Jan. 31, 2017
Race recap: Netivot ~5K, 19:07 -- 3:50/K
Netivot. The year is 2017, the time 9:20.
Not one store -- I repeat: not a single store -- is open in this town now.
Is it because...?
a. Netivot has its own pace
b. business and store owners here don't need our money
Be among those who answer correctly and you could win a year's membership to the National Institute for Tunisian Patties and Cuisine in Netivot (valid every morning between 7:30 and 8:00).
Tel Aviv >> Netivot
They say it's only when you leave the Tel Aviv metropolitan area that you start to get a sense for what Israel is really like. I was reminded of that today upon visiting the town of Netivot. Most famous for its tomb of the Baba Sali, people in this part of the country have accents; they drive tractors and eat sunflower seeds out of their pockets; pictures of cloaked rabbis hang in their living rooms and rest on the dashboards of their cars; they watch the news and read the papers but are fiercely distrustful of most of what's reported there.
Back when my aunts and uncles and cousins all lived on a moshav 12 kilometers to its east, Netivot was the area's big city. It was where residents of the surrounding moshavim went for food, medical treatment and radio-cassette players. Beer Sheva, although much larger, was too far to get to: few people had cars, and public transportation meant waiting at a dusty bus stop for a bus that might not ever come.
The first annual Netivot Run was held this morning, and I arrived in the city to compete in the 5K. Netivot now has a train station, a proper shopping center, an accredited college, and most recently a booming real estate market. But the people seem to have retained the traditional lifestyle of their forebears.
It was tough to know what to expect going into this race. A 5K test performed in mid-December turned out to be slightly slower than the 3:55/K pace I was shooting for. I hadn't run in six days and was clinging to McMillan's 10K plan by the skin of my teeth. Whatever respiratory condition I'd spent most of December battling I still hadn't completely recovered from. I wanted to kick off 2017 with a nice PR, but under the circumstances it didn't seem realistic. On the other hand, this was probably the most PR-friendly course of any race I'd run -- wide road, flat as a pancake virtually the whole way, and straight but for one gentle curve and a U-turn round a traffic circle.
I decided I'd try to run the first kilometer in 3:55, evaluate my situation, and if everything felt in order accelerate towards 3:50/K over the next kilometer or two. Once past the turnaround, when running back in the direction of the finish line would serve as a psychological boost, I could try to hammer the rest of the way. All said and done I'd get an overall pace somewhere in the range of 3:50-3:55/K and with any luck squeeze out a sub-19:30 time if it was a good day.
Race day prep
The first train to Netivot out of Tel Aviv had an ETA of 8 o'clock, with the 5K scheduled for 8:55 -- not an ideal situation as it left little in the way of a buffer zone, but for a 5K it would have to suffice. After a dinner that was both too large and too late I set my alarm for 4:45, giving me just under 7 hours of sleep. I awoke once in the middle of the night from a bad dream about the race, with my students somehow involved in it, and an hour later left my mom's with four dates in my pocket to eat on the way and a bottle of water.
There was a harrowing mixup resulting from a careless reading on my part of which train station I needed to depart from in Tel Aviv. I assumed the train to Netivot would be leaving from HaShalom, but the train system is undergoing a major overhaul to expand its capacity and HaShalom's function has been radically reduced, its operations diverted to HaHagana. So there I was at HaShalom wondering why there was no train to Netivot on the departure board. Meanwhile, by the time I figured out what was happening, my train from HaHagana was scheduled to depart in 12 minutes. Could I run to HaHagana in 10 minutes? Should I take a taxi? Maybe I should just forget about the 5K and go back to Mom's. I actually did exit the station and start running for a couple of blocks, but it occurred to me that there was something I had overlooked. I could in fact get on the next to train to HaHagana and still have just enough time to switch platforms and make the Netivot-bound train. Perhaps Israel Railways had even anticipated situations like mine and arranged it so that HaHagana arrivals and departures would be spaced out wide enough for passengers to transfer between them.
