A Big and Unexpected PR at the Barlowe Bolt 5K

Yesterday, I ran my first LIVE race in seven months, the Barlowe Bolt 5K in Millersville. And I had a PR that I truly never saw coming, running a 20:29 (6:36 pace!) I was also the first female finisher. To say I was thrilled is an understatement.

I had set my previous PR, a 20:49, almost exactly four years earlier on Oct. 2, 2016, as part of a relay team at the Waterman’s sprint triathlon on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. That was the only time I’d ever managed to sneak in under 21 minutes, and it wasn’t even at a stand-alone 5K. I figured it was a fluke and that I’d never beat it. I often struggle in 5Ks and have a hard time breaking 22 minutes consistently.

But then 2020 happened. All of the races after early March were canceled and many were replaced by virtual races. I kept on running and training, with hopes of running a fall marathon (as of today, that hope is still alive!) This past summer was the hottest, most humid and most disgusting summer I can recall in recent years. But I kept grinding and I think it all paid off on a crisp fall morning when the temperature was only in the mid-40s.

This annual race, which raises money to build a natural play space at Barlowe Field in Millersville, Maryland, always happens in March. The organizers postponed it until October this year, and I am so glad they were able to have a live event! Everyone was required to wear masks when not running and asked to keep social distance. The race size was also limited to 50 people. I think they handled the COVID restrictions well, and I felt safe.

Team 5 Peaks!

A bunch of my friends from 5 Peaks came out to race, and several won age group awards! We were all just so pumped for a real, in-person race. I’m grateful for all the virtual opportunities we had in this bizarro year, but nothing beats an in-person race.

The morning of the race actually got off to a terrible start. After not sleeping so great anyway, I awoke at 4:30 and my cat immediately started whining to go outside. She’s an indoor cat, but we let her outside often because she knows not to leave our yard. Well, that morning she decided to wander into our neighbor’s yard (I think she may have climbed into a small tree) and I couldn’t find her. She wouldn’t come when I called her, and it was dark. I frantically woke my husband up and finally, she came running in our direction. But I really thought I would be missing the race to look for my lost cat. Maybe all that early morning adrenaline helped me?!

The race started right on time at 7 am, and I started off running with a group of young kids (high school age) and an older gentleman in a Howard County Racing Team singlet. He ended up pulling ahead of me at the end of the first mile, and I was never able to catch up. He ended up winning the race, finishing 10 seconds ahead of me. We chatted for a little bit after the race, and I learned he is 63 years old. Talk about goals!

At the end of the first mile, my watch beeped and told me I ran a 6:20. Yikes. This is usually the time in a 5K where I realize I went out wayyyy too fast and then I’m ready to die. But this never really happened for me in the race. I felt really good. I did slow down in miles 2 and 3 (to 6:53 and 6:57, respectively), but kept my pace under 7 minutes! The Barlowe Bolt course isn’t pancake flat, either— it’s a lot of rolling hills. But none of them are particularly long or steep, and my neighborhood has similar terrain. So I had an advantage, since I run around my neighborhood so much. I’ve also run this race twice before, and I knew what to expect.

At about the halfway mark, I saw my friend Matt, who had provided all of the finisher medals and trophies for the winners. I also passed him again just before the final right turn to the finish, and he yelled out, “You’re going to be under 20:30!” I hadn’t really been looking at my watch for most of the race, instead just concentrating on running as fast as I could, so while I knew I was having a strong race …. I didn’t think I was going to PR. But when I looked at the clock and saw the time began with a 20, I started sprinting as fast as I could. When I crossed the line, I yelled out, “Holy shit, I PRed!” right in front of a bunch of kids, so that was nice. My apologies to their parents.

In addition to a nice little trophy, I won a $50 gift card to Giant — always appreciated! But I think I’m most excited about the fact that I PR’d my first official race as a 40-year-old, and in a distance I always say I love to hate!

How did I manage to do it? I think there are a couple of reasons why I ran so well. I’ve always heard the joke that humidity is the poor runner’s altitude training. Well, I think there is something to that. Again, this summer was absolutely brutal and running felt so. damn. hard. Lately, it’s felt a lot easier … and I know my body loves the fall weather.

But more importantly, I think, I’ve also just been running more. As far as marathon runners go, I’ve always been a relatively low mileage runner, often peaking with mileage in the high 30s. I did bump up my weekly mileage back in 2017, the last time I trained for a Boston qualifier … but I’m running even more now. Two weeks ago I ran 53 miles. This week, a cutback week, I ran 41 miles. This coming week will be around 53 again. I’ve been adding a Wednesday medium-long run (8-10 miles) into my schedule, and running before kickboxing class twice a week. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been running six days a week. Again, nothing for a lot of marathoners. But still more than I usually run. I’ve been feeling great and my body has responded well to the increased mileage, so I’m going to keep rolling with it and hope that my rescheduled marathon is able to occur in 27 days!

Other races on my calendar

I completed a few more virtual races over the last few weeks. At the end of August, I did the virtual Quantico Duathlon, which was a 5K run, a 20.4K bike ride and a 5K run. It took me around an hour and 48 minutes, and I ran the first 5K in 21:37 (which I was excited about, and about what I was expecting for the Barlowe Bolt!) Ran the second 5K in 23:32, which I thought was pretty decent after one 5K and a 12.67 mile bike ride. It was lot of fun. I would still like to race more duathlons in the future, when I am not busy marathon training.

Then, in September, I raced the virtual Market Street Mile and ran a 6:11 — exactly what I ran last year, when the race happened in person. I ran it on my lunch break — yay for working from home for the foreseeable future — and was hoping to squeak under six minutes, since I somehow ran a 5:56 mile earlier this year. This run burned like hell and I have no idea how I could have run it 15 seconds faster. But I’m happy with that effort. According to the online results, I was the second female overall. The first place female was a 46-year-old who ran a 5:46! Fast!!

In two weeks, I am also running the virtual Baltimore Running Festival half marathon. I am probably not going to race it, since it’s two weeks out from my marathon. That said, I did race a half marathon two weeks before my BQ race in 2017. (And raced a 10K the day after that. This was a stupid decision — don’t do it.) That half marathon went badly, but then I crushed my marathon. So, who knows?

I also registered for Rip It Events’ Day of the Dead 5K, back when I thought I was running a marathon on Sept. 13, not Halloween. I am supposed to run that between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. I certainly am not going to race a 5K right before a goal marathon …. nor do I want to race one after having just run 26.2 miles! I may just run it as an easy shakeout run the day before the marathon.

Speaking of Rip It Events, we have the Greenbrier Trail 5 & 10 Miler coming up on Oct. 25. I’m not a great trail runner and definitely would not want to risk running a trail race the week before a marathon — but it sounds fun and the race organizers have done everything they can to make it a safe event in this era of COVID-19! If you are interested, use SAUNTRY2020 for 10 percent off.