The closest I had come to this experience before was my senior year in high school where we had a cross country dual meet against perennial doormat Yough HS and our team ran it as a workout and we finished a 5-way tie for first. But, mind you I was the 5th man that year so they were pretty much waiting on me and going at my pace. In track, our 4x800m team won the county meet, but I was the 2nd leg (aka slow leg) so didn't have the experience of crossing the finish line there. Beth and I did this 10 mile race when we were down at Virginia Tech and crossed together for first, but I think there were maybe 50 people in the race.
So, onto Sunday's 5k and 10k. I told Beth going into the race that I feel like I've had a pretty good year of racing and I was pleased with how things went. This last race was just going to be a bonus if I did well. I was going to put all my eggs in the 5k and then see what was left over for the 10k. From looking at the times from last year, I thought I could maybe be near the top of the 5k, but you never know how the conditions were and how that could've affected the times.
All this factored in, I told Beth that I was just going to throw caution to the wind and go out right behind the leader and stay a few strides back of him for as long as I could. If I was then in a position to challenge at the finish, great. If we went through the first mile in 5:00 and I had to walk the rest of the race, whatever. It was the last race of the season and I had already accomplished all of my goals. I was going "all in."
The funny thing was, the race plan worked exactly as I had mapped out. The top runner went out and I hung a few strides back in 2nd. As can be seen back in the picture above, the conditions certainly were not ideal with the snow-covered path and the slightly uneven terrain of the rails-to-trails surface. I commented early on in the race that track spikes may have been appropriate for traction. Beside me was the top female (who finished 3rd overall in the race!) and not too far behind us was (of course) Racer X and a few others. We go through the first mile in just under 5:40 and I'm thinking so far so good this is doable.
We get to the 1.5mi turnaround and the female started to fall back a little. At the turnaround I size up the next people behind us and feel that they won't be a factor. So, it's just me and the guy in front of me now for 1.5 mi. I stuck to my plan and just stayed right behind him. We pass through the 2 mile at 11:40, so that means mile 2 was 6:00 pace. Now, I'm thinking that since mile 2 was 'easier' I just may have enough left to challenge him near the end. Exciting!
After another quarter mile or so I figure I should begin feeling out how much he has left. I pull up almost beside him on the left and he starts drifting left to cut me off on the narrow trail that could support maybe 3-4 across. I back off, wait a few seconds and then around the next curve try to tuck up along him to the right. He drifts back right and cuts off my path that way also. I hear him breathing hard, but not sure if that meant he was tired.
We come around the next bend and I see a mile marker flag in the distance--maybe a quarter mile away? I figure I should test him again and this time put a little surge on to see if I can put a gap on him. Onto the surge and sure enough he begins to answer.....but then starts to fall back a little. This is my chance! Maintain that surge to gap him!
Uh oh! I'm now in first place! I'm then coming up on what I had in my head the 3-mile marker banner and pick up the pace even more when.....CRAP! - I suddenly remember that the first banner I was going to see was the 6-mile marker for the 10k race. DOUBLE CRAP! I've got 0.2 to go to the finish instead of 0.1 and I've already started my kick. That's a big difference! The thoughts start racing--No looking back, just keep kicking. Sure, the legs are getting tired but this is your last race. Just finish it. He's getting tired too.
I then get to the ACTUAL 3-mile marker and he hasn't caught me yet. So, just keep kicking and focusing in on that finish line and the runhigh.com truck. I then see Beth and she gives me some words of encouragement. I was hoping to hear her say something like "He's so far back you've got it, just finish it." But Beth's spectathlete skills aren't quite as refined since she's usually the one racing (not to mention she had already done a 90-minute run and was standing out in the freezing cold in sweaty running clothes) and I think I received a "Finish strong." No urgency in her voice like the time I was doing my parametric calculations for Beth and her Kona-clinching finish at Eagleman. But, I just couldn't risk giving up 1st when I was so close.
A few more grunts and violent arm drives and I get to the line first in 17:56!
What do I do as I break the tape for my first ever victory?
A) Raise my arms in triumph?
B) Blow a kiss to the crowd?
C) Give a fist pump to the air?
D) Move off to the side and heave up breakfast?
E) Collapse in exhaustion?
G) Do the Blazeman roll?
Nope. Try option (H) - What I do at ever other race....hit my watch to get my finishing time. A true rookie mistake in my rookie tape-crossing. I guess I was too tired to soak it up at the line and was still scared that the guy was right behind me (turned out to be 15 seconds back). Oh well.
The winner of the 10k race later got the finishing pose right:
Mental note for next time......if there ever is a 'next time' crossing the line first in my career.
Okay, so it was a small race and most people are taking time off in December, but a win is a win I suppose. Also, while most of the other top people from the 5k RACED the 10k, my cousin K and I leisurely jogged the distance as an extended cooldown. We were chatting the whole time (probably to the disdain of the people around us). I even snuck in a wave and a smile for Beth the fan/photographer as we neared the finish.
So, all in all, an awesome day. K was the 3rd female overall in the 5k and even won her age group in the 10k. Way to go! It was cold and blustery, but sure was worth it! The only demoralizing part of the day was finding out that the 2nd place finisher I outkicked in the 5k turned out to be a 16-year-old high schooler from the area. The realization hit me later on the ride home that the kid was HALF MY AGE. Ugh! I'm getting old!
What a great way to finish the racing season. Now it's time for a little break and then (as I've been saying) begin to crank it up again in January to begin the journey of acheiving my marathon goals in Pittsburgh on May 15th.
I've also got some additional running goals in mind for next year that scope beyond just focusing on my marathon finishing time. Those are still in the works, but will definitely be passing those on in the near future and I look forward to expanding my experiences through these goals. Stay tuned....