The first Sunday in May has been circled on my running calendar for the past eight years—but even though Broad Street is spring’s highlight, it usually comes on the heels of at least one other race, so there’s not usually much mystery when I come up out of the subway station at Broad and Olney.
Except this year.
It had been nearly six months since my last race—the Rothman 8K back in November—and the only real benchmark I had to go off was a tempo run a couple weeks ago in which I averaged a 6:19 mile.
Sub-63 was probably in play (I’d only need to average a second faster per mile than that tempo workout), but as I stepped out on to Broad, I didn’t have a big, red number flashing in my brain.
And in a way, it was freeing.
It’s not to say I wasn’t trying to PR or didn’t have any expectations, but after four years of swinging the hammer through goal after goal and chewing up innumerable miles in the process, it wasn’t do-or-die about a specific number. Instead, I could go all Zen on this race.
The weather was favorable(ish)—high 50s, a little on the humid side, mild tailwind—and I got in my standard Broad Street warmup, so I was mentally checked in and set to throw down.
The logjam that is the first quarter-mile of Broad Street was no less stupid this year—really, one of these times, people aren’t going to jump corrals or lie about their times—so I hammered a good bit harder than 63-flat pace until I cleared the worst of it, settling in around the half-mile mark. Legs felt good, lungs felt good, and I ignored time and pace until I zipped past the first mile marker at the 6:15 mark on my watch (forgetting, of course, that I should check the time differential on the course clocks).
Now, a 6:15 mile should’ve been too fast; it’s only just off what I averaged at Rothman for five miles, so keeping that up for 10 should’ve been a dangerous prospect. On the risk/reward scale, though, a downhillish first mile a few seconds faster than planned wasn’t sending things into the red just yet.
When mile 2 passed in 6:15 again, despite feeling like I’d settled in to something more comfortable (and the data claim my heart rate actually dropped a bunch), I felt a lot better about the sub-63 prospects—and a 6:13 in mile 3 only strengthened that.
As the remainder of the hills spooled out and I hit my neighborhood (another 6:15 in mile 4), I subconsciously ticked it up slightly—getting a little bit of a boost from an unexpected cheering section at Fairmount Avenue—and hit the midpoint with a 6:07 split, putting me unofficially at 31:08… or a second faster than what I’d done at Rothman in November.
Hoo boy, this was gonna make the back half interesting.
One of these years, I’m going to figure out why my pace flags around City Hall—it’s not a tangent thing or a crowding thing (mostly), but I inevitably lose a bit, even though the crowds pick up and there’s more energy.
This time put it at a 6:20 mile—maybe not an unexpected regression from that speedy fifth mile and the end of the hills, but an annoying one all the same. I started looking for people to key off to get back on pace and saw a runner I recognized—Hollie, who can straight-up thrash it—and mentally latched on.
Things improved as we headed through Washington Avenue, which is a rough 10K mark, and into the dreaded flats of South Philly. Mile 7 went down in 6:15 and Mile 8 was by in 6:17, so I was still well under 63 with just two miles to hang on.
I’d overtaken Hollie somewhere in mile 8, but the stretch between Marconi Plaza and the 95 overpass just after mile 9 turned into a back-and-forth between us—I slipped a notch with a 6:19 to the mile 9 flag and fell a few yards back, then tried to pull out a few stops in the downhill to the Navy Yard gate, when a bunch of runners surged.
I knew I didn’t have a quarter-mile kick in me; I wasn’t exactly hanging on for dear life at that point, but I knew what my legs were going to allow me, which meant conserving for a push at the final mothballed ship—I hauled it into whatever that last gear was, and I came into the line at about 62:53 on the clock, pushing a 6:18 final mile for a chip time of 62:41—a 47-second PR.
For the first time in a few years, I didn’t beat my gear bus down to the Yard, which was slightly disappointing, but whatever, I had my pretzel and a nice walk back to the Broad Street Line to keep my legs loose.
With a seventh PR in eight years, I’m pushing the curve closer to 60-flat, although I don’t know that I’ll get there—I did a quick and dirty look at what I’ve done since 2011, and it’s hard to miss how much more incremental my PRs have become in the last few years. Sure, I’m improving, but dropping a couple minutes at a time is already way in the past.
Some of that might be in part because of a focus on longer distances and less on speed, which is something I’m flipping around for the rest of 2018—I’m shifting to a 5K plan heading into the fall, since I’ve never really focused on top-end speed, so we’ll see what that does for me in the 8K/10K range, too.
At some point before the end of the year, I’m going to be at 18:XX for the 5K, and then it’s just a matter of seeing how far I can extend that kind of pace. If I can make my 8K pace my 10-mile pace in six months, who’s to say what a year from now holds?