MSL Race Judicata 5K
Saturday May 8, 2010
Pace: 5:53 min/mile
1st place overall of ~60
*Course was 3.23 miles which extrapolates to a 17:27 (5:38/mile) 5K.
“First” is such a pointed word.
With a “First” comes a new experience, and with a new experience comes a special place in our hearts, something we remember for years to come.
Like my first road race. The Blackburn 5-Miler along the water in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was an evening race in 1990. A chilly ocean breeze rustled my hair as the stale smell of salt clogged my lungs. I ran harder than I had ever before. I finished in 37 minutes. The after-party was back at a pub in town; it was when I first experienced how awesome a crowd the running community was. I didn’t want the night to end.
My first marathon was Cape Cod in 1991. I’ll never forget it. I ran the entire way with my sister in law. I was still yapping at mile 22. “What’s with hitting the wall?” I wondered aloud. We finished in 3:19. We celebrated afterwards with a new microbrew called Samuel Adams. I think you’ve heard of it. Speaking of firsts, back then Samuel Adams had just won its first award at the Great American Beer Festival, putting it on the map.
My first Ironman was Ironman Wisconsin. The race was in the great little city of Madison. It was a special day of another first. That day I got engaged. She said yes. Today I am lucky to call her my wife. I would point out that she’s my first wife, but somehow I don’t think that seems appropriate considering there is no end date or seconds or lasts.
I will never forget another first. This one was special. It came on a rainy Saturday, May 8, 2010, a day before Mother’s Day, 20 years to the day, plus or minus a few, after my first road race in Gloucester. You could say this first was 20 years in the making. Speaking of firsts, this first only became a possibility last year.
For evidence, this is what I wrote as a dream-goal back in October of 2009 for the upcoming year (2010):
“I will win a race even if I have to cherry pick, be it a 5K, sprint triathlon… any race, any size.” – Affirmations for 2010 (https://ironboy.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/affirmations-for-2010/)
Back then was the first time in my running career that I had even entertained thoughts such as winning a race. I was an age group competitor; I wasn’t fast enough or marked with the deep talent to compete for first place overall in an entire race. My place was battling it out with fellow middle-agers turning grey.
But last year, as my run speed started coming around, with me running faster than I had ever before, a life long dream of one day winning a road race came closer into view, as if a possibility. Even if I knew that many things would have to happen in my favor for this to be a possibility, like nobody showing up but me, it was still something that stuck on my brain as reality, even if the odds of this reality were minute. Or maybe it was because I had gotten myself so close that I now wanted it to be true, as if I willed myself to one day win a race. Or it was the continuation of a day last year when I, for a first time ever, led a local road race for a short distance. Perhaps I wanted another taste. (https://ironboy.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/north-reading-turkey-trot-5k/)
So I set winning a race as a pie-in-the-sky dream-goal for 2010. I knew it wouldn’t happen, right? To this point in career in endurance sports, I had always focused on the longer events, like the marathon and Ironman triathlon; one thing I had never, ever focused on was my short distance speed. But last year, after being injured in triathlon, interest in the shorter stuff was coming around. I found myself wondering what I could do in a 5K or sprint triathlon. I can count on two hands how many 5K races I’ve done over my 20 years in running – 10 might be the right number. That’s not many. But I’ve run 54 marathons. See, I’m a long distance kind of guy.
Last year that started changing after I led a 5K for what was probably only a tenth of a mile but yet what felt like five miles. And my speed was pretty good for someone never doing proper speed work for the short stuff. I had just ripped off two back to back 5K’s in under 18 minutes, good for a pace south of 6 minute miles. 18 minutes, I knew, would not win a local race. But if I could get my time to low 17’s I might be able to cherry pick or get lucky with no fast guys showing up but me.
After Boston [the Marathon] this year I vowed to do a few 5K’s in efforts to work on my speed or at least to see where I was with it over the short stuff. With training for Mt. Washington square in view, the only speed I would do, I knew, would be in races, for doing hill work and speed in the same week, for me, is difficult unless I race. So the plan was to work on 5K’s this spring, get my time down to mid-17 by summer, and then come fall find a flat 5K in which to cherry-pick a win.
Only that plan changed, and it did so in a good way on a rainy Saturday in May at a first-run 5K event in sleepy Andover, Massachusetts. That day I showed up, with rain pouring from the skies in waves, and registered for a race. Roughly 80 others did the same, but the weather was so bad that only 60 actually started the race.
A part of me wishes the race had been bigger, but another part also knows that this first is one that is already imprinted in my mind as something special. I had gotten hint that it could be my day when I lined up at the start. There were five, maybe six, guys who looked to be contenders. It would turn out that of the 6, two were no threat with another two not in this list set to take their place.
