The Durham 10K is a race I really like to run. It's often been the tail end of a major spurt of racing like it was this year. I had a run of years at this race where I finished 2nd, 3rd, 5th three straight years, and 3rd again.
Someone asked me what I wanted to do this year and I told him I wanted to finish on the podium and that I'd take third place. Coming off a 10K the day before, and knowing my speed is not there yet, I figured that, like all races, it would depend on who showed up. It didn't matter. One of the other bonuses of the race is that Margit's aunt and uncle live in Durham, so we can drive up there, hand off Ian, and both run the race with no worries.
I didn't get the great warm-up that I was hoping for- some strides had to do. We also were using a new timing system. I'm not going to get into my feelings about the d-chip here in this post. I'll just say that the Champion-chip is a tried and true method of timing races.
I got in my strides and then we were off.
I love the start of this race. It's a family and community event, so, you get the excited kids and so on at the start, but then you climb this big hill out of the school, and it kicks the ass of everyone who isn't really competing for the top spots. The 4k and 10k also start at the same time from the same line, which I totally space on. There were four of us heading up the hill together, including one really big guy that, from the view I had of him the whole race, was a dead ringer for Eric Hodska, and the guy who I'd picked out and told Margit would easily win the race, Patrick Dooley from Durham.
We went down the other side of the hill and by the time we took the turn, I knew the two guys in front were gone and that there was no chance that I'd be seeing them for long. However, the Eric clone was holding a decent pace in front of me but he was so big that I knew I'd have a chance to counter his opening when we got to the hills. We final hit the second turn and were off the main round- there was some goofiness at the intersection with the State Trooper, but I ignored it as it didn't affect us. Then were were sloping around a bend and taking another turn and the sun came out and it was hot and humid, but now we were running downhill and I was starting to feel a rhythm. It was the first time this season that I felt like I was running well, like I really was in control, well, since Brian's anyway.
It's funny how you can forget so much of why you do what you do. I put a lot of time into training. Why do I train ? So I can race. Yeah, I love balling around local roads on my bike, a little out of my head sometimes, doing stupid things like racing cars and motorcycles because I just can't help myself, but some of it is drudge work, too. Getting up at 5:30 am to spin even though it's going to be a nice day out, squeezing 50 minutes of running into an hour of lunch... Then you get out there in a race and you've got your racing stride, and you're settled in almost where you want to be and you are running downhill and people are handing you water to dump on your head and it's a road you know and almost everyone in the race is chasing you and they aren't going to catch you.
When it feels good, it's such a simple, pure joy. Pain and all.
Then you're around the next turn and you give up on the leader for the second and final time and you see the 10K/4K split and the guy in second is headed right down the 4K turn and for a minute, the guy in third looks like he'll turn too...
But he doesn't. I'd raced against him before here at Durham, coming up short. He started up the first of the hills on the back part of the course (he'd been the one that, when we crested the very first hill, responded to another runner's comment that the first hill was out of the way with 'There's more than one hill ?'). It's a hard hill because it's probably 6% but long, and it gets steeper at the top. I avoided the sprinkler and did my best to keep my effort moderate while holding my ground. There are crowds all over this course and the local support for the race is incredible.
As someone who never looks back, it's also a great way for me to know who's chasing me. I know Charlie Iselin was right back there and who knew who else, but I could tell by the noise that we had a gap. I climbed, then descended, then repeated that, waiting for the 5K mark to really assess where I was and whether I had a shot at 2nd. We blew through that point in the race and we'd both slowed down a little. I was about ten seconds out of second, chasing this shirtless giant who runs with EH's stride and I was trying like hell just to be patient.
We took the big right hand turn at the back of the course and a short downhill gave way to the longest uphill of the course. I should have attacked him here, but with the giant downhill at the end of the climb, I felt it was tactically unadvisable. I was wrong. We went through four miles on the downhill and then I forced myself to take a cliff shot as we worked our way around the lollipop loop at the back of the course. I was neither closing nor losing ground and I'd determined not to even try anything until after 5 miles, given that I'd burned myself with an early move just a week ago.
When we turned back onto the course at around 5 miles, I thought I still had a good shot at closing the gap, but I would have to start pushing again. I'd been racing within my comfort zone- my racing comfort zone, protecting my 3rd place spot, nursing calves that were not thrilled about this much racing (and in 2007, I blew out my left calf as a result of this 10K just two weeks before Eagleman, costing me my next race and hobbling me for two week going into Eagleman, where I ran well, but not as well as I wanted to). As we crested the big hill in the last mile the guy ahead of me, Michael Maffei, played a single pitch and catch of a football with a kid on the side of the road. I considered doing the same thing, asking for the ball, because it would have been cool, but when I'm racing, I'm racing, and I'm not laid back enough for that. Should I be ? Probably.
Maybe it's OK to take yourself way too seriously if you know you're doing it...
I descended the backside of the hill and never let up the pressure. Mike was just being nice, but he said he felt pressured the whole way and really had to keep working. I'm not sure I believe him, because he put 8-10 seconds on me in the last 600 yards, but I ran my ass off through the finish line.
At 37:30, it was certainly nothing to brag about, although it was 59 seconds faster than two years ago, when I'd felt fine until the day after the race. Still it was a strong third, with the next runner a minute and sixteen seconds back. I'd made it in where I wanted. Margit took second in her age group. My son was having a ball with his great aunt, great uncle, and their neighbours. I got to hang with Charlie Iselin and his family- warm down with him and then talk for a while.
That's the formula- friends, family, and racing. It was the right exclamation point to ten days of racing.