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Polar Bear Run for Autism 5k Race Report

Before today’s post, I want to remind everyone that Road Runner Sports is having an awesome sale where you can get $25 off a $150 purchase (plus 10% off and free shipping if you’re VIP), so get your gear while this sale is going on. Now on to the report!

I ran the Polar Bear Run for Autism 5k in Sea Isle City, NJ on February 20th. I kept it low-key because I didn’t race it 100% – in fact, I ran 14 miles right before the start.

Polar Bear Run for Autism 5k
Polar Bear Run for Autism 5k

It’s fast becoming a tradition to go watch people torment themselves in the Polar Bear Plunge during President’s Day weekend on the Jersey Shore. If you’re not familiar with a Polar Bear Plunge, it’s when people jump into the ocean in February in a bathing suit. Being completely wasted is usually a prerequisite.

There also happens to be a 5k on that Sunday that I signed up for last year on a whim, only to realize that I wouldn’t be able to run my long run if I ran the race.

Well, what if I combined the two? I ran 13 miles before last year’s race and won by over 20 seconds. Not too competitive of a race…

So that’s the tradition: run an enormous warm-up and then race! Sounds masochistic but it’s a good time.

This year, I ran 14 miles before the start of the race. I felt a lot better than I did the year before when I wasn’t in nearly as good of shape. Consistent high volume running with a great weekly long run has put me in a good position to do well in these types of workouts. Sustained, moderate efforts are becoming easier to crank out.

The Polar Bear Run for Autism 5k

The race started and (of course) about 10 high school guys took off in a dead sprint. Such youthful exuberance! Too bad they faded within the first half mile while laughing to each other, “This is faster than 7-minute pace!”

Last year I went out slow and slowly sped up but this time I wanted more of an aerobic stimulus. I wanted even splits for each mile. My initial goal was around 17:30 (I ran 17:53 last year) which I thought would be manageable but still a great workout for having run so much beforehand.

The field thinned out quickly and I passed runners consistently through the first mile and a half. I split 5:27 through the first mile and was very surprised: this pace would put me under 17 minutes. That immediately became my new goal so I tried to maintain a similar effort through the second mile.

At the halfway mark we ran a 180 degree turn around a cone and reversed direction. I’ve run several races recently that do this and honestly, it’s obnoxious. It requires you to slow down significantly and turn on a dime when you’re going too fast. It disrupts the flow of your race. Race directors – take note.

It was windy for the next half mile or so and my second mile split of 5:32 showed that. That sharp turn probably didn’t help either. With a little over a mile to go, I was in second place and could see the first place runner ahead of me. He was probably about 20-25 seconds ahead.

I tried to close on him but I admittedly didn’t give a 100% effort. Since I’d been running for 16+ miles already, I didn’t want to trash my legs and make running the next day impossible. Most of this run was on pavement so this was a smart decision.

The gap closed significantly in the last mile and I finished in about 16:52 – about 11 seconds behind first place. If it was a 6k race I might have had him! I ran the last 1.1 miles in 5:51, or 5:19 mile pace. This is really encouraging since I wasn’t putting in a max effort. If I had done a normal warm-up and wanted to “see God” then I might have been able to run a PR.

I finished, got some water, and ran another two miles to loosen up. I changed into warmer clothes, ate some cashews and a few clementines, and headed over to the heated tent where they were having the awards ceremony. They had a great spread of pastries, orange juice, yogurt, and cookies. After 19 miles, I deserved to treat myself.

After listening to my fiancée Meaghan grumble about how me being fast makes her wait for stupid awards all the time, I got my second place award: a one month gift certificate to a local gym! Something I’ll never use…

If you happen to live in Egg Harbor Township in New Jersey, let me know and I’ll mail you a gift certificate for a one month gym membership at Oceanside Wellness & Sport.

Since I wasn’t truly racing, I didn’t wear my racing flats – the ASICS Hyper Speeds. I never feel comfortable running fast in trainers but I settled with the Speedstars that I wore for the previous 14 miles. They’re neon yellow so I got some great comments from kids lining the race course. My favorite: “Your shoes are very high tech!” Not really.

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