Last night night I ran the Marathon Sports 5 Miler. It was, to say the least, a very new experience for me. I had never raced anything shorter than a 10K, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this. I was running on two teams last night. One was the RaceMenu/mix1 team that I have been running with since April, the other was an informal coming together of friends to form a coed foursome to compete in the team competition of the race. We had no actual chance of winning the competition outright, but we did have a friendly wager with some friends who had formed a team of their own. It was Team We Run This Shizzle (with Doug, Jamie, Nina and myself) versus Team Runners Through The Jungle (with Hugh, Michael, Alett and Lizette). The winning team was to buy the losing team a beer.
When Jamie and I arrived at the high school where the race was starting, I looked around and knew placing high was going to be tough. I have never seen so many high school and just out of high school runners at a race since, well, high school. And these kids looked serious. There are some races that bring out the more hard core runners, and I think that the Marathon Sports 5 Miler is one of them. We finally managed to find both Team Shizzle and Team Jungle, and the smack talk began. At one point I asked Hugh what the strategy was for running a 5 Miler, and he looked at me deadpan and said, “run faster than a 10K.”
Soon we were called to the start. The race started at a local high school on one of its fields. As the Marathon Sports website describes the course:
The course is a moderately difficult certified 5-mile combination of hilly roads, grass, and trails, starts like a shoulder-to-shoulder cross country classic, and finishes with a flourish on the High School track.
RaceMenu leader, Alain, called me up to the starting line.
“How fast you running this,” he asked.
“I’m hoping around 32:30″
“Ok, I’m running with you. Stay up here.”
I put my toe on the line and looked around. I remember thinking to myself, “I do NOT belong with these guys.” All around me were “real” runners. Next to me were a pack of BAA (Boston Athletic Association) runners. It was intimidating. I looked back to wave at Teams Shizzle and Jungle but couldn’t find them in the sea of runners. As I scanned the crowd I realized more and more that this was a serious crowd of hard core runners. More doubt began to creep in.
The starter raised the bullhorn…
Now, this was the first race since the Manchester Marathon in November that I ran naked. No, for you non-runners, that doesn’t mean without my clothes. No, naked means running without music or your GPS enabled phone or watch. I did cheat a little by wearing my stopwatch, but running without music and more importantly Runkeeper, meant that I wasn’t going to have my normal half-mile splits to tell me just how fast I was going.
…and we were off!
Alain and I took off like jackrabbits across the large field. As we made the first turn off the hill, the course dipped drastically and it was all I could do not to slide down the grass. Within 90 seconds were back on road and looking around I knew I was in trouble. I was huffing and puffing already while getting passed by scores of high school runners. I thought to myself, “man, it sucks to be old!”
3 minutes in I asked Alain if his garmin said how far we were. He looked but couldn’t tell. I was hoping to hear we were on a 6:00 – 6:15 pace. A couple of minutes later I saw the 1st mile marker. From a distance I could make out the first number. A “5″. Crap! Alain and I passed the marker at 5:35 – way too fast for me! Alain tried to pull me along, but I had to ease up and recover. I waved him on and watched him slowly pull away.
Mentally I was in crisis mode. I realized that I had truly screwed up my race plan by going out so fast. To be nearly 45 seconds faster than my planned pace was too much. Part of me wanted to stop, but I knew I couldn’t let Team Shizzle down. As I approached the 2nd mile marker I heard Hugh yell from behind me.
“When I told you to run faster than your 10K pace, I didn’t mean twice as fast!”
I tried to laugh but I was still recovering. My whole body was aching, but I was determined to just get to mile 3. As long as I could get to mile 3 I knew I could finish. Hugh paused for a beat and then moved on.
I hit mile 2 at 12:26 (a 6:51 second mile). At this point I knew I was on my own for the rest of the race. I had originally hoped to run with either Alain or Hugh, but had burned through too much fuel in the first mile. I was just going to have to hang on for dear life. At the next water stop I grabbed one cup and downed it and then a second cup and poured it over my head. As I left the water stop I heard a little boy say, “Dad? Why did that man pour it on his head?” I laughed.
Mile 3 came quickly in 6:02, though I wonder if that mile marker was misplaced. 18:28 through 3 miles. Despite having killed myself in that first mile, I still had a shot at a 32-handle if I could just maintain a 7:00 minute pace. Normally, that’s a pace I can manage, but man, I was hurting. I focused on just staying steady, keeping the feet moving.
Mile 4 arrived in 7:04. I was fading and fading fast. At 25:32, I knew I just needed to maintain to reach my goal time, but it was a struggle. I was getting passed and I wasn’t passing anyone; psychologically that can be a game crusher. But with about 3/4 of a mile to go, something happened. Up ahead I could see I was actually gaining on some people. I wasn’t the only one struggling this late in the game. I found new energy and kicked it up just a bit. I wasn’t going to try to catch them in one fell swoop. I knew I had a little bit of time to reel them in.
My engine was sputtering but I was determined. My legs and lungs were yelling, screaming at me, but I mentally plugged my ears and yelled “lalalalalalalala!” as loud as I could in my head. A young blond girl passed my on my right. I latched on and stayed with her. With a half mile to go, the course returned to grass for a little over a quarter mile before finishing on the local high school’s track. The girl started to pull away (I’d find out later that she is a nationally ranked high school miler) as we hit the track.
The moment my feet hit the track, a flood of memories came back. I had not run competitively on a track in over 22 years, but it all came back. The crowds, the pain, the adrenaline.
The adrenaline!!! Thank God for adrenaline. As we rounded the turn to head for the final straightaway, I heard Alain cheer me on. It was time for the kick, and man did I kick! I passed the girl and three other runners as I stretched out my stride and just went. The last guy in my sights got away by 2 seconds. I patted him on the back and we shook hands.
You want to know what those 2 seconds cost me? A top 100 finish overall and a top 20 finish in my age group. I finished with a 32:14 (16 seconds faster than my goal), 101st of 915 overall and 21st of 156 in my age group. By far not my best finish, but to accomplish that in this field felt pretty good. I found both Alain and Hugh. In the end they had each finished about a minute ahead of me, so I didn’t feel too bad.
I went back out on to the field to cheer on the rest of the runner. In came Mike, then Jamie, Doug, Alett, Lizette and Nina. Team Shizzle initially thought we had lost, but when I checked the scoreboard later that evening, Surprise!, we had actually beaten Team Jungle by 98 seconds.
After taking a few photo-op shots with the RaceMenu/mix1 team and O-Water, Teams Jungle and Shizzle made their way to my car where we cracked open a few beers to celebrate the competition.
Despite having run for RaceMenu for several months now, this was my first race where I was running in a team competition. I absolutely loved the extra motivation it gave me to run hard. Before the race, Jamie was telling me that she was concerned about how she was going to run and that she didn’t want to let her teammates down. This despite the fact that she was a last minute addition and didn’t actually know the runners. It is great motivation to run your best, and she did! She ran a 36:20, coming in over a minute faster than what she was hoping for. I know that when I wanted to give up at mile 2, knowing that I’d be letting the team down was a huge motivator to keep going.
So now it’s back to training for the Smuttynose Marathon, but I already have my eye on next year’s Marathon Sports 5 Miler, and I’m hoping we can have the same friendly bet again, because next time Hugh, I’m taking you down…I’m taking you down to Chinatown. Let the smack talk begin!