Too hot, too hilly, too crowded -- you'll hear that a lot when people talk about the popular Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K, the annual Friday-evening uptown race held right smack in the middle of springtime in Charlotte.
And because of the heat, the hills and the crowds, runners love to hedge bets before this race and make excuses afterward.
Myself included. Heat: I don't run well in it, and when the gun went off Friday on Tryon Street, temps were still north of 80 degrees. Hills: Putting three -- like the one on Cedar and the one on Fourth and the one on Stonewall -- in the second half of a hot 5K is cruel; that contributed to my running the third mile 21 seconds slower than the first. Crowds: I got boxed in by a glut of runners at the turn off Morehead onto Cedar, and I rolled my ankle as I hopped up on the curb momentarily. Oh, and I'm a morning runner not an evening runner.
Anyway ... I could pretty easily gather all of these excuses together in a big pile, take them and believe what a few people told me after I PR'd by one second in 20:37: "Great job, man. On a flat course when it's not so hot you would have gone sub-20 for sure." I mean, it's a nice thought, that I put forth an effort that under ideal conditions would have yielded a better result.
What I've learned, though, in just a year and a half of racing, is that ideal conditions don't come along very often. There's always going to be something: Too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy, too hilly, too many turns, too much camber in the road, too crowded at the water stops, too early in the day, too late in the day, too many slow runners lined up up front, too infinity and beyond.
Now look, I'm realistic. I understand that on some level making excuses and pointing out factors that might slow us down/did slow us down -- it's simply something we runners do to shoot the breeze pre- and post-race. (It's not much different from when you get on the elevator with someone and work and make a lame joke about the weather.) I also understand that the way to improve your race times is to analyze what went right and what went wrong during a race.
But the fact is my 5K times are not improving. In my last three, I've gone 20:38, 20:41, and now 20:37. (You could label it consistency; I'm calling it a rut.) And after each race, I've had an excuse. I was struck by this realization -- that I've been making too many lately -- as I jogged back to my car Friday night after Twilight.
Excuses won't get me under 20 minutes in a 5K, or down to 3:33 in a marathon, or to any other goal I'm eyeing. More focus, more efficient (and faster) workouts, and better execution of better-thought-out race strategies will.
Of course, if it's 100 degrees or hailing at my next race, I'll be coming back and deleting this blog entry.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Paschal
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Top Twilight finishers: Alice Rogers was the No. 1 woman in 18:20, followed by Danielle Walther (18:32) and Stacy Mercer (19:18). On the men's side, Jordan Kinley was the fastest finisher in 15:30, with Ryan Bender (15:41) and Chris Bailey (15:48) coming in right on his heels. There were 1,844 official finishers Friday night.