Hearts & Soles 5K - Atlanta, GA

Finish Time: 17:38

Average Pace: 5:40/mile

Final Place:  25 out of 1,400

On Saturday, February 10, 2018, I ran the ATC Hearts and Soles 5K. This is a pretty popular event in Atlanta, and it is the second event of the Atlanta Track Club's annual Grand Prix - a series of scored events that runners compete in throughout the year; this will be the first year that I am actively participating in the Grand Prix. 

The Hearts & Soles 5K is a moderately hilly and otherwise simple out-and-back course and this was my second time participating in the event. I'm still in the middle of my marathon training cycle, and I ran this 5K in the middle of a 93-mile week. Additionally, I had not planned to taper for the race at all... the day before the race I ran 14 miles. But despite the high mileage weeks and tired legs, I still felt strong; I still felt like I could put together an impressive time. 

Race morning started out like all others - ridiculously early rise, followed by oatmeal, bagel, coffee, and water. I slipped into my race kit and layered some warm clothes over the top given that it was going to be a chilly morning. I made it to the start line nice and early with plenty of time to pick up my bib, warm-up and stretch pre-race. With just a couple of minutes to spare I stroll up to the start line, very near the front but still about three rows back. I keep telling myself that I have to stop doing that. I believe that I have reached the point where I should feel comfortable lining up in the very front. But for some reason, I always feel the need to let a row or two of people remain in front of me. Anyway, I'm feeling loose and then the coutdown... 3, 2, 1 

And we're off. Despite not being at the very front, I'm still able to get a pretty smooth start. The course starts with a quarter mile straight away of gentle climb. It's so early in the race though that I barely feel it. Then there's a hard left followed by a pretty big drop. The downhill feels great and I'm flying downhill, acknowledging that the return trip won't be nearly as fun. I run hills pretty well (whether down or up), and I usually pass people during hilly sections - this was no exception. Maintaining the speed that I gained from the downhill portion, I keep my turnover up as we bank right and head down the long, relatively flat and straight portion that leads to the turn around.

I got through the first mile in 5:45

Just over halfway into the second mile we hit the turn around. 180 degree turns are never fun when running fast, but I navigate the turnaround with no issues. Now we're heading back against the flow of everyone behind us with just a row of cones as separation. And this is the fun part of an out-and-back course. All of the cheers and excitement from runners behind you as you pass them really fans my competitive fire. I see so many friendly faces and receive an equal number of cheers. I'm working pretty hard, so it's difficult for me to reciprocate the energy, but the cheers really do warm my heart. It's one of the best things about our running community. 

I'm in an interesting space here because the only people around me are wearing ATC singlets or other brand-named sponsors. I've got one guy behind me encouraging me to keep pushing as we pass a runner ahead that is fading. I know I'm pretty close to the front of the pack, but I don't know my place exactly. But more importantly, I truly feel like I belong here. I remember thinking that mid-run, that I belong here - right up front with the competitors. I decided to hold on to that mindset... not just for this race, but for all others to come. 

I got through the second mile in 5:37

Somewhere around the two-mile mark among the people that were encouraging me along the way, I hear a very distinctive voice. I can barely manage to even look over to my left to find the face, but it doesn't matter... I definitely know the voice. And I definitely hear what she says - "Da'Rel!!!! First African American!!!!!! Woooo!!!!" I wanted to laugh so hard! But I was so tired! But it was so funny, and the perfect cheer for the moment. Thank you for that India! Yes, it was true... amongst all of the runners towards the front of the pack; I was the first African American. And, honestly, that felt good. 

So remember that downhill that I talked about at the half mile mark at the start of the race. Well, what goes down must come up. So now I'm staring up a pretty significant hill to cap off this 5K. The runner that was encouraging me earlier passes me here. I'm determined to, at the least, hang on to his heals. I'm muscling up the hill when I see Roy out of the corner of my eye cheering me on. I'm thinking he would pick the hill as his cheering location! lol. After the hill, we turn right for a gentle downhill sprint to the finish line. As I approach the finish, I can see the first place woman break tape just ahead of me. 

I got through the third mile in 5:39

I cross the finish line, and for the first time, I completed an entire race without looking at my watch. So when I see the time at the finish line of 17:38, I'm pretty stunned. I knew I was running strong, but this was a massive PR for me. Almost a full minute faster than my prior 5K best.

I've made many changes regarding my running and my health since last year. I've adopted a plant-based diet; I have abstained from alcohol for over a year; I've been running higher mileage; and I've focused on maintaining internal balance. I can't pick out a single change that has made the most impact, but I do know that the combination of the aforementioned adjustments have me feeling and running better than I ever have. 

I finished the ATC Hearts & Soles 5K in 17:38. Another PR for the year!

- Hic Svnt Leones