I prefer to plan ahead for my races, kind of have a plan during the week, and certainly I like to get up in the morning and know I am going to a race. Such was just not the case.
I got up late for a Saturday morning- almost 7 am, and instead of heading right for the bike I settled in, had a banana and some coffee, then got on the computer. Maureen Terwilliger imed me and asked me if I was going to do either of the races at Hammonessett. I was confused because as far as I knew there was just a race at 11:00 sponsored by Soundrunner. That didn't work out with the scheduled egg hunts for the morning, and in fact, no workout plan seemed like a good one.
So I looked the race up on line and it was at 9:00 and the entry fee was 25 cans or boxes of food. It was 8:00 AM.
This is what a bad plan looks like. I got dressed and got my stuff together. That took 15 minutes, making a bad plan worse. Bolted out of the house, stopped at Walgreens and bought 24 single-serving boxes of cereal and drove at high speed to the ark.
I managed to get there about 25 of 9 and it was windy and cold and there was a long line for the porta-potties. It was kind of odd, being in exactly the same place as my last race just 6 days earlier, but instead of an off-road duathlon, I was running just a 5k. There was no time for a proper warm-up so I just went over to the starting- where I was alone- and started doing strides. The wind was definitely going to be a factor and I was trying as much to stay warm as get warmed up. Finally people started coming over, first the wheelchair athlete and a few stragglers, then the other 300 people doing the race. The crowd was big- a lot bigger than I remembered from the other two times I'd run the race.
I was listening to Evanescence as usual. But I decided that I was going to put the music away for the race. I had some small hope of winning the race- I'd won it twice before and although last year's winning time was 16:55 which let's face it, I will never see again, I didn't see that guy. People lined up fairly quickly and they started giving instructions. When they described the course the wheelchair athlete said 'Don't worry, I'll be in front', and I have to admit, based on my my recent experiences, including Disney, I wasn't sure that was going to be the case.
The race starts in the opposite direction from Meig's Point- you run all the way to the end of the road for the east pavilions, hook a left and head back. They gave the wheelchair athlete a minute head start, and with the wind blowing it just got colder and more raw, but finally, we were off.
I didn't waste any time. I got out in front and started running hard, not crazy hard, but hard. I had control of the race right from the start and my first fear was that I would not be able to maintain a steady, hard pace. It's easier for me at this stage in my racing to run under 18 minutes chasing people than it is being chased. I reached the turn around and took it massively wide, too wide, sloppy running, but I didn't care. I re-established my line and went for it....
The wheelchair had come back to me right away- I was going faster than he was, and I ran him down not because I think it's cool to out-run a guy in a wheel chair (it's not, although it is cool to outrun someone on a bicycle), but because he was in front of me.
I could hear the footsteps behind me...
While most of the field had already separated, there were a few guys on my heels and I tried to settle in as I ran back by the pavilions headed west. This was that dangerous time in a 5K, the first maybe half mile where you can simply blow your race up and end up wishing you actually had a brain in your head... so I found my stride and really just pushed it. I was almost to the round-about when I got caught from behind, run down and passed...
I hate that... I rarely have a chance to win a race, and when I think I do think I can that moment where I realise I am wrong is a bitter one.
The guy that went by me was wearing a Coast Guard Academy cross-country uniform. However, instead of thinking how I was up against a college kid- a college cross-country runner- I looked at his form. It's slightly uphill to the round-about and as soon as he passed me I felt like he slowed a little. With the wind mostly in our face I considered tucking in for about two seconds. The I just attacked again.
I was able to re-establish my lead, and hold it. I made it through the roundabout and was running hard. They had told us to stay right and I was on the yellow line, running as steady/hard as possible. I heard his footsteps and he was cutting the tangents through the curves, so I let him lead from behind in that respect and did likewise. It was hard running, there was no lead car or lead bike, just me hauling as much as I could and his incessant footsteps.
While I like to lead, there is something nerve-wracking about being in front and having someone so close behind. We reached the tear drop and I was still holding a few seconds. One of the volunteers said 'You're almost there' as I went through the drop and it always amazes me how the perception of the course they have and you have could be so different. I felt like the finish line was a forever away.
I ride my bike in the park a lot, time-trialing from the entrance around Meig's Point and back out, and I'd just done Brian's last week, so I know the road and it's an advantage. As I went through the point Brad, the Coast Guard runner, was close enough that I didn't see him at all. I burst out through the point and started right down the middle of the road.
There were people everywhere, headed out as I was headed back and they were cheering but some of them were also in the way. No worries. I just picked my way through the crowd, most of whom seemed to be in a half-mile stretch, then just ran as hard as I could. The road finally splits with a median and I stayed on the left side until we got close to back to the roundabout, when I crossed because I knew that we'd have to go right around it. I plowed through the median starting to feel like the gas tank was nearly empty.
On the straightaway, pavilion in sight, I finally looked back. I loathe looking back and think it sends the wrong message, but I needed to know if I was going to have to make a tactical decision.
I wasn't. He wasn't in contact.
I heard 17:28 and I was getting close to the final turn into the parking lot, maybe 20 seconds from winning the race. I hit the turn, went through, saw the clock, and knew I could beat 17:50 so I keep pushing and got a 17:49. I waited for Brad in the chute, who finished 7 seconds back, we talked for a few minutes and then warmed down together.
I know it was small race, and not the most competitive field, but I was pushed the entire way, I ran my fastest 5K in a long time, and most of all, had fun with a last-minute, unplanned and slightly crazy decision.
Plenty to be happy about...