast! How far am I behind them?”
I made the hairpin turn and was sucking in massive amounts of cold air with every breath as I moved closer to the one-mile marker. “7:54, 7:55, 7:56, 7:57,” shouted the spotter. She shouted “7:58!,” as I ran by. “I just ran a sub-eight-minute mile?!” That kind of freaked me out because I knew I couldn’t keep that pace up.
As I continued south with the wind now at my back, I was looking for people I knew to see who I was beating at that point. I saw familiar faces and was wondering how long it would take them to blow by me after I burned out. Then, I saw an old Catholic nun in a habit running north, past me. I had to laugh and was thinking, “No fair! God is helping her run!”
I slowed down my pace slightly and made the right turn heading west, now really against the wind. I saw a water station up ahead with a table of styrofoam cups. I reached out and grabbed one and tried to take a drink. As I bounced along, I spilled more on me than I got in my mouth. “Damn, that water is freezing cold!” I managed to swallow just enough to keep me hydrated and help my dry throat. My eyes were watering profusely from the cold wind.
I made the turn south onto Union street and remember thinking, “This is going to be a long-ass stretch! Just keep going.” At that moment, one of my friends, Jennifer Paul, caught up to me. I thought, “Okay, here we go. Everyone I know is going to start passing me.” I tried to keep pace with her (she’s an experienced runner and competes in triathlons), but I couldn’t. She increased her lead over me with every stride. I then started to feel a little nauseous. I had been coughing up and spitting mucous about every 100 meters for the past several minutes; but I think that I swallowed a lot of it, too. Combine the mucous, the water I just drank and the chocolate from the Cliff bar and I had eating prior to the race, and a storm was brewing in my belly. I ran past a quaint war memorial for fallen soldiers of the Iraq war and started gagging. I know the other runners around me probably thought I was going to puke on them. I gagged loudly one more time and then regained my composure as I passed the 2-mile mark. “16:03,” shouted the spotter. “Really?” I thought. “I’m still at about an eight minute mile pace? Hmmm… I can maybe finish around 24-something.”
As I approached the corner and prepared to turn west, I remember Karli telling me that she’d be near that point helping direct runners through the course. I looked but didn’t see her where I thought she’d be. But, as a made the turn, I could see her about 50 meters ahead. As I approached, another burst of adrenaline kicked in. So many times before, during her cross country meets, I have stood by the course and hollered, “Go Karli. Run., Karli, run!” Now it was her turn to cheer me on. “Go Daddy! You can do it. Finish strong!” I heard her teammates holler,“Good job Mr. Koning!” That got me pumped to run harder.
Then came the hills; not big hills, but long uphill grades in Asa Bales park. I was thinking, “Are you f&^*#$ kidding me? Hills in the last half mile?” I struggled up the long climb and was hoping to regain lost time on the descent. As I started accelerating downhill, some teenager passed me and cut me off. “Dumb Ass!”, I mumbled to myself. I could feel myself slowing off of my pace. I was getting tired but knew the finish line was getting close. I struggled up the next small hill and then again, as I ran downhill, another kid passes me, cuts me off and slows down. It felt like the NASCAR “big one” was about to happen; a crash of epic proportions. I clipped his heel and sent him stumbling into the grass, but he recovered. As I passed him, I think I said, “Dude… cut me off again, and I’ll knock you down!” I wasn’t very happy because someone could have really gotten hurt.
Up ahead, I saw a few more of Karli’s cross country teammates cheering people on. “C’mon Mr. Koning, you’re almost there! You can do it!” I looked up and saw the finish line about 400 meters away. It looked like two miles away! I tried to accelerate, but couldn’t. My brain and legs were no longer communicating. The spotter shouted, “24:37!” as I passed the three mile mark. “Damn, there’s no way I can break 25 minutes. I can’t get there in 23 seconds.” I was disappointed and thought, “maybe I can make it under 26 minutes.”
The Big Finish
As I crossed the street and headed for the chute, I saw some neighbors and heard them holler, “Go Brian, great job!” I looked up and saw the clock at the finish line. “25:07”
I remembered the training that Karli had me do with the 200 and 100 meter sprints to simulate the end of a race. I dug deep and kicked in as much of the afterburners as I could muster. “Go, you f#&(#*&# legs, GO!!!”
My lungs were on fire. My legs were on fire. I couldn’t take in oxygen fast enough. As I looked to the left, I saw my wife and son cheering. I heard the announcer say, “Brian Koning of Carmel crossing the finish line!” and then I heard the “beep” of my timing chip as I crossed. I finished in 25:39. At that moment, I just wanted to be left alone. My body was hurting. That last 50 meters kicked my ass.
My average mile time was 8:15 and I finished 122 out of about 650 (only 520 finished). I finished 11th out of 28 men in the 45-49 age group.
I will never forget my first running race. Yes, it was only 3.1 miles. But, that’s quite an accomplishment considering that I was in very poor health just one year earlier. I am looking forward to my next run and will try to better my time in this particular race next year.
And… I have hopefully learned my lesson about running a comfortable pace and finishing strong.
“Thank you!”to Coach Karli and my family and friends for their support and encouragement.
To your health!