It's a strange thing, this road race.
The 20k is one of the races I've run just about every year since I started running again. In fact, I just looked up the results and was surprised to find that this was my tenth straight year running. It was also my third slowest time, but in a pattern that's more positive, it was another race that I ran faster than the previous two years.
My plan was simple this year. Don't run crazy the first 10K, then try and work my way back into the race in the back half. I wasn't really sure where I was at- I'd swum in the Sound the day before and for the first time this year I'd gotten really stuffed up.
The race is hard in that there are so many talented runners there. I start in row 2B/3A, which is pretty close to the front. I always see a lot of people I know there. I ended starting right next to Pat Dennen, who is getting married- congratulations, Pat. Also right near me were Eric and George Buchanan. Eric was planning to try and run sixes and I joked with him about that, because he always says that.
We'd agreed to bring in Ryan Shea's dad to talk before the race start, and John Courtmanche was up there to introduce him even though John himself was running the 20k. Let me stop and say that until I joined the board of the road race, I had no idea what all needs to be done to get this race off the ground, and no one does more important work than John, our board president and a great guy. I've never seen him go five minutes without smiling.
The race started and it was a big jostle-fest. I started running at what I hoped was my pace and the hoards went around me. I didn't worry about it. At about the half-mile mark, Eric went by and I saw him wedge his way past the people in front of me- it's extremely crowded and he managed to move up pretty deftly. I stayed relaxed, tried to ignore the stuffiness in my head and just run, and not panic or get aggravated as people went by. I saw a few people I knew- Rob Barker, Frank Tirorello, Chris Dickerson.
We took the turn onto the first hill and I really tried to keep it smooth and easy. That hill, near Southern, is way too early to push on. I took water, drank some, poured some on me, and watched the people in front of me. Running away from me. I tried to lock in on the people around me and found someone that was running a good pace and just tried, again, for the umpteenth time already, to relax.
Then after three miles, I got passed by a pair of guys I know. They are both good runners in their 50s. However, they are they are also runners that, if I run anywhere between 6:10 and 6:20, I should go over the line in front of. I surged. It was the only time in race I did that. It didn't work. I did get ahead, but i was pushing too hard, and I started to think about it as I headed along that downhill part of route 10 prior to the route 34 intersection. I was running in the 6:10-6:15 per mile area, which was my goal. So why did I care if someone I felt I might have a fair chance of beating was passing me between mile 3-4 ?
I decided to let him go. That put him, the other runner he was with, and Zofia W. in front of me. I told myself that New Haven is a war of attrition and you just have to be patient.
Then next thing I knew, I was on route 10 past 34 and suddenly, I saw a runner walking back towards us on the sidewalk. I thought I recognised the general build and the sunglasses, and as I got closer I realised it was Eric- it looked like his thigh was hurting. I asked if he was all right or if I could do something and he said no, keep going. I might not mind seeing other runners come back to me as the race progresses, but I certainly don't want to see anyone hurt, much less a friend. But Eric's made of tougher stuff...
Next thing I knew, he was running alongside me. I asked him what was wrong, and as we headed into the hill, I tried to make sure we stayed moderate. I also dropped my Gu and had to go back for it, but was able to do that without losing any time. From this point to the 10 mile, I would be moving up and passing people, except for about two people. Although Eric's thigh was bothering him, we were working hard enough to pass the people in front of us. We went under 95 and sure enough, the same people that were running away from me before were now coming back. I downed a Gu and we started passing- Zofia, these other two guys, and we just kept moving up, slowly, but surely. There was nothing dramatic about it, just a nice steady rhythm of passing, dropping, passing, dropping.
We went through 10K at about 38:44...