Race Report: Iftar Challenge 2012

The Iftar Challenge is the usual curtain opener for the Dubai running season. It's a 5k race on a hilly course.

5k are not my favorite distance. The distance is too short for me to get going. I am not a fast runner per se. I am more like a diesel engine. My strength lies in slow to medium paces over longer distances.

Nevertheless I love to participate, as I feel the itch of measuring myself against competitors after a long summer break. In addition, I also wanted to see what my comprehensive and specific summer training has done to my form and speed.

In all those 8 years of running in Dubai, during the summer months, my weekly mileage would always go down to almost nothing. I t was too hot, and while being on our monthly summer holidays, the running never really fitted in.

This year was different. I did a fitness analysis in the beginning of July, which would come with recommendations of how to change my training in order to run faster and longer (I am planning to write a more comprehensive report about this test). In short, the recommendations included to run long and slow, at least three times per week. Long meant at least 75 to 90min, slow meant below 70% of my max. heart rate. It sounds strange but it does work: train slow, race fast.

The slow running suited me over the hot summer months. I had to run at paces of  around 7min/k to stay below 70% of the max HR because my heart rate was also increase by the high temperatures. I really enjoyed the slow running in more than one way: I could hardly feel my legs (as it was very low intensity), I felt as if I was only moving my feet. Because the runs were not as tiring, I could run more often without exhausting myself or running the risk of over-training.

After 10 weeks of this kind of long slow running I felt incredibly fast and fit. The 5k race would put things to the test and I was looking forward to it.  I usually do some calculations before a race, as to what pace I know I am able to run and what pace I need to run to achieve my goal time. I wanted to run under 22 minutes and get as close to 21minutes as possible.

Before the race I was helping giving out the race numbers. I got lots of concerned questions: "Are you not running today?" Oh yes, I will.

About 300 people lined up at the starting line. I was near the front. I told myself repeatedly not to be carried away by the very fast runners. To give you an idea: we have a few Kenyans and Ethiopian runners in Dubai. Not that I would in any way be able to keep up with them for 100m, but I would try and keep up with the people who try and keep up with the Africans.

A few 100m down the course I checked my Garmin and saw that my pace was under 4min/k. Waaaayyyyyyyyyyy too fast. I needed to slow down immediately or I would blow up halfway through the race, especially with the little hills that were still to come. I settled into a 4:15-4:20 pace and was hoping for the best. The course was a two-lap course. I felt good and still fresh after the first lap.
The second lap would be the proof in the pudding. The hills were definitely more of a struggle the second way round, but I was mentally prepared to tackle them. I was only thinking of the hills. Save your energy, run them steadily. Don't go all crazy on the downhill part! - Those were my mantras. What I didn't think of was the half kilometer after the last hill. Once I managed myself up the last hill, there was still 500m or so to go. I was finished. I could have dropped on the tarmac right there, but yet another bit to go.
I saw a few familiar runners in front of me and I would have loved to overtake them on the home stretch. I only managed to not being overtaken by someone else. I finished in 21:30, one minute faster than the same race in 2011. I was happy with my time. I think that is a great improvement over 5k. I credit my summer training for that. A good start to the running season for sure!