The North Canton YMCA 2-mile/5-mile Race is an iconic local race held every 4th of July. It's one of at least two major 5-mile races in Stark County. The course starts and finishes on Main Street, the spine of downtown North Canton. In 2012, I was still recovering from running the Canton Marathon in June and wasn't ready to go back to racing. In 2013, I ran the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. This year, I didn't decide to run this race until late June after tentative plans to go out of town fell through.
The 5-mile race would be a great lactate threshold/VO2Max workout that I usually do on Thursday. A big plus -- it was on a Friday and wouldn't interfere with my long run on Sunday. I also hadn't done a 5-Mile race since the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival 5-Mile race in July 2012 when I gasped my way to a 41:24 (8:17 a mile). My fitness had improved significantly since then, and while my main focus is the marathon distance and my secondary focus is the half marathon distance, I wanted to see what I could do at a much shorter distance. I had done a few 8Ks (4.97 mile) races in college cross country my sophomore year, but I don't remember my times from those races.
When I woke up this morning, I decided to wear my red, white and blue Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon shirt because of the holiday and it would match my blue Bondi band and my red and black Nike Air Pegasus shoes. I usually run with a water belt, but I decided to experiment, and run without one and rely on the water stations.
The starting line is three miles from my home, and I knew residential streets to take to bypass the traffic.
It was 62 degrees with 82 percent humidity, which was a big improvement from mid to high 70s with 70-90 percent humidity during the prior week. I had struggled to even run 9 minutes a mile. By race time it was 64 degrees with 73 percent humidity. With the lower temperatures, it was as if a suit of armor had been taken off. We were so lucky to get this weather this morning.
I started my 2.76-mile warmup run at about 8 a.m. and ran down South Main Street to Everhard and back. I easily ran 8:50 a mile, when that would have been a hard pace just a few days before in the heat. I stopped by my car, had some last-minute water and jogged to the starting line by the Chase Bank on North Main Street with about three minutes to spare. I actually didn't have to use a port-o-potty because I've learned more about how my body works. I made sure to go a couple times before I left home, I didn't go crazy drinking too much water, I drank to thirst and once I started warming up, my body absorbed all my fluids and didn't send any to my kidneys. I never had to use a restroom until I got home at around 11:15 a.m. This is in contrast to the 2012 race when I drank too much water and was in the port-o-potty when the gun went off. I didn't cross the starting line until about 45 seconds afterwards.
The race is self-seeded. You submit an estimated pace range at registration, and you get a bib with numbers in a color that matches that pace group. I was in the second group, 6 minutes to 9 minutes a mile and I was near the front. I first lined up on the right side, but then moved to the left side once I remembered that North Main Street curves to the left before you make a right turn onto Holl Street.
I said hello to Brigitte, a talented young local runner whom I was photographed with around Mile 15/16 of the Chicago Marathon the prior October. The gun fired. And we were off.
Now the YMCA announced about a week before that the course had been changed due to potholes in the Hoover High School parking lot. The course dating back to 2011 had gone north on North Main Street, east on Holl Street, south on Dogwood, east into a loop around Hoover High School, east on 7th Street, south on Eastbury, right and then north onto Winston, west on 5th Street, south on Sutton, west on Hower, south on Woodside, west on Hower, south on Pershing, west on Glenwood, north on Foster, west on Bachtel and then north on South Main Street to the finish line in front of the YMCA building.
The new course went east on Holl, but then north on Overland, east on Castleton, east and south on Chappel Hill, west on Holl, south on Dogwood past Hoover High School and then east on 7th Street. After Pershing, it would be west on Summit, north on Foster and then west on Bachtel. It's not clear if the new course is USATF certified.
My plan was to run no slower than 7 minutes a mile. I set my Virtual Partner pacer on my Garmin to 6:59 a mile. I had struggled to run the original course in 7:10 a mile on June 19th, barely beating 36 minutes. However, it had been 68 degrees with 94 percent humidity. But I decided to play things safe and go at about marathon goal pace. My goal was to break 35 minutes. However, Runner's World Race Predictor said based on my last marathon time of 3:12:40, I could do a 5-mile of 33:16. On the other hand, I didn't think I was in the same shape as I was in late April when I ran the time.
The pace plan quickly fell apart. The first mile is mostly downhill. I was aiming a pace that was a notch or two below all out but I was still going pretty fast. Within a few minutes, I was already 36 seconds ahead of pace according to Virtual Partner. I passed Brigitte. I considered running along the left side of the road, but everyone was going into the right lane, and I didn't know if there was a course lane restriction, so I swerved quickly to the right. After making the curve left, I aimed at the tangent toward Holl.
Before we got to Holl, I saw I was just behind Molly Triner, who would go onto win the 5-mile race in 29:08. I knew that she's much faster than I am, so I backed off and allowed people to pass me on the turn. Still at the Mile 1 marker on Castleton, I tapped the lap button. 6:16!!!!
Whoa! I thought. Too fast. I wanted to save something for the big hills coming up. So I immediately started to back off. At the first water stop on Dogwood, the course tangent was on the left side of the road. The water station was on the right side of the road. I swerved to the right and nearly bumped into Brigitte, who was right behind me. "Sorry, Robert," she said. I indicated it was OK, let her pass and then went right to grab some water. Dogwood curves left and then right, and so I ran the tangent line. I passed Brigitte on 7th Street as we started a gradual ascent up the hill. I had run Dogwood and 7th Street several times on marathon goal paced runs and was familiar with the terrain.
