I'm not a fan of country so normally I wouldn't have signed up for this race, but I had won a free entry in the raffle at the Adventure Run a few months ago so I figured why not. I did have some concern with this race being only a few days after my back to back half marathons, but figured I would just run for fun. It's funny how time changes your plans.
I got to Soldier Field a bit early and quickly found Courtney. We used the facilities and found a place to camp out. Soon I got a tweet from Mo letting me know she was at gear check so I went over and got her. The 3 of us chilled and chatted for a bit. I then went and did about a mile warm up jog. I didn't feel all that great during the jog and decided I wasn't really going to push things too hard for the race. I asked Mo what she was going to run and she said she'd run with me until I burned her. I asked if 23:30 was OK and she said sure since she recently ran a 23:40ish. We soon lined up and found ourselves in corral A as people moved forward. After the national anthem we were off.
I held things pretty conservative for all of 30 seconds. It felt like I was going slow. After the first turn I looked over and saw that I had already lost Mo. I then decided to just get into a groove and let things happen. My watch and the race markers were a little off so my splits seem to be a little slower than what they should be. There were volunteers at the mile markers reading off the time as you ran past. 6:43, 6:44, 6:45... well crap, I didn't expect anything that fast. My watch finally beeped a little later at 6:54.
I tried to focus and keep things in the same groove for mile 2. The course was an out and back on the path so this mile featured a nice hairpin turn. I lost my groove for a bit but soon regained my speed. On the way back I spotted Mo and we did an air 5. A bit behind her I saw Harry who I run track nights with on Wednesdays. We both shouted hey and off we went. The guy shouting times at mile 2 seemed to be a bit off. The times were in the 14 minute range which didn't sound right. I didn't think I slowed down all the much. Shortly after my watch beeped and showed a 6:50 split confirming I did indeed go faster.
The last mile I struggled a bit. The crowd had thinned out and I had already passed many runners. I had a couple I was trying to hang on with to keep pace. My breathing started to become a bit labored. The toll of the 2 half marathons over the weekend was finally showing its ugly face. I did keep pressing though and finally caught 1 of the 2 runners with a half mile to go. He would actually out sprint me to the finish later on. Oh well. With the end in site I hit mile 3 with a 6:54 split.
With a time showing in the 20:30 range I didn't think I stood a chance to break 21 minutes. I still pulled together everything I had and threw myself towards the finish line. As I got closer and saw the gun time I knew I was so close to 21. I stopped my watch and looked down - 21:05. I came so close to crossing the barrier. As it stood the time represented a 55 second PR over my previous best 5K run last year. After some time spent with my hands on my knees trying to pull myself back together and not get sick I grabbed my bolo medal and some Gatorade and let the euphoria set in.
I waited towards the end of the finisher's chute since Mo wasn't too far behind and soon she cross in a better time than last week. She asked how I did since she knew I was flying and I shared the good news. Next on the list was to grab beers. We went to get her bag from gear check and then to grab our cowboy hats, but I spotted Harry and his wife and so stopped to chat with them. Harry asked how I did since he too saw me flying and congratulated me on the new PR and lamented that now he had to work harder to catch up. Courtney sauntered up as we were chatting and then we finally grabbed our hats and more importantly beer and set up in the field to listen to the band play and continue chatting until we decided that it was time to go.