Earlier this week I had what I would call a breakthrough performance in the pool, cutting 3 seconds off my 100 PR and not in a TT but the last interval of a near 5k workout. Such improvements are rare with consistent training and particularly memorable, but the purpose of this post isn’t to reflect on this event but rather a 2010 significant breakthrough in running it brought to mind.
After collegiate athletics I took a brief hiatus before returning to race the 5k in 2007. I continued to log steady miles, attend weekly track workouts and race hard but my times had slowed to a consistent 18 minutes. Between 2007 and 2010 I competed in 14 5k’s with an average time of 18:22 and a post college personal best (PC PR) of 17:37. In 2010, at age 25, I signed up and began training for my first full distance triathlon, Ironman Lake Placid. I was in better shape than ever before but still only a mid 17’s racer at best.
On Aug 12, only 2 weeks after my Ironman, I competed in the Checkers or Muler Mile to prove my triathlon coach wrong who said there was no way I could train for a 10 hour Ironman and expect to race well in the mile. That day I ran a 4:37, only 7 seconds off my college PR and on the road. The race was more about sharing beers at the after party with friends and teammates but it showed that I still had some speed in my legs and more importantly caught the eye of my former college coach Vicki Mitchel who told me afterward ‘Welby, that was a nice performance but you know it means you are capable of way more than an 18 minute 5k’. I appreciated the comment but somewhat dismissed it, telling her I would be in touch before my next race.
A short time later I signed up for another 5k and emailed Vicki to ask what pace I should target. She responded ‘Go out in 5:15, hold 5:10’s for the next mile or so and if you feel good push it through the finish for a time between 16:00 and 16:20’. I honestly laughed out loud when I saw her response. In four years I had never broken 17 minutes or ever really come close and now all of a sudden I am flirting with 16?!? I appreciated the encouragement and decided I would humor her even though I knew it would most likely end with me burning up in a flame of degradation at the 1 mile mark.
656 people toed the start line for the Moonlight Run the next Thursday evening including a handful of ex-collegiate and former UB runners. I went out in a scary but comfortable first mile of 5:15, exactly as told, and found a good group to sit in with. I did not get my next split but stuck with the pack only to separate briefly to accept a beer from my Buffalo Triathlon friends, ecstatic to see me take their offering and enthusiastically screaming words of support to keep me moving. As we hit the final marker I began to break away from the group, sprinting down hill towards the finisher shoot with the clock ticking 16:XX in the near distance. As I crossed the line I stopped my watch and astonished had to confirm that I had in fact ran a 16:22, more than a minute faster than any of my previous post college PR’s!! I have written in past blogs my goal of coming to tears at the finish line and although they weren’t falling I had to wipe my face dry to hide my emotion. I was fourth place in that race, off the podium, but to this date it remains one of my fondest and most memorable finishes.
A month later I competed in the Linda Yallem 5k to run a 16:00, narrowly cracking into the 15’s, and again in 2011 where I ran a 16:03 with plenty of low 16’s and race wins in-between. Very little changed in my regiment but I was able to race with the confidence that was instilled in me by my coach, which made all the difference in taking my performance to the next level. In a post a couple months back I alluded that optimal racing effectively means managing bpm’s and w/kg when others were suggesting it was more about determination or heart perhaps. I still don’t think it is within ourselves to surpass certain physical limitations but in the power of a good coach to see when an athlete is under performing their potential to help guide them to the next level. These past weeks in the pool I’ve had my ups and downs but a common theme has been getting asked to perform outside my comfort zone and the results have been more than rewarding!
On the topic of coaching I wanted to take this opportunity to announce my next step in the area following a long line of renown professional soccer players, triathletes, swimmers and Olympic trialists. I’m happy to be joining a handful of fellow Tower26 top age grouper and professional triathlete friends path under the management of Matt Dixon and Purplepatch. This is my fourth triathlon coach with 3 separate regimes. I have nothing negative to say about where I have been and the programs I have tried. I consider myself a pupil of this sport eager to represent a case study in any promising and proven protocol and I am hopeful that this experience will be a rewarding one.