I slowed down slightly on the uphill and then began to pick it up for the steep downhill after that, trying to maintain my form. We passed the two-mile marker. 6:42 - for mile 2. Not too bad. 7th Street becomes Eastbury. I ran the tangent line as the road curve left and then right again and was running south on Eastbury on the right side of the road which was very cracked. The next water stop was on the left side of Eastbury, which is a very wide street.
I decided to skip the stop due to the extra distance, but I kind of regretted it later as I felt a bit dehydrated. It was still about 70 percent humidity. I knew the hard part was coming up. When you make the right turn onto Winston, it goes uphill slightly to 5th Street. I was already slowing down, when we passed the Mile 3 marker - 6:44. It was Ok. At this point, I was pretty sure I was going to break 35 minutes, but I knew the much tougher part was coming back. It was here where a couple of young women passed me. I let them go. I needed to run my race. I was also worried about the hills coming up.
I grabbed a much needed cup of water on Sutton. Then turned right to go uphill on Hower. I slowed down. Quick left on Woodside. Quick right onto Hower, which goes up again then left onto Pershing and downhill. People who apparently knew me (running community? My work at the Repository?) were calling my name. (By the way, thank you so much for your support!) We crossed Maple Street and hit the Mile 4 marker. My watch said 6:58, but I thought at the time it said 6:53. I knew I was faltering.
We then started ascending the steepest hill on the course -- on Pershing. I had run this hill several times over the years. But usually at an easy pace. I had never done a fast run on it. Usually, when I had a workout, I planned the route around this hill because it can be demoralizing. I ran tough up the hill but not all out, as I knew there were still two uphill sections to go.
I then went downhill, made the turn onto Summit and grabbed another water. Thank goodness, the station was on the right side of the road. Summit goes slightly uphill. Then right on Foster. We were approaching the last uphill segment on Bachtel. At this time, I felt I was running on sand. We had less than half a mile to go. I made the left turn, and I fought my way up Bachtel and made the right onto South Main Street. The street crests slightly at that point and then goes downhill at a slight grade to the finish line. This stretch feels like it lasts forever. I was trying to go into my kick but I was struggling to go all out, all out. I passed one or two runners. But couldn't pass the last runner. I could see the finish line a few hundred feet ahead. I huffed and puffed. Pushed and pushed. The announcer was calling my name. "Finishing is Robert Wang of the Canton Repository!"
I didn't think I could pass the guy about four seconds ahead of me. But I saw the clock was ticking 32:52. If I wanted to break 33 minutes, I had to hustle. I pushed it a bit faster and crossed the finish line as the gun time clock hit 32:59. (My chip time was 32:56).
Later, I found out that I ran the stretch from the Mile 4 marker to the finish line in 6:15. I was like what?????? It sure looks like horrible pacing. 6:16, 6:42, 6:44, 6:58, 6:15. Or were the mile markers a bit in the wrong positions? That's common at many races. Obviously, the Garmin is usually not accurate. Assuming it was 5 miles, the pace was about 6:35/6:36 a mile. My Garmin said I did 5.03 miles@6:33 a mile. With the course changes, I'm wondering if the course was a little short. And it was apparently not certified as I can't find a new certification map on the USATF website.
Beth Woodward, a top female runner in the area who's run a sub-three hour marathon and had finished two minutes before, slapped my hand as she was doing her cooldown jog and congratulated me. Ron Legg, a 68-year-old man from Beach City who ran a 31:52 asked me my name. I then ran my three-mile cooldown, running to the Acme shopping plaza and back, giving me 11 miles for the morning
I was 61st overall, the 55th man and the 11th in my age group and gender. The amazing performances of some runners in the 40s, 50s and 60s who finished way ahead of me give me hope I can further improve. A 46-year-old man, a local cross country coach, had a 29:17. A 55-year-old man from North Canton, whom I had passed at the Mile 25 marker at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Marathon in April, ran a 30:07. Jim Chaney, the 50-year-old race director for that marathon, won his age group with a 30:16.
Of course, the employees of Second Sole, the runner's specialty store, dominated the leader board. Nik Schweikert (23:47) and Tony Miglozzi (24:26) placed, 1-2 in a blistering pace under five minutes. Molly Triner (29:08) and Sara Polatas (29:17) placed 1-2 in the women's race with strong sub-6 paces. Hannah Alderfer, (30:23) who had strongly passed me right after the Mile 21 marker in the marathon was third.
Part of me feels I left a little bit out on the race course. On the other hand, with the hills late in the race, I didn't want to be too aggressive. And I wasn't very experienced in pacing a five-mile race. I wonder if I could have caught the guy just ahead of me in the final stretch with more of a kick and bumped me up to 60th place and 10th for the age group. I was still winded from going up Bachtel at that point.
But I'm very encouraged by my time because it's right around where my fitness should be early in the training cycle. I ran a pace faster than the pace I'll have to run when I make my attempt to break three hours in a marathon. And I've got many intense weeks of training ahead of me in hopes of beating 3:05 in my marathon in late October.