For the past several years, July has meant Fish Day for me. I've been getting burned out on Fish Day, though. I felt like I just needed a change. Combined with some scheduling conflicts, this worked out perfectly for an excuse to head up to Plymouth for the Cheesehead Chase.
Seeing as Plymouth is on the way to Sheboygan, I drove Lisa and Shayla up to the race, then Lisa took Shayla the rest of the way to see her parents. It was just me and my bag for the rest of the morning. I registered, then walked around a little, getting to know the area. Eventually, I found a pretty quiet corner to drop my bag and relax a little before my warmup.
As I was starting my warmup, I ran into a guy who seemed as confused about the course as me. We began running together and chatting. He was from northwest Indiana, returning from a trip to Canada with his wife and dog, and it sounded like his wife signed him up for the race. We ended up running a little farther than I normally do for a warmup but it's all good. I'm not that picky about warmups these days. I made one last trip to the restroom, where I heard Roy pIrRUNg call out "HillRunner" which is his usual callout for me. I said a quick hi to him as I walked by (a little tight for time, I hope Roy didn't take offense to my not stopping) and went on to take care of business. I then changed into my racing flats and got in a couple strides pre-race.
I had one major concern about the start. The first turn was probably less than 20 yards into the race. Way too soon to avoid traffic chaos. I wanted to line up on the middle or toward the right side to avoid getting pinched at the start but, as I was standing at the corner after my last stride, I heard the lady on the megaphone say something along the line of "are you ready to start?" Uh, no. I sprinted back to the start line and took the first spot I could find, way too far to the left side. It turned out we weren't about to start but, by then, it was too late to claim a different starting position. Had I been thinking, at "GO", I would have bolted out as fast as I could. I didn't. My mistake. Around the first turn, I got pinched and nearly tripped over a kid who was just to my left. To make matters worse, the road we turned on to was not closed to traffic and there was a car taking up a lane and a half parallel parking right as the front of the race came by. One of the two pace motorcycles stopped for the car and I almost ended up on the back seat of the motorcycle. Fortunately, after that, I had pretty clear sailing.
In the first mile, I was left wondering who was who. This race has a 2 mile that is an out and back over the first mile of the 5 mile course. Nobody in front of me looked like a 5 miler but I just didn't know. At about a half mile, though, I felt like I was allowing myself to slow down along with everyone around me. So I moved out and passed the whole pack in pretty short work. I gapped the whole field, 2 milers and 5 milers, in no time. I could still hear people behind me but not right on my back.
I hit the mile mark in 5:45. Shortly after going past the 2 mile turnaround, I heard someone say something along the line of "figures", which I quickly figured out meant "great, the only guy in front of us is also in the 5 mile". Not too long after, I had company. A high school aged runner on my left shoulder. I tried to maintain pace, hoping he would fall back, but he was persistent on my shoulder. There was another runner persistently running right behind us. Just before the 2 mile mark, there was a downhill and I leaned into it a bit, letting gravity pull me down. The guy on my shoulder didn't hesitate to respond. The guy behind us dropped a little back but was still definitely within reach. Knowing I was going to have to battle to the death if I was going to win, I stole a glance back as we went around a couple corners. Fourth was well back. This was now a 3 man race. Well, I might as well roll the dice. Take a few chances to try to win. The worst that will happen is third unless I completely blow up. So I kept pushing, even though I knew I was beginning to hurt more than I should just over 2 miles into a 5 mile race. The guy on my shoulder was now right next to me, even occasionally getting a half step ahead of me. We were running shoulder to shoulder down a bike path in a dual that I knew could not last. I wasn't going to be able to hold this for another 2.5 miles. Finally, a little after 2.5 miles, I decided it's do or die. Either I gap this guy and break his spirit or he's going to get me. I threw in a surge, he responded instantly. I backed off for a bit, then threw in a bigger surge. He responded instantly again. I tried a few more surges, then he sustained my 5th or 6th surge when I couldn't any more and gapped me just before the 3 mile mark. Shortly after the 3 mile mark, on one of the long, grinding uphills this course had, the second guy came back on me and passed. After the race, he told me he expected me to catch him back on the coming downhill. Little did he know I had nothing left to respond with. Even before he passed me, I told myself I wanted to try to go with him but I had absolutely nothing there. My legs refused to respond when he went by me.
I believe it was just before the 4 mile mark when we turned off the trail and back onto roads. I stole another look back and saw that there was nobody in sight. With the top two having a solid lead on me and still gradually pulling away and nobody anywhere near behind me, I lost that racing edge and, while I kept up a hard effort, didn't redline it in that final mile or so. I knew I was so solidly in third that nothing would change that.
I ended up finishing third in 29:21. Not bad for the heat, humidity and hills I faced in this race. There were at least two and I think I recall three long, grinding hills that, combined with the heat and humidity, just sucked my strength right out of me. Still, I battled out there. I came out on the losing end of the battle this time but I nonetheless put up the best fight I possibly could. There's no shame in giving your best and losing to someone who is simply better than you on that given day. I walk away from this race with my head held high. I know that 29:21 is a bit of a deceptive time because of what I faced and I know I took the best shot I had to go for the win.
My ultimate goal for Al's Run will take a pretty significant drop in time but I know the difference in courses combined with the likely difference in weather will give me a significant chunk of that time. Two months of training will be enough to get the rest of that time. I'm still on the right path toward that goal.