Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hope on Wheels 5k Victory

[This is a guest post from Jason, primarily derived from an email that he sent a friend who inquired about his performance in a 5k road race last weekend.]

I got your text today, and it caused great perplexity in my mind. 

"Did u win wheelchair div this AM????? Did something happen I don't know about?"

Just a few minutes ago, Laura pointed me to an AJC article that might be the cause of the confusion:

"Jason Smucker, 38, of Marietta (0:25:37) and Mary Hogenmuller, 33, of Atlanta (0:27:27) won the wheel divisions."

Is this what prompted your text?  Gotta love the AJC!  :-)

Contrary to what may be reported by the AJC, I'm fine.  I'm not wheelchair bound.  I have not suffered a traumatic physical impairment.  Mental impairment, perhaps.  But not physical.  I think the explanation has its roots in the naming of the Hyundai Hope on Wheels [emphasis mine] 5k that I raced this morning, and apparently won.  It is a parallel event to the Allstate Atlanta Half-Marathon (Produced by US Road Sports & Entertainment Group as part of their "13.1 Marathon" brand of half-marathon races around the country.)

Regarding the mental impairment, the back-story goes like this...  Back in the spring, I signed up for the Publix Georgia Marathon in March 2014.  This past weekend, Laura and I committed to running regularly (she is registered for the Publix Georgia half-marathon) and laid out a training plan to get us ready for March.  Last Sunday (Sept 29), I filed that plan in a folder on my computer named "running." Curious as to what was in that folder (because I didn't remember creating it), I investigated and found a registration receipt for today's Allstate Atlanta Half-Marathon.  Apparently I had signed up during a registration "blitz" (discounted period) back in January 2013, but had failed to make note of it on ANY of our family's calendars.  So here I was, one week from a half-marathon that I didn't know I was registered to run.  ...hence my above claim to some mental impairment. :-)

I could have slogged through the half-marathon today; I've certainly done similar races while woefully under-trained in the past. But I had already committed to helping lead worship at our church this morning and needed to be there around 9am. Additionally, running the half-marathon would have required about a week of recovery time and would have been counter my commitment to Laura (and myself) to begin running more regularly.  At packet pick-up, I asked about the legality and feasibility of switching down to the 5k on race day if I wasn't feeling up to the 13.1 mile distance of the half-marathon.  The race rep said. "No problem. Just run the route you want to run and the computers will automatically sort you into the appropriate race." Great!  5k, here I come!

In the meantime, I (slowly) ran 3 to 4 miles on 6 out of the 8 days leading up to the race.  So with only a week of training, I was as ready as I was going to be to run the 5k race this morning.

I lined up in the middle of the start area, after the A, B, and C corrals for the more qualified runners.  My only goal was to run a pace below my blow-up/throw-up threshold.  When I'm in better condition, I typically target 180 BPM efforts when I race 10k races.  Not being in great condition, I aimed to see if I could hold 180 BPM for the shorter 5k distance.  Until the end of the race, I pretty much held between 170 and 184 BPM depending on the road grade.  It was a hard effort for my current condition, but it seemed sustainable.  That translated into running paces between 7 and 9 minutes per mile.  I was all over the place, pace-wise, but so was the terrain. 

At about the 2.3 mile mark, the 5k course split left from the half-marathon route.  I went left inquiring of the volunteers, "5k?" and they confirmed I was on the right path.  I hadn't seen anybody else make the left turn, so I suddenly felt like a non-conformist.  Little did I know how non-conformist I really was!!!  As soon as I turned left, a bicycle rider started riding along side and ahead of me.  As best I could, I started chatting him up.  Turns out he was the 5k race leader escort.  Dumbfounded, I asked the obvious question, "Does that mean I'm the first person to split from the half-marathon route?"  He confirmed that I was, if fact, the race leader.  I would describe my thoughts as incredulous!

The 5k route ran downhill for about a half-mile after the split, I averaged about a 7:15 pace.  Euphoria!  Then came reality: a painful uphill climb on the out portion of a short out-and-back section.  It was only about 25 feet in elevation gain, but heart rate rose to 187 BPM and my pace dropped to 9:20 over 0.15 miles.  I had no power and felt like I was going to implode right at the 3-mile mark.  It always seems demoralizing to run past where you are ultimately headed knowing that you are going to do a 180-turn and have to head right back to where you came from. It's extra demoralizing when that outbound section is uphill. 

But finally, the turn-around point arrived.   And with it, the welcome relief of a downhill grade.  I "coasted" for about 30 seconds and let my heart rate recover back down to about 182.  The downhill ended with the final (right) turn toward the finish line.  Feeling a little "better," I picked up the pace for a final kick.  With about 150 yards to go, the bicycle escort called out to the finish line area workers, "5k runner!" The volunteers let out a veritable roar of cheering when I came into view propelling me on with an adrenaline rush over the final yards.

Dilemma: What are you supposed to do when you're the first person across the finish line?  ...especially when you're not expecting to be anywhere close to being the first person across that finish line?  I could see two people holding a ribbon across the road.  It didn't stretch completely from side to side.  Given how unexpected the situation was, I half thought to just go behind one of the people and let someone else break the ribbon. But that might be considered rude.  So I lined up with the middle of the ribbon and sprinted ahead.  As I got close, I had a momentary yet very distinct thought of, "Don't worry about stopping the wristwatch. Someone might be taking some pictures. Don't be 'that' guy looking at his watch while crossing the finish line."  So I summoned as much power as I had left (not much) to run through the finish line.  The result was apparently a blur to all who witnessed my finish:

So fast that I look like the Flash
See what I mean?

From a different angle, breaking the tape.

It probably took me about 5 seconds to get around to stopping my watch.  Time on the watch = 24:52.  I figure my net time was probably about 24:48 (7:59 pace for a true 5k, 3.107 miles).  We'll see how that compares to the official results.  The results as currently posted just show the gun time (25:37). 

Published results from
 And the GPS watch measured my route on the course as being a little long at 3.21 miles giving me a sustained pace of 7:44.  I'm really happy with that for just starting up the running routine recently.  This is a great start to marathon training. Now I just need to maintain consistency over the next 20 weeks.

The finish line volunteers were hilarious.  One lady at the chocolate milk table asked if I had been running 6 minutes miles.  She didn't look phased when I said I was probably closer to 8 minute miles.  She said she's signed up for her first half-marathon a few months out and wanted to do well. I tried to encourage her to focus more on having fun and experiencing it.  Another group of volunteers wanted my picture with them.  I was happy oblige in exchange for a banana.  :-) 

I didn't stick around to see if they had an awards ceremony.  Was that rude?  I had to "get me to the church on time." 

All in all it was fun.  ...and since my entry fee was based on the half-marathon rate (~$50) this was quite possibly the most expensive race I've ever run on a per mile basis (~$16 per mile).  It makes the Peachtree Road Race look like a bargain.  :-)  But the organization was good, and I would consider running the race again, either the 5k or the half-marathon version.