The training schedule I’ve been following for the Smuttynose Marathon called for an 8-10K race this past Saturday. The idea being that running a race this close to the actual goal race would help me work through any pre-race jitters. The problem was that local race directors didn’t get the memo that I was in a training cycle that called for an 8-10K and all that was available close by were a few 5K’s. I picked what I thought would be one of the flatter ones and away I went.
Now I have this friend, let’s call her Teri*, who I have been trying to get to come to one of these road races with me for over a year. There was always some excuse, but she kept telling me to ask her the next time. She hadn’t run a race in a decade, so when I came across this race, an inaugural one, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for her to re-enter the road race arena. The description of the Glio Blast Off 5K was fast and relatively flat. When I showed her the website, she was hooked. She’s been running around 6 miles lately as her regular runs, so she had no excuses with a 5K.
Still, as I drove by her apartment on Saturday morning to pick her up, I was half expecting her to tell me that something had come up. I was pleasantly surprised to find her waiting for me on the curb.
She was, to say the least, a bit nervous. She had no idea what to expect from herself. I reminded her that for a first race, she should push herself hard, but know that this was simply a bar-setter. Once she got through this one, she would know what she was capable of and be able to go on from there. She thought that she would be happy simply coming in under 30 minutes. I asked how fast she had run her fastest 3 miler – 25 -26 minutes.
I thought about that for a minute and told her that I wouldn’t be surprised if she could hit a 25-handle. She looked at me like I had a screw loose.
We arrived at the race, checked in, got our numbers and began to warm up. As the start time edged closer and closer, I could see Teri getting more and more nervous. I tried distracting her by trying to pick out who we thought the winner would be. An older gentleman, in his 50′s, flew by warming up.
“There goes your winner,” I said. She laughed. It was actually good for me that she was so nervous because it kept my mind off my own thoughts about the race. Though my plan was to try to improve off of last week’s time (20:27), I essentially had no idea what kind of giddy-up I would have, having raced a 5K race and run a VO2Max interval workout in the previous 7 days.
As the starter called the runners to the line, I left Teri in the middle of the pack – just run strong and slightly out of your comfort zone, I told her. I went to the front and instinctively checked out who else was there. There was the older gentleman, a 20-something year old, a larger guy in his 30′s and me. I found out in our short conversation before the start, that all of them had been long timecompetitive runners. The larger guy mentioned that he use to run 5 miles in about 27 minutes in college. Oh, boy! My strategy had been to go out with the leaders and see what happened. After our brief discussion I realized that I would be fighting for 4th place, even with a PR. The gun blared and we were off.
Right out of the gate the big guy pushed the pace, with 20-something right behind him, then me, then the older gentleman. Before the first turn I once again found myself running with the front pack of a race. After an initial flat 200 yards, the course went uphill for the next 300 yards or so. The big guy didn’t flinch and I tried to keep pace. 2 turns later and we started down a mild downhill. The big guy was about 10 yards ahead, 20-something was maybe 2 or 3 yards ahead and I could hear the older gentleman closing in.
Just before hitting the mile 1 marker, the older gentleman flew by me. I check my watch, 6:00. Phew! A little fast!
I watched as our group of 4 began to look more like 4 groups of 1. The big guy continued to pull away, with the other two hanging on. I had two choices at this point. Do I follow, push myself to the limit and possibly injure myself, or do I continue along at what I perceived as max effort? I know that sounds contradictory. Luau, if you’re already pushing at max effort, how can you push any harder? I’ve always felt that what may feel like a maximum effort isn’t always so. That said, despite my training program saying I needed to approach this race as an all out effort, to paraphrase old Obi-wan, this wasn’t the race that I was training for. I would have kicked myself if I had maxed out my legs and ended up pulling something with 2 weeks to go until Smuttynose. Having come to that conclusion, I pushed on at the effort I was putting forth.
As the other three began to pull away, I glanced over my shoulder. Nobody. I once again found myself in the position I did at Lex’s Run. Barring disaster, or a huge rally by the guys behind me, I was sitting in the spot I was going to finish. Mile 2 came and went uneventfully in 6:24. I did some quick math and realized I had 7 1/2 minutes to cover 1.1 miles and get in under 20 minutes (my stated goal). It was going to be close. I felt my legs slowing down and I began thinking of the uphill near the end of the race. I could still see the leaders.
At this point the older gentleman had passed the 20-something. I realized too late that I was closer to them than I had thought. With a little over 1/4 mile to go, I saw that I was only about 200 yard behind he big guy and a little over 100 yards behind 20-something. I had no shot, but I pressed on the gas anyway. As I hit the final hill, I could feel gravity slowing me down. I could only watch helplessly as 20-something crested over the hill and used gravity to his advantage. Once I hit the downhill, I did the same. It was too late to catch 20-something, but I still had a shot at my first sub-20. Two more turns and I saw the clock just under 200 yards away. It was just clicking over to a 19-handle. The finish line looked so far away. Physically I felt like I had left it all on the hill, but I knew, I knew, I had something left in the tank. I forced myself to sprint. I’m not sure how I looked, and I didn’t really care. I was getting that sub-20 dammit! As I closed in on the finish line, I realized that not only was I going to finish in under 20 minutes, but I had a shot at 19:30! I could hear the people gathered cheering me on as I flew through the chute. I pressed my watch and looked – 19:30. Official time: 19:27. I found the other 3 guys, congratulated them and nearly threw up.
After taking a moment, I jogged back to the last turn and cheered runners in, encouraging them to either hold off the person behind them or catch the person in front of them. A few minutes later my friend Teri came around the corner. She was struggling – holding her own, keeping pace, but definitely struggling. As she came around the final turn, I broke into a run with her. Let’s go Teri! There’s the finish line! She wanted to stop. I wasn’t about to let her do that with just 150 yards to go. Come on! Let’s go! Look at the clock! LOOK AT THE CLOCK! The clock read 25:–. She kept moving. I started running backward right in front of her. You’ve got this! You’ve got your 25, but you can hit 25:30 Teri! Let’s go. She would later tell me that at that particular moment, she hated me and wanted to hit me. Intuitively, I stayed just out of reach, mentally trying to pull her along. At about 10 yards to go, I peeled off so she could run through the chute. 25:27. For about a minute or so she was miserable. Then she realized what she had done. You could see the pride and excitement grow in her face. She had achieved her goal and she felt great. She called her trainer to share the news. About 10 minutes later, the timekeepers put out the premiminary results. Teri had finished 30th overall (out of 185 finishers!), 10th among women, and 1st in her age group. 1ST IN HER AGE GROUP?!? She was ecstatic! I have to admit, I was just as happy for her and I was for me when I found out that I too had won my age group, finishing 4th overall.
For an inaugural event, this race was extremely well run. My only two notes of criticism would be that they didn’t have any course maps to check out (something they said would be addressed next year) and the race directors chose very odd age groups (31-40/41-50?). The course was fast and fun but challenging. Hopefully Teri and I can go back next year and defend our age group wins!
Did I learn anything? I was reminded that as a running community, we take pride in the achievements of others. I truly got a huge thrill from Teri’s age group win, knowing that in a small way I had helped push her a little harder than she was going to push herself. Hopefully this is the first of many races for Teri.
*Named changed, though not arbitrarily.