After a five minute delay that turned to ten and almost fifteen minutes, the race director finally showed up. Just then the rain miraculously slowed to a mere drizzle. I didn’t care, for I was already soaked through completely during my warm-up. But it was a huge relief for everybody else, especially the guy off to the side of the road who was about to start the race with a musket.
The musket pointed in the air, a bang echoed as smoke shot from the barrel. The race had started. Off we went. Would this day, I wondered, be mine?
As I got to pace, any thoughts of glory were shot down as two, then three, and then four guys blew ahead of me. Two looked as if they were there only for the start, while two others looked to be strong enough to be contenders.
Up the road we went, with me sitting in fifth place and a collection of guys nearby, I tried to stay as close as possible to the front. But one guy was too strong. He had the quads of a cyclist, perhaps a triathlete, I noticed. That’s when it struck me that he had looked familiar. But I couldn’t figure out where.
Within the first quarter mile, the road came to a dead end, with the course navigating to a dirt path that narrowed quickly. By this point I had worked my way into third place and was trying to feel out the guy sitting on my right shoulder and another just on my heels.
With the first mile of the course a steady climb, I hoped the pretenders would fall off. I was putting myself into position to stay close to the lead, and if I could, I would take control. But the guy in the lead was looking strong. I felt smooth even though I was running on edge, as fast as I could, and this early in the race I was content in letting him be. I knew I had to survive the first up hill mile, cruise the middle 1.5 down hill miles, and then work the remainder of the course back up a steady incline.
During this time I noticed the leader look at his watch repeatedly, as if something was wrong. He would tell me later that he did a double-, triple-, and quadruple-take at the split his Garmin was spitting out. “5:22,” he said later of his pace, “I can’t do that.” And just like that, the leader slowed down. And just like that, I took the lead, with a guy still on my shoulder and the other still on my heels. I was now leading the race. And so just as quickly my hopes had been dashed at the start of the race when a few guys hammered out in front, my hopes were now back up. Maybe I could win this.
Just beyond a half mile was a test in the form of the road tilting up on this already steady incline. I knew that if I pulled away on the tougher hill, the race could be mine. The hill came, and sure enough, as I worked the hill, something I am strong at, the shadow on my shoulder disappeared and the clicking at my heels sounded farther and farther away. I was pulling away. I was leading the race. And I was pulling away. Although I knew there were still over 2 miles to race, that I couldn’t yet write home about the win, I was very excited at experiencing a race as I had never before. Here I was, the hunted, with the entire race staring at the soles of my shoes, instead of me being the hunter with the view only that of others.
Finally done with the incline, I settled in as fast as I could run with breathing on the edge of control. I could still hear someone not far off behind me, but I wasn’t worried, for I was in the lead, I was in control, I could hang on knowing that only minutes stood between this moment and a special first that I would remember forever. And I was so confident about it because I had an ace up my sleeve. I knew that on that last hill just passed, I had gained so much ground over those around me, and I knew that the final half mile of this course was all up hill, just like the hill on which I added to my lead; a steady incline to the finish, all I had to do was to stay in the lead until that incline and the win was mine.
I thought briefly about being conservative, saving something for the end, by slowing down just a bit, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t not race to my ability. It was not in my make-up. My legs knew nothing of it and didn’t want to hear cop-out. My legs felt amazing: Strong and fast, speedy and fresh. They wanted race. To the finish. A win. For the ages. And that’s what they got.
Running in the lead for so long was rather odd yet exhilarating at the same time. Odd it was because there was nobody in front of me. It wasn’t all that different than going out for a solo tempo run during the week. It didn’t have the look of a race, with guys gutting it out in front of you, others to lock in on in attempts to catch or even stay pace. I was my own catch.
Yet it was exhilarating knowing that the guy behind me, the one behind him, and all of those behind him were aiming for me. I was the one running away from them. I was the one pulling away, snatching at will their dream of glory for my own.
This was mine. For 15 of the 18 minutes it took the run the race, you can say I had my 15 minutes of fame. And you would be right. Because that is what is stored in my memory bank. Those 15 minutes. It was a first. A first I will never forget. Because forever more, I can add to my race resume this very special win. I won the race. The entire race. I won it all. The first to cross the line. A first that was a dream-goal, like one of those you desire but expect to never experience. And now I have. I notched my first win!
As my 15 minutes of glory sets into a prized location in my mind, I am hopeful that I can prove this to be no fluke – that my win wasn’t just because I was the only person to show up to race. The race course on which I won was measured to be 3.23 miles (longer than the 3.1 of a 5K). This finish time extrapolates to 5K time of 17:27 for a pace of 5:38. Although a 17:27 would not win most local 5K’s, it *could* win nearly any local 5K depending on who shows up. The odds of a win get better as the 17:27 time moves closer to 17 and into 16 range. Low 16 to 15 and you can pick any 5K for the win. 17 is still luck-draw. But that’s just it. My 15 minutes of glory show that this, winning a race, is now a possibility, something that was just a dream-goal before.