Groton 5K Road Race
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Pace: 5:53 min/mile
10th place of 894 overall
2nd place Masters (Age 40+)
*Course reported long by up to .1 miles. Felt slightly long to me.
**Photos courtesy of Jim Rhoades, runner and photographer. http://jimrhoades.com
In early April, Heather talked her friend Anisha into doing a road race. It would be her first. We were all very excited for her. In fact, she was so excited that she in turn talked her husband Andrew, much to his dark and stormy chagrin, into joining us.
After some back and forth, we settled on the Groton 5K Road Race. The location was perfect, close enough to both of our houses, and the event was big yet had a local hometown vibe. I was all for it. Only, there was a slight problem. The race was less than a week after the quad-trashing Boston Marathon. Would I be recovered enough, I wondered, to race a 5K only 6 days after Boston? I didn’t know. But I was willing to find out.
With a left upper quad still tight, I spent the morning of the race working the kinks out, smoothing the muscle, and stretching whatever I could. Although it was only a day earlier when I felt a little pop come back into my legs and in my basic energy levels, all normal in the aftermath of racing a marathon, I was hopeful that with some work on the quad, mixed with a little race morning magic of adrenaline fired once the gun went off, I would be fine. I knew I would likely not be peak for my current ability, but I also knew that I’d be well enough to perhaps compete for the Master’s division and the cash prize that went along with it. Having looked at prior year results, I also knew that I would have to run well under 18 minutes.
After arriving, picking up race packets, and meeting up with Anisha and Andrew, I set out back to the car to drop belongings and then jump into a warm-up. It took a few strides to get the legs moving freely. The area is quite hilly, so although I would have rather of had a flat stretch to rev the engine, get the legs turning over, I settled for a nice downhill section, which was by chance the beginning of the course. A few times up and down, I was ready. My left quad was staying glued and feeling okay for the task ahead.
Before long I found myself on the starting line, where I wiggled my way into the front line. I took note of the some familiar faces – those I knew to be fast – and a handful of high school track stars. The familiar faces are known entities, but the youngsters are wildcards; they always range from kickass fast to watch-your-back/don’t-slow-down-or-I’ll-catch-you fast. You can never tell which they are until they are. I would find out later that there were a few of each.
This starting line was actually quite fun. There were a few chatty guys, one of whom knew the course and answered all of my questions (fast start, rolling hills, and a big hill at mile 2). The other part that made it cool was that my dear friend Cheryl (Cak), who was doing the 10K race later in the day, was behind the roped fence marking the course about 20 yards up. I waved. She waved back. I made silly gestures. She sent up some of her own. Even her husband Tom got in the act. We had our own language, just the three of us.
A moment later two muskets fired into the morning sky. The race was started. For some reason, I couldn’t help but laugh as I struggled to stay in the lead with the swarm of front row runners. Out of the school the course went, down a hill, hard left, and now, finally, the pretenders were falling off while the stallions were jockeying into position. My legs were pumping fluently, feeling good, my quad holding strong, as I worked in a large front pack of 25 with three, then four, and then five and six guys going off the front.
By a half mile in, I was sitting in 20th place and working my way up. Mile 1 came in 5:40, about what I expected, when I had moved into roughly 16th place. Somewhere between Miles 1 and 2, the leaders were mostly out of sight due to the slightly rolling terrain and trees now coming into bloom. No matter. I was still racing my own race. I had to take care of myself and my own breathing before I could fall into racing against others.
With each hill I picked up another one or two place. On the hill at Mile 2 I climbed to about 13th place with two of those high school cross country stars not far up. I was feeling pretty good but I could tell that my breathing was a little choppy in holding a higher pace. I had push when I needed it, but I could tell that the deep residual fatigue of the marathon could loom if I pushed too hard. When I focused on form, that lingering fear of bumping up against the residual fatigue went away. And so that’s what I did. It was all in my head, I told myself. All in my head. Just do what you know you can do.
Mile 2.25 was a water station. I blew through it, grabbing a cup of water and getting in as much as I could before spitting most out – my heart rate was far too high to actually get much in. I had taken the tangent on the road while my high school pals had not, as they cut across to the other side of the road for water. I used it as a chance to make a move. I was now racing, counting positions, looking for a Top 10 finish.
The high school kids caught up to me. At that point I decided that whatever pain I could subject myself to would only last a maximum of five more minutes, and so I through in a surge to gain some clearance. As I pulled away, they chased me with a, “Go get it, man!” And I went to get it. In the process I caught another runner just before the turn back onto school grounds.
Now on school grounds, I could sense I was alone. The guy in front of me was too far up to catch, and those behind me were far enough that I hadn’t heard footsteps or breathing, and as I ran by spectators, I could tell I had their attention rather than someone behind me, meaning I was probably in the clear. But still, with those high school runners, I wasn’t sure.
As the course went up a hill to the track, I knew all I had remaining was 400 yards. A spectator confirmed my standing in the race: “Tenth place, looking good.” From that point on, all the way down and around the bend in the track, I was running scared. Something, someone, was behind me. Could I hold? Focus on form, turn those legs over… go, go, go I went. Saw my friend Cak but had little energy for anything more than a smile and a weak wave. Around I went all out fearing the reaper, hoping for the best. Finally around the bend, I was able to make out the finish line, and as soon as I saw it I knew 10th place was mine. Of 894 entries, it was a good day.
Turned out I was out of the money of being 1st Master’s runner by two positions.
Anisha and Andrew held their own. Anisha felt great and was already thinking about a next race while Andrew, as long as there’s a good after-party, could be talked into it. And after our own little celebration at a nearby brewery, I think he is on for another!
1 – 5:40
2 – Miss-Marked
3.1 – 18:17