The Cougar Challenge - My First 5K

So I am  writing this post in hindsight after having a couple days rest and having time to contemplate my first 5K race. The race I completed, the Cougar Challenge, is a 5K to help support Calvary Baptist Day School in Winston-Salem, NC.  The event was held at the Bermuda Run Country Club just outside of Clemmons, NC and was open to anyone who wants to run.

Preparation for the Race
Oddly enough, because of several issues I have with my joints and shins, the only preparation I did came in the form of the treadmill.  I would run three days a week, each day getting progressively more difficult.  Mondays, would normally be a one mile walking warm-up followed by a 5K flat run.  Next, on Wednesday, I would usually take it up a notch by running 5 to 6 miles flat, with no incline.  Fridays were generally free for all in the sense that I could either do some hill training or run the 5K for speed.  During this training period I increased the intake of energy foods (eg. oranges) and fluids. In training I was never able to run the 5K faster than 29 minutes, but for someone who weighs 237 lbs this is probably pretty decent.

The Week Leading up to the Race
Unfortunately about a week and a half before the race, I was hit with what I believe to be a virus.  The doctors still do not know what I have but it is sapping my energy and causing me to sleep quite often.  So the week before the race I only got one run in and only ran 5K on the treadmill. On the day of the race I got up early, drank about 24 ounces of fluid and drank a protein shake instead of a meal.

The Race
First, since this was my first race, I had no idea what to expect beyond what I had read on the internet.  The morning was cool, so I wore my windbreaker over my sleeveless running shirt. I wore shorts with a spandex type of short under the regular shorts.  I have found the tight spandex greatly cuts down on chaffing and I highly recommend it as underwear for running.

Next, because it was so cool, I had to stay warmed up so I walked the parking lot and did some very slow jogging.  Just enough jogging to keep the blood flowing without causing me to breathe harder. After I felt my body was warmed up, I did some basic stretches to get my Achilles tendons stretched out.  I do this because this is generally where I have the most pain and lack of flexibility. I do not recommend stretching until you have warmed up the muscles and tendons thoroughly as this can result in a muscle tear.

As the race approached we all started to line up at the starting line. I threw my jacket behind a tree and checked my racing bib to make sure it was still fastened properly.  There were many different age groups present from 6 to 60 years old.  I lined up slightly toward the back since I was not sure how fast this group was going to be and it is considered poor runners etiquette to line up in the front if you are slow or unsure of the speed of the racers involved.  In a 3 mile race there is plenty of time to think about pace and passing other runners.

Finally, the horn sounded and we were off and running.  I was tucked into a pretty large group of people and it became difficult to find a pace and line to run in.  I guess this is the disadvantage of placing yourself back too far in the pack.  After about a quarter mile we hit our first hill and this caused everyone to break up.  The slower and untrained began to walk, while the rest of us kept some kind of running pace. I was able to find some daylight and break out a bit at this point.  Since this first hill was so early in the run, I had no real difficulty running it at at just a slightly slower pace.

The race continued and the course flattened out a bit.  This gave the runners a little breather, but the rest would be short lived.  Another hill was just ahead.  I could see the hill coming way ahead of time so I throttled back my pace a bit to help my heart and lungs recover. I knew as soon as I hit the incline, my heart rate would increase and I would risk getting winded.  This hill was not awful but it was long and keeping my heart rate low was difficult.  As I approached the summit, I knew that I would get a breather on the other side and was greatly looking forward to it. Just as I crested the hill, I saw the hill slope downward followed by another hill on the other side. At this point I began to think more about finishing without walking than finishing with a great time. I knew now that it was going to be a very hilly course.

I pressed on and passed a few folks here and a few folks there, but generally I had found a pace and so had everyone else. I was now about two miles in and I was feeling it.  My quads were starting to feel tired from all the hill climbing and my lungs were constantly being challenged.  I had  my iPhone with me also tracking my progress and when I hit the second to last hill at about 2.5 miles in, I was really feeling it.  I wanted to stop and walk badly but I would not allow myself.  I began to pray for strength like I never had before while running.  At times on the hills I don't know how my legs kept churning.  Finally, I could see the home stretch ahead and yep, you guessed it, another hill.  Not a bad hill but at this point in the race I was hoping for it to be flat so I could open it up.  I rounded the last corner on the hill and finished the race at 32 minutes and some change. I met my goal of not walking and had completed my first race.

Conclusions and Lessons Learned
The treadmill can be used as the sole training platform but it will not fill in some of the gaps such as effects of pavement on the joints and muscles and propelling yourself forward rather than propelling yourself along a moving belt.  It did adequately train me for the event but I would recommend running once in a while outside. Hill training is crucial when confronted with a course like this. Unfortunately I had never raced this course and could find no information on it online.  My feeling is that you should heavily train for hills three weeks before the event.  If you don't, you will never be able to run a competitive pace on a hilly course.  Considering the challenges before and during the event I am happy with my performance.  I think the overall winner came in somewhere around 20 minutes.

As far as my impressions of the course, I had mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the roads were well maintained and little traffic, but on the other hand, I really did not care for all the hills.  I felt like the hills were too challenging and caused me to run much more conservatively.  Had the course had more flat sections it would have allowed me to open it up and have a little fun. Furthermore, the actual finish line was on the summit of the hill, so the spectators could not cheer you on as you ran the last half mile. This made the finish rather anticlimactic to say the least. Of course I could just have easily turned that around and said that I was not prepared to run the hills and it was no fault of the course layout.  The bottom line is that I had fun and it was for a great cause.  Hey, if a fat 40 year old can do then you can too!


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