A Little Bit Closer: Carlsbad 5000 Recap

Early Saturday morning, the day before the Carlsbad 5000, I drifted in and out of sleep. I dreamt I was crossing the finish line over and over again and the giant digital clock would read 18:29, 18:30, 18:31. Each time I woke up I thought, phew, it was just a dream. See, I flew down to Carlsbad, California this weekend with a big goal of finishing under the 18 minute mark. Anything higher was quite literally my personal nightmare.

That day I visited the race expo with my friends Shasta and Alex to pick up our bib numbers and enjoy the city. The nerves I had felt the night before started to fade as we took pictures, lazed in the sun drinking smoothies, ran a course preview, took a dip in the hot tub back home, and later that night made a family dinner of spaghetti with red sauce and garlic bread.

Sunday morning, the day of the race, I had a very similar reoccurring dream, but that time the clock read 17:56, 17:57, 17:58 and I would squeak by the finish line just in time. Each time I would wake up and think, omg yes, I did it! then seconds later have the realization that I hadn’t actually accomplished anything and the task was still ahead.

Stopping to smell the roses before our warm up.

I took it as a good omen and felt super optimistic about the day. I woke up with lots of energy, the sky was clear and the temperature was cool, and during the warm up with Shasta my legs felt fresh and ready to go. We joined the throng of 30-somethings at the start line (each age group got their own separate race) and made sure to get a spot right near the front.

Pre-race power stance!

My plan was to be gutsy and go out in a 5:35-5:40 mile. My approach at the start is typically really conservative, but after such a slow opening mile at Shamrock last week I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. I went out fast, and basically so did everyone else! The field was crowded with men and women combined, and I weaved around more than I probably should have. It was a little alarming not being able to see the pavement ahead of me at such a quick pace! As we turned the first corner and dashed under the iconic Carlsbad sign stretching across the road, I heard an announcer exclaim, “and here are our first women, 1-2-3!” I assumed there were at least several women between me and the top three, but I learned later that in fact, I was in third place.

Getting out quick!

I went through the first mile in 5:37, just as planned. The crowd began to thin out and I relaxed the pace a little bit and tried to find my groove. We went around the first hairpin turn at mile 1.5 or so and I found a small group to run with – Orange Tank woman, Black Sports Bra Woman, and Blue Singlet Guy (above). As we approached the halfway point my breathing started to get wildly out of control and I slowed my pace even more. Blue Singlet Guy said, “Stay with us!” So I picked up the pace and surged a head a little bit. I knew my second mile would be slower, and it was–5:58. Eek!

There would be no option but to drive hard in the third and final mile if I wanted my dream goal. My breathing was getting ridiculous and I felt bad for anyone running near me that had to listen to it. I passed Black Sports Bra Woman, but Orange Tank Woman and Blue Singlet Guy were running strong and surging away. All the alarm bells in my body were going off and I felt a barely-resistible urge to fling myself off the road and into a shrub.

It’s inevitable in the late stages of any race that I’ll start to reason with myself, saying what time I finish in doesn’t matter, that I worked hard and did my best, and it’s okay if I try again another day. It would have been so easy to give up in that third mile, and it went against every natural instinct I had to keep fighting. I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to reach my goal, and how a little temporary pain was nothing compared to how meaningful a fast finish would be.


I ran in seemingly slow motion to the final turn and fought with every step to the finish line. My friend Arlene from Dukes Track Club, who was cheering along the sidelines, told me later I was working so hard that my lips had turned white! Just like in my dream the digital clock ticked up and up – 17:57, 17:58, 17:59, and with a gasp and yelp I crossed over the timing mats. I thought maybe I had done it, but I was afraid to find out.


I reunited with Shasta, who finished in 18:17 (a PR by 21 seconds), and Alex who had been running around the course cheering and taking pictures. I bumped into Oiselle friends from all over, plus my friend Kimberly who I had roomed with at Kara Goucher’s Podium Retreat. It never ceases to amaze me how small the running world is.

Podium retreaters reunited!

It would be a waiting game until we knew the results, so Shasta and I set off on our cool down which was also serving as that week’s long run. We caught part of the elite women’s race, ran along the coast, then I branched off to get in some extra solo miles as part of my marathon training (more on that in a bit). I reveled in the sunny, clear day and took in the scenery of dramatic cliffs and surfers dotting the waves. I didn’t know what to think of the race, other than that I had never worked so hard or hurt so bad. On the flip side, I was finding my stride again with each passing mile, clipping away at 7:30s and my muscle soreness fading away. I strode along blissfully in the unknown of my race result, disconnected from the world as I had left my phone behind, and fully enjoying the feeling of running with the sun on my face and wind to my back.

I finished with fifteen total miles for the day feeling thoroughly spent. The moment of truth would arrive, as I downloaded the race app on my phone and pulled up the unofficial results. 18:01. Soooo close. This made for the third time this year that I’ve narrowly missed a big goal by mere seconds. I’m proud of the way I ran, but I’m selfish and want so much more.

In a knee jerk reaction, later in the day I did a quick search for open track meets in Oregon and found that Linfield College (where I ran the Icebreaker 10K in March) is hosting a track meet including the 5000 in two weeks. I went ahead and signed up. I’m inclined to take a time trial-style approach in this attempt, aiming for steady 86 second laps until going for broke in the final 200. It’s on!

In other big exciting news, I’ve been accepted into the elite field at Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon on June 3rd! This will be my first Rock ’n’ Roll full marathon, which seems fitting as San Diego was the first-ever event of the series. I’m very excited to get out there and see what I can do. Other upcoming races on my calendar include the Oiselle Tenacious 10K and Eugene Half Marathon. Hope to see you out there! -L

8 responses to “A Little Bit Closer: Carlsbad 5000 Recap”

  1. Sara A Anderson Avatar
    Sara A Anderson

    you got it speedster! can’t wait to hear about the track 5k!

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thanks, Sara!! Fingers crossed!

  2. Leslie Avatar

    So awesome!!! That picture shows how hard you were working and how bad you wanted it!!! Congrats!! It wasn’t the sub 18 but it was so damn close!! Can’t wait to see what you can do at your other races!

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thanks Leslie! 5K is such a special kind of hurt! Haha.

  3. Alissa from Greenville Avatar
    Alissa from Greenville

    I am so proud of you Liz! Even though 18:01 is not sub 18, it is still an impressive 5k. I can’t wait to read about your track 5k.

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thanks Alissa, so great to hear from you! Hoping to get after that sub-18 on the track!!

  4. Alexandre Fagundes Avatar

    Impressive time Liz, congrats!

    1. Liz Avatar

      Thanks, Alexandre!


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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