Benchmarking: RunWestfield 5K (and a PR!)

My marathon goals for May are to plan my training routine and figure out some baseline/benchmarks. I don’t have much of the month left! As benchmarks, I want to find my accurate heart rate monitor (not the Fitbit, which is fine for a general impression but not reliable for high heart rates) to see what my max HR is these days, and run a track mile for time, but I also wanted to get an idea of what my current 5K best is. I ran the RunWestfield on May 19th.

I’ve had two annoying experiences over the past year where I ran a proper timed race with a chip, thought I had set a personal record, and discovered that the course was short. Up until 2017, the only time I had broken 30 minutes in a 5K was at the 2003 Chris Thater Memorial in Binghamton, which is a flat, fast course. I keep thinking I could do it again. Last year, as part of a goal to run all the races that are close to home, I ran a new-ish 5K, the Splash of Color (it had been a fun run for a number of years and started a timed race in 2016). It was a flat course and I was in good shape, but it was a very hot and humid day and I didn’t think I was doing particularly well. When I got to the finish line and saw 27-something on the clock, I was ecstatic! Jonathan was waiting for me and I kept telling him, “Wow wow wow, I can’t believe it!” and we were both so proud. It was only a few hours later that it occurred to me to check the course on Map My Run. Sad trombone… it was about 2.8 miles instead of 3.1. So I might have been close to 30 minutes or even under, but no way of knowing. Then, I ran a perennial favorite, the UMass Dash & Dine, in April. It was a new course last year and I remember thinking it was a great time for me (not a PR), but again this year I was astonished and psyched to come in at 29:12. This time I didn’t let myself get too excited, and soon, as I was chatting with another runner in the dining hall (the Dine part of the Dash and Dine is the all-you-can-eat award-winning UMass dining hall, which is a real treat), he said “I think it was a short course.” Sure enough, when I got home, it turned out to be just shy of 3 miles. So again I might have broken 30, but not officially. These races are fundraisers and I don’t begrudge the money per se, but what’s the point of using all the fancy timing equipment if the course isn’t accurate?

So although Westfield is a little further than I would normally drive for just a 5K, when I saw that the course was USATF-certified and also marketed as “America’s Fastest 5K,” I thought this was my chance to get an actually-accurate 5K time. And yes, I broke 30! My official time is showing as 29:54, two whole seconds faster than 2003, but based on my watch I think that’s gun time and not chip time. I contacted them to check and didn’t hear back, but it’s likely that it was closer to 29:35 (still annoying not to know for sure…)

It was a miserable start, in a giant parking lot associated with Westfield State University but out of sight of any interesting buildings. The weather was rainy and cold so I huddled in the car until close to the 1pm start, trying to decide if I wanted to run in a jacket or not. I’m glad I didn’t; this is part of gearing up for the marathon, getting back in the habit of running no matter the conditions. Look at the poor Boston Marathon runners this year! In the starting corral, I found the Walkers post and tried to wiggle a little beyond it. Then I was drawn by this ridiculous-looking thing, a “Beer Guy” sculpture on a jogging stroller base:

"Beer Guy" front    "Beer Guy" side

The top has a bubble machine and there’s a sound system on it too.

Finally we were off. After a slight uphill from the parking lot and the turn onto the main street, the route goes straight down Western Ave, past the nice campus, Stanley Park (where a weekly trail run is held on Mondays during the summer), and beautiful homes and yards. It’s pretty much a gentle downhill the whole way. There was a digital readout at mile 1,  which was absolutely great—so much better than trying to peer at my watch or listen for a volunteer calling out times. I was at about 10:40 for the first mile which seemed OK. I heard “Shout” coming from behind, interspersed with loud horn beeps, and it was Beer Guy gaining on me. He passed fairly quickly, just as the song changed to “Do The Locomotion,” and I yelled that it was motivating to try and beat him. I was able to pass again a little later, just because one of his doo-dads fell off, but pretty soon he was way out ahead.

I’ve been starting 5Ks a little faster but still conservative. At mile 2 there was another digital clock—thank you,  RaceWire!—which as I recall was around 21, so  I knew I was doing well and a PR might be in reach. I had no idea where the finish line actually was but I figured we had to be close once we passed the shuttle bus stop. We turned left on Elm and the finish was in sight. There wasn’t anybody in particular to pick off in the sprint but I tore into it (and it was crowded enough that the camera didn’t catch me crossing the finish line, but here I am between two people right before). I was sure that since the clock was just under 30 that I’d be safe with the chip time; thank goodness it wasn’t closer, so it’s still a PR!

There wasn’t anything besides water for the runners, which was disappointing, but a bank handed out popcorn and I got a sample of kettle corn (“French Toast,” surprising good). I would have gotten beer but the stand also offered bottled “margarita” malt beverage, surprisingly decent. I checked out the “Westfield On Weekends” art classes gallery, a few shops, and the beautiful and historic Westfield Athaneum public library. One of the coolest sights was this “Unlimited High Fives” artwork:

Postcards promoting a race series for Westfield’s 350th anniversary were all over. I thought it was this year and would have integrated it into my training, but it’s 2019. I might try to do that (if you run 5 races you get a jacket… I’m all about the swag!)