Ras na hEireann 5K
Sunday, March 18, 2012
5K (3.1 miles)
Time: 17:47 (5:44 pace)
21st place overall of 5000
3rd place Master (40+)
1 – 5:34
2 – 5:41
3 – 5:42 (mile 3 was either short or total race distance was long)
.1 – :50
A month ago I got an e-mail from my friend Bernie asking if I was in for the Ras. I had so much fun running for Bernie’s team last year that it took no time at all to say yes!
The Ras, short for Ras na hEireann (pronounced “Ras-na-Air-ee-ann”), is the most popular St. Patrick’s Day road race on this side of the River Liffey – or at least in the Boston area. Backed by Harpoon, the 5K through streets of Somerville attracts 5000 runners and revelers decked in green. The finish line is steps from several Irish pubs, most notably The Burren, where the after-party flows with Harpoon’s finest. This race has quickly become my favorite.
Bernie, a fast talker with an Irish brogue, puts together a team each year for the Clock Tavern in South Boston in honor of Noel “The Baker” Robinson, who I am told had that same Irish charm.
I must admit, I never had the pleasure of meeting The Baker. But from hanging with his running buddies, this year and last, Bernie included, it is obvious that he touched many people’s lives. His legacy is strong. On another level, I feel connected to The Baker for our kindred love of the marathon. Taken together, the two of us have logged nearly 200 marathons. This is no joke. A big goal of mine is getting to 100. I currently sit at 69. The Baker ran 91; he will forever sit at 91, bless his soul.
So for the second year in a row the Clock Tavern pub team competed in honor of Noel “The Baker” Robinson. And for the second year in a row, we met race morning at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Davis Square. Unlike last year when Bernie showed up 5 minutes before the start, which cut short any warm-up, this year he was right on time. Thankfully that meant plenty of time for a warm up.
With the sun shining bright and temperatures climbing into the 60’s, I warmed up over the opening mile of the course with countless strides, several on a gradual uphill to get my legs ready to charge the ups without losing pace, and several back down to get leg speed up to cadence.
Having worked up a good sweat, I wiggled into the front of starting gates three rows back and bounced on my toes until the gun went off.
The way the streets are set up, with them being very flat by the start, it’s hard to tell that there are 5000 other runners backed up all the way down the street. It’s crowded – that much is for sure – but you cannot appreciate just how many runners are lined up away from the start.
Finally: “Go!” The race was started.
Off the starting line I shot. With such a deep field most runners ran with arms up and elbows out to avoid jostling. Marking my territory, I did the same. A few strides later, we were all locked in pace. I estimated that I was in Top 30.
The opening mile of the course is among my favorites. It starts flat for three-tenths of a mile before tipping up for three more tenths. What I like about it is that it evens out placement in the race rather quickly so that there are no kids in Hightop sneakers and baggy shorts clogging the way.
I ran next to Todd Callaghan, a friend from the mountain races, to where the road tips up. That’s when he, in his typical smooth-start fashion, began to pull away. Todd served as my rabbit until a hard turn in the road .8 miles in. To that point no other runners went by me. I had picked off two or three fast-starters. Probably not enough, I guessed, to warrant upgrading my assessment to better than Top 30. Todd is a Master runner who I knew would eventually go on to win the division, and he did.
Mile 1 (5:34) came and went. I was running all out but feeling strong. My breathing was labored but on edge of control. It was then when I saw ahead of me a female and guy in pink. They ran together stride for stride. That is, until I caught up. As soon as I did, the girl stuck to my shoulder while the guy gradually fell back. From the side of the road a spectator yelled: “Second woman!” First place female was 20 seconds up.
To motivate myself to keep running hard through to the end, I set a goal to “deliver” my new friend to the side of the first place female. We were running together anyway, and I was still accelerating as opposed to falling off pace. In other words, I was still in control.
To this point I had been running so hard that at each mile mark I had no energy to look at my watch to see the split. I merely hit the Split button; I would look at it later. I felt good and strong and even fast, and since I was tapped out, I had no need for numbers. On I ran.
Mile 2 (5:41) was just before a rise in the road. My friend, the second place female, was still on my shoulder entering the rise. Also on the rise was a water station. With the morning having grown warm, I took a long tangent to the last volunteer holding a cup of water. Trying to hold speed through the hill, I reached out for water. Bam! The cup hit my hand and flew to the ground. Water sprayed everywhere. No worries, though, there was only a mile remaining.
Just over the rise was a downhill followed by a hard right. As we descended and the road flattened, I gained a step and then another on my friend. When we banged the right, she tucked behind me for the half mile stretch ahead. During this time, I couldn’t help but notice that we had closed the gap on the first place female, our rabbit, to what I guessed was 10 seconds.
It was here when we started picking off runners who were no doubt starting their slowdown. Not us, we had a race to finish.
Up a final hill that almost drained my momentum and resolve, we made a right hand turn for a .6 mile gradual downhill. All the way at the end of this section you could see the finish line arch. I knew it was too early to kick but, well, I wanted to deliver my friend a chance at victory. As I kicked, so too did my friend. First place female came back another second, and then another.
Breathing hard, now too hard, I could barely maintain focus. This sucked. I knew it would be over soon. But it sucked. Looking at the finish still a half mile away was too agonizing. I wanted to slow down. I wanted to ease back effort. Instead, I set focus to a street light. “Focus on the light,” I coached myself, “forget the finish.” Shit was hitting the fan. Make it to the light.
Just then I got knocked out of my coma by a sight. There ahead of me was a guy with gray hair. That meant one and only one thing. I was one more spot out of being top Master. My buddy Todd was a Master, but he had the win locked, as I would never catch him. But this guy, I had him in sight and closing the gap quickly.
Staying focused, I passed graybeard just as my friend, the second place female, made a move from sitting on my shoulder to around and now in front of me, setting sights on the first female who was now only paces up.
Mile 3 (5:42 – was either short or total race distance was long) felt like it would never come. It, eventually, did.
It was about then when I first saw the clock. Large yellow numbers ticked 17:33, :34, :35…
I couldn’t believe it. Coming into this race, having done no 5K speed work over the winter like I usually do, I thought I was in 18:05 shape. My goal was to get under 18. But I knew better, or so I thought.
Finish came in 17:47 (5:44 pace), 21st overall of 5000, 3rd Master 40+.
It was a good race.
My friend, the second place female who I ran stride for stride with? Well, she ran out of real estate but, at the rate we had been closing the gap, would have had first place had the race been longer. Alas, it was not.
Mile 4 was back at The Burren. It was my fastest split of the day. The beer went down even faster.
It was a good day.
I’m guessing The Baker would have approved.
Thanks to Bernie, Tim, and Paulie for making this happen and for taking care of the Clock Tavern pub team.