2016 Firecracker 5K

Scroll all the way down to the end of the post for the tl;dr version.


The Firecracker 5K was going to be my last race before settling into training for the New York City Marathon.


I’ve been working with a coach for a couple of weeks and just starting getting above 50 miles/week.  In the week before the race, I did two speed workouts and a long run.


My 5K PR is 20:43 (6:39 pace) at one of the 2013 Crystal City 5K Fridays.  My course PR is 21:23 (6:54 pace) from the 2012 race.  My last 5K was last year’s Crystal City Twilighter 5K where I ran 21:35 (6:56 pace).

  • Achievable Goal: Sub-22:00 (7:04 pace).  Based on my time from Lawyers Have Heart, the McMillan Calculator led me to think 7:00 pace would be doable.
  • Stretch Goal: Sub-21:30 (6:54 pace).  I thought it would be a good mental boost going into my marathon training if I could run a little faster than my 5K last summer.


It’s a pretty fair course.  It starts out with a gentle uphill north of the Reston Town Center.  Then, the course turns downhill on the Reston Parkway, and then uphill again before a right turn onto Sunrise Hills Road, which is completely downhill.  Another right and the course goes onto the flat or slightly downhill Town Center Parkway.  A final set of right turns into a half mile worth of uphills on Cameron Glen Drive and Explorer Street before a left turn to the finish line in the heart of the Reston Town Center.

Firecracker 5K Course

Firecracker 5K Course


I didn’t do a playlist but I did listen to music during the race – just a shuffling of up-tempo songs that I like.


From various conversations about the Fourth of July fireworks, I knew there were showers in the forecast for Monday.  But, they didn’t materialize that morning.  In fact, I thought it was unseasonably cool July morning.  And, the sun stayed behind the clouds.  Not bad racing weather for the summer.

Weather - Firecracker 5K

Weather – Firecracker 5K


I went to bed at 10pm the night before.  There were fireworks going off in a nearby town, though, so I probably didn’t fall asleep until close to 11pm.  Right on schedule, I woke up at 2:45.  This time, though, I was in pretty bad GI distress.  Was it something I ate at the cookout I went to?  Heading to the bathroom, my legs heavy any sore.  I hadn’t run hard in days and wasn’t sure why they would feel so tired.  In retrospect, I wonder if I was dehydrated due to mild food poisoning.  To get some relief, I alternated curling up in a fetal position and stretching out my abdomen.  I got another hour of sleep before getting out of bed at 5:45am.

On race-day morning, I drank coffee as usual but desperately hoped it would flush me out.  By the time I knew I should be getting dressed, I still didn’t feel very good.  I knew I should run this race.  But, isn’t there some quote about winners getting up when they can’t?  I willed myself into getting dressed, thinking I could always turn around in route or just DNS.  I left the house a little before 6:30am suddenly realizing I hadn’t eaten.

I got to the race site with plenty of time to snag a great parking spot and pick up my bib.  After visiting the port-a-potties, I did a 2 mile warmup.  My tummy had settled but my legs still felt terribly heavy.  It was a little windy out but generally very cool.  Another trip to the loo confirmed my insides were good to go.  I looked around for water but didn’t see any.  Luckily, I found a bottle in my car and took a few swigs.  More evidence that I was dehydrated going into the race.  I stretched next to my car and then walked to the start.

Presentation of the Colors

Presentation of the Colors (Photo by PR Running)


There was a presentation of the colors and a taped playing of the Star Spangled Banner.  It was very moving.  It was the Fourth of July!  After a few anxious moments, we were off!

Mile 1 (Out to Baron Cameron and Reston Parkway)

The start is rather narrow.  I was almost tripped a couple of years ago and played the first mile safe the next year.  This time, I ran aggressively – holding my ground or passing whenever I thought I had room.

Once on Baron Cameron, the course went uphill and I slowed a little.  I didn’t dip my head and shoulders, though.  I still wanted to go out hard.

Another right and the course joined the Reston Parkway which, after a few yards, is downhill!  I opened up my stride a bit to take advantage.  I noticed I was running next to a runner in an RWB top with a blade on his right leg.  I was impressed that he was running sub-7:00 on this course and felt motivated to run harder.

Split: 6:51.

Mile 2 (Reston Parkway, Sunset Hills Road, and Town Center Parkway)

I was running very aggressively on the Reston Parkway, which meant I was mostly staying out of trouble from other runners.  But then, out of nowhere, a woman comes up on my left and cuts off my lane!  She said something to the woman on my right so I guessed she chose to join her that way instead of going behind me.  I so annoyed!  In two quick strides, I criss-crossed her path and powered down the hill away from her.  I regretted my anger when the course turned upwards onto Sunset Hills Road.

There was a water stop at the 1.5 mile mark.  I didn’t even consider whether I needed it.

The course dipped downhill again before turning right again onto Town Center Parkway.  One mile to go!  

Split: 6:45.

Finish Line

Finish Line

Mile 3 to 3.12 (Town Center Parkway to Reston Town Center)

It was strange – one minute I was flying down Town Center Parkway and the next I was struggling.  But it didn’t last long.  Soon, I passed a couple of runners that I’d been trailing, including a woman in a blue tank top, and a guy who looked more like an NFL linebacker than a runner.

After the turn onto Cameron Glen Drive, Blue Shirt and the NFL Linebacker passed me back.  I noticed his left hand was cupped except one finger pointing down.  Is he giving everyone he passes ‘The Finger’?!”  Maybe it was his index finger.

The final hill on Explorer Street hit me hard.  I took the final left onto Market Street.  Normally, I can count on a kick at the end of a race but my legs wouldn’t go today.

Split: 7:06 and 0:47.

Firecracker 5K Shirt and Flag

Firecracker 5K Shirt and Flag

Post Race

In the finish chute, I was handed a flag.  Happy Birthday, America!

I was happy with how aggressively I ran the race but disappointed about my fade.  Then, I remembered my pre-race gut issues and was at peace with my time.

I met up with a running friend and we exchanged tales of how our races went.  Then, a random high school kid came up and started talking to us about his race.

I went off to do a one mile cool-down.  I never do cool-downs! I must be serious about setting a marathon PR!

Result [Log Details]

My time was 21:29 (6:54 pace) – one second under my stretch goal!  It wasn’t an overall or course PR, but it’s not that far off so I’m taking that as a sign that I’m not getting slower.  I was 26th woman overall, 3rd female master, and 1st in my new 5-year age group!  I won a $10 gift certificate to a PR Running Store.


Summer racing season is over for me.  My next race isn’t until September, which seems like a long way away.  But, that means I have months of improvement ahead of me.  It’s time to bear down and embrace marathon training.

Abridged Version

I ran 21:29 (6:54 pace).  I was 26th woman, 3rd female master, and 1st in my new age group.

I didn’t sleep well the night before due to some GI distress.  If I hadn’t pre-registered, I probably would have had a DNS.  Thankfully, coffee and a 2 mile warmup settled everything down but then I noticed my legs felt very heavy.  I intentionally ran aggressively and I felt strong through half of the race, but then I faded a little. I got a “second wind” of sorts another quarter to half mile down the road but then hit a slight uphill and was slogging again. Normally, I can count on a kick but I didn’t have one today.

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