When Covid-19 took away my racing events for the year I decided I needed a goal to replace them. Since I had been focused on endurance events like marathons and Ironman and the training that goes with them, I thought that maybe I would try something that focuses on speed. After participating in the Torch Run at work and testing myself for a mile afterward and hitting 6:35, I came up with a plan to try to run a sub-6 minute mile.
I trained through the summer and into fall and tried a few test runs to see if I improved. The first attempt lowered my time to 6 minutes, 32 seconds. The second attempt I hit 6:25. Now I was seeing some improvement, but still pretty far away from sub-6. The third attempt resulted in a DNF when I basically went out way too fast and pulled the plug on it at the half-mile mark. The fourth attempt clocked in a 6:24, an improvement by 1 second, but still a long way from hitting my goal. I figured a few things would need to happen.
First, I needed a cool day. I also needed the wind to either work for me, or not work against me, or both. And lastly, I needed to move off the track and trail and find a course that was mostly downhill with limited interruptions. So on my 57th birthday, I found that the conditions might be right to give it another go.
So here’s the attempt at achieving my goal:
OCTOBER 17, 2020 – Attempt Number 5
- TIME: 5:44.1
- WHERE: KENSINGTON ROAD, MOKENA, IL
- WEATHER: ~60 degrees, strong/gusty SSW winds
- LEAD-UP: 9.25 mile run Thursday, rest day on Friday
- COMMENTS: I told my son Ben that I was thinking of giving the sub-6 mile another try, and since he was coming down for my birthday with his girlfriend Emily, he brought his special racing Nike ZOOM X shoes, which he claimed would make me faster. I was skeptical, but I would at least be open to give them a try.
So when he arrived, I tried them on and I had to admit that they felt pretty light and springy. Ben had already ran 12 miles that morning, so he grabbed a bike from the garage and offered to pace me along. As I did some warm-up through the neighborhood, I changed my mind on the route we had discussed a few minutes before. I decided to run out of my neighborhood on Kensington because I felt like it was more downhill than the other route we thought of using. Emily jumped in her car to follow us and watch as well. I did a little less than a mile to warm-up the legs and to get used to the shoes and told Ben that I would pick up my tempo and hit start at the corner and we’d be off.
My pace felt good as I hit the start button on my watch and I quickly locked into the tempo I felt I could comfortably hold. Ben was monitoring my bike computer and advised that we were right at 10-11 mph, which was just what we needed. A quick left and then right turn about 200 yards or so into the run and downhill we started. The wind was really strong at my back, but I could not sense that it was aiding me. At least it wasn’t hurting me either.
The only thing I was worried about was a street that I had to cross about a half-mile into the run. The intersection wasn’t a 4-way stop and the cross street didn’t have to stop for traffic. But Ben pedaled ahead and gave me the all clear and I trucked through the intersection without even looking for any cars.
The next section was somewhat flat but still descending. I was really starting to feel the burn in my lungs, but my legs were still churning pretty well. The legs weren’t tiring much.
At about 2/3’s of a mile I realized I had a decision to make ahead – I could go straight and then turn left around the neighborhood I would finish in, or I could make a left and then turn right. As I searched my memory for how the neighborhood was laid out, I figured that the second option would be better as I would finish with a downhill and not have to climb at the end.
My breathing was now producing spittle, which was flying out of my mouth at every breath. I gave a quick glance at my watch to see the distance I had left and I saw that I was at about 0.86 miles. Time to dig deep! I also saw the pace was showing 6:15, which gave me an “oh crap” moment. I thought maybe I was going to miss it.
After a few more hard pressed strides, I saw the watch turn from 0.99 to 1.0 miles and I hit stop. I gave myself a few yards to come to a stop and then looked at the watch and saw 5:44.
My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. All this time I had been thinking that taking nearly a half-minute off my previous best was going to be a very difficult thing to do, but not only did I do that, I really did it! 15 seconds under my goal of sub-6!
I told Ben and we celebrated with some high-fives and some big smiles.
I was kind of coughing at the end of the run while my heart rate was coming down. Ben said that it was pretty common and even has a name – “track hack.” I guess I just irritated it with the volume of air I was pushing in and out.
As I recovered I started wondering why this attempt was successful when the others were not. I definitely had a cooler day, and the wind was in my favor, but I have to really think the most important aspect was the mostly descending route that I took. Not having to fight gravity is a big deal. I’ll admit the shoes were lighter and more springy, but the psychological advantage may have been a bigger factor. If you feel like they are giving you an edge, then maybe they will.
But I got to think it might be due to the mustache that I grew back. The spirit of Steve Prefontaine must have been with me.