Upon arriving in Netivot, I jogged a couple of kilometers to the race venue, picked up my shirt and bib number, made quick use of a port-o-potty, performed 5 strides, and waited for the announcer to call us over to the corral.
I feel like whenever I'm at a race where no one knows me, as was the case this morning, other runners don't take me seriously. Maybe it's the facial hair, or the fact that I wear the actual race t-shirt and not a running tank with a team logo. Whatever that quality is that veteran racers exude, I haven't got it. So whenever I try to toe the line at a race, I can feel the runners around me grunting to themselves like, Who does this kid think he is? This time, because my approach to Netivot was as a B-race, I picked two guys I thought would go out fast, sidled my way in behind them, and hoped they wouldn't end up obstructing my initial burst.
They sort of did and our legs were close to getting tangled, but I was able to get around them after a few seconds. Now I thought I felt the runners behind me scoffing, Ha! Showboat. We'll be seeing you again.
Once I got clear of the throng, there were four guys ahead of me who looked like they had a sustainable rhythm going and two little kids whose parents must have been too cheap to buy them shirts their size, hoping instead that they'd grow into their oversized shirts and save their families the expense of buying more clothes when they hit their growth spurts. The little kids faded before we'd run 250 meters, Numbers 3 and 4 started dueling it out between them, and Numbers 1 and 2 looked more and more like bonafide contenders. Whatever my pace was, I thought to myself, it felt good; and even if I finished the race 5th, it wasn't something I'd sit shiva over.
Usually I hear a beep from my watch after every kilometer, but somehow the settings changed and the watch was now tracking my distance as one continuous split. So when I checked the watch figuring I must be close to completing the first kilometer, it was a pleasant surprise to discover I'd actually already run it. A while back I'd configured the watch to display live duration, distance and pace as the default view and time of day, average pace and last lap duration on the secondary screen. Now, because the settings were altered, I couldn't get feedback on my km splits. Doing calculations in my head would've been a hopeless endeavor. I was left to pace myself on perception of effort.
Meanwhile, the second kilometer passed unbeknownst to me like the first. Basically, before I knew it the turnaround was already approaching. By this time Numbers 3 and 4 had faded. I couldn't make up my mind if I was chasing Number 2 or just trying to manage my own run. But after the turnaround we came to a small hill where we both struggled and his pace degraded. Number 1 looked strong up ahead.
Frontrunning an out-n'-back is a strange experience. After the turnaround when you reverse direction, the mass of runners coming at you collectively turns its head and gazes. What's going through their minds? When it's a big race and the leaders are elite and it's me doing the gazing, I look on with awe and marvel at the demonstration of physical prowess I have the privilege of witnessing. I doubt thoughts of that nature were going through anyone's mind when they passed by me in second place in Netivot. If anything at all was going through their minds in relation to me, presumably it was surprise.
When Number 1 and I were alone on the road for the last 1.5K, I did try to find a turbo button to shrink the distance between us, but my legs felt like there was a pair of flamethrowers aimed at them and when I inhaled deeply I could feel leftover mucus still nestled in my chest. He turned his head at intervals to see if I was gaining on him, but I couldn't get within threatening distance. I don't think I conceded at any point -- I'd stopped checking my watch and was exclusively focused on keeping up -- but as the finish line got closer I recognized that he was determined to prevail and that the best I could do was match his speed. I crossed the line 7 seconds after him. (We were 24 seconds apart at the turnaround.) The 3rd-place finisher crossed 36 seconds after me.
Not a 5K PR
My watch measured the total distance of the run as 4.99 kilometers. Raceview.net, however, which keeps a record of all Israeli race results, recognizes neither the 5K nor the 10K of the Netivot Run as officially having covered those distances. While Raceview has no official status itself, it does carry a lot of clout within the running community. So while this was certainly the longest I ever held a pace of 3:50/K for, I will have to run another 5K at the same pace for it to be considered a PR with validity on the street. Until yesterday I would never have thought myself a sub-19:00 5Ker. Now it's become a goal for 2017.
N/A (no mat at start line)
1/20 M2039; 2/70 M0099; 2/113 overall
19:38 (23 Jun 2016)