I haven't raced short distances since December. I have to admit that I miss the raw abandon of a 5k to 10k race where you're basically on fire for the whole race. I believe my fitness has steadily, if slowly, improved over the last few months but I don't have a PR to prove it. Even that last race in December was a bit of a let down because even though this was by far my best 5k pace ever (4:09/km or 6:38/mi), the course was short by about 100m and I decided to drop that amazing 20:25 time from my PR list.
By contrast, my only race this year, a 50k trail run, was an exercise in pacing and control. I missed the mark a bit but I tried to be reasonable. There were no "burning lungs" but rather a total absence of mental and physical energy and the pain of my diaphragm trying to take yet another breath.
Training for longer distances requires more mileage than I've ever run. There is some speed work and hills but those tend to be short, intense workouts. Today, finally, my program called for a fairly long tempo run. It might have been a misprint. It said: "15k-18k at 15k race pace". Well I don't know what a 15k race pace is, and it's a bit weird to race 18k at 15k-race-pace but I was happy to try!
I've been experiencing some Achilles pain in my right foot so I was a bit apprehensive, so I warmed up for about 1km, felt great and got going. I was surprised at how good I felt. I thought I would stop every 5k, as per my long run program, but at the 5k mark I decided to keep going. I was going a bit faster than my half marathon pace. I turned around at 9k and on the way back I pushed a bit harder. I did negative splits, basically accelerating every km. My last km was run in 4:10, my 5k pace! I shit you not, I could have beat my half marathon PR on that run. Reason prevailed and I stopped at the 17km and cooled down for the last km home. What a great run. And my Achilles felt really better than it had in a long time.
So there you have it. Training for marathons or ultras doesn't have to mean getting slower. It just feels like it sometimes.
I see that there's a 5k race in Burlington on Friday. Coincidence? Maybe I'll be there!