The last race of the season.
So many races this year. Well, not really that many- things have changed for me and I don't race like I used to. Nowhere near as many, but then again, it would take almost 50 5Ks to equal the output of a single day's distance in the Ironman. Still, my first race was January 1st and here I was, trying to get up for one more race in mid-December.
The course was new. And as I would find out during the race, I didn't understand in the least the map that explained the course. I looked at it three times and it didn't help.
Worst though, was the bitter cold.
I stripped down to my bike jersey and shorts, arm warmers. The only concessions to the cold were the goretex gloves and the winter hat with the little tassel.
It was cold enough that when I started running faster, I started getting colder.
I warmed up with Charlie Hornak and we noticed the top woman was looking ready to race- Erin from Trumbull. We were wondering if we had what it would take to outrun her- she looked a lot more ready than either of us.
The starting line was packed. It's funny how when you're right on the start line at a mass start of the Ironman swim you think there's too many people, it's not fair.
And yet, I'll line up, on the line, or as it was this day, in the second row, and think nothing of it. There's no fear. I belong on the line and that's not arrogant. It's a numbers thing. There's probably 40 people on the line, and if I'm in the second row, that's means there are people in front of me that maybe shouldn't be.
We started out and I could tell we were going to start out easy right away. The top guys like Oscar and Bart from Athlete's Foot (second and third overall) were off the front, but there was a nice pack of people in sight. The race starts with a long run up some street, a long, flat run, always either into or out of the wind.
About a third of a mile in, I was thinking that lead woman was nowhere near me. She wasn't in front of me. I looked over my left shoulder. Not there. I relaxed fractionally. If it's a little misogynistic, forgive me. Intellectually, I appreciate, understand, and quite frankly am impressed as all hell by the fact that there are so many women who can leave me in the dust. At the same time, I have no desire to go out and be beaten- in a running race- by women. I'm old. It's a shortcoming.
I looked over my right shoulder.
She was about six inches from me, half a step back.
The race started to thin out after that.
Somewhere past half a mile, I was in a group of four people. One guy was leading the pack and I wanted to move into the second slot and establish my position well before the first turn. I'm pretty scrupulous about moving in and I'm sure I had room. I'm giving the guy behind me the benefit of the doubt that he must have thought I didn't.
He put his hand on the middle of my back. All five fingers. I could feel each one on my back.
I was so shocked that for about 3 seconds I had no reaction.
Then I said about what you'd expect if you know me. Then I went back to running.
We took the turn, still in a group. The next turn is almost immediate and sends you back down the way you came, maybe one block over. We hit the mile mark- which was long- and were at like 5:50. The youngest guy in our group immediately broke ranks, disappointed I guess in the 'slow' mile.
Then it was a lot of back and forth. All four of us tried to assert ourselves, none successfully.
After that, the turns started. I was lost pretty quickly, and confused. The map's course was in my head, but we were making turns that didn't track with what I thought I knew. Then at about 1.75 miles we hit a tight turn and there was a lot of ice around the turn, so I had to hop the ice, extending my right leg out long and bound up high. I hit the ground hard and I swear it took something out of me energy wise. That exertion was just enough...
We keep jockeying.
At one-point the back-pusher managed to elbow me as well, not hard, but I mean, it was two miles into the race. There was a grand total of one person next to me.
And then, we were running back towards the starting line, in the opposite direction, going to cross the line.
I saw a photographer on the side of the road and the back-pusher (again, I'm sure he felt like he had to push me in the back for his own safety- or something) was in front of me. I surged to get in front of him for the pictures. I might not beat him to the line, but I would beat him to the pictures, if I could.
And then it was the final run to the finish.
I had two guys in front of me, including the guy who pushed me and I knew- knew- he was in my age group.
I tried. I gave it everything. But two days of easy workouts and an Ironman three weeks earlier were just too much.
I got beat by four seconds, I finished 4th in my age group.
I'd run 17:54 and finished 18th overall. It was my first time in the top 20 since 2005. I should not have been unhappy with that.
I was 4th in my age group by 4 seconds and I let a guy who pushed me beat me.
Of course I was unhappy.
Then I downed a very good beer, ran a warm down with Charlie Hornak and Dick Korby. And had a second beer.
And then, I wasn't so unhappy anymore...
See y'all next year at the races.