This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
After tuning up two weeks earlier at a small local 5K, I stepped up my game and showed up at the Deer Run. Pre-race, I told myself if I improved by 20 seconds over the prior race (17:43) I’d consider it a good race. If I improved by 30 seconds, I’d consider it a great race. If all the stars aligned, maybe I could even take a crack at sub-17, though a 44 second improvement in two weeks seems like a tall order.
I could begin to see early in the week that the stars wouldn’t align. Monday, we had a significant hail storm that caused damage to our home. That meant, instead of a relaxing and restful Wednesday I had planned to recover after a very busy prior weekend, I got to spend all day talking with contractors and insurance people about getting the house fixed. I got to follow that up with another Friday evening discussion. Not the most restful way to spend a race week but some things need to get done.
On race day, as relaxed and rested as I could be, I took the trip to Brown Deer. I arrived earlier than intended and much earlier than necessary, picked up my race packet and went back to my car to relax and prepare. It was pretty chilly and seemed like it could rain any moment so we stayed in the car.
After a while just relaxing, Ed showed up at my car and we chatted until warmup time. I loosened up a bit, then we went on our warmup. We reviewed the finish as I always like to do so I can get a feel of how far from the finish certain landmarks are and can plan my finish accordingly.
After a few strides, it was time to line up. Looking around at competition, I first assumed that the 5K runners were wearing 3 digit bib numbers and the 10K runners 4 digit bib numbers. That helped me determine who the competition was. My eye instantly went to a PRO runner with a 3 digit number and I picked him out as the likely eventual winner. I saw a few others who looked like legit competition but nobody else who I figured was out of my league.
At the start, I felt like I got out well but not great. Pretty quickly, I settled in to 4th place, with the PRO runner and a guy in a red shirt already separating from the pack and myself in a pretty good size pack just off the shoulder of someone I wasn’t sure of but didn’t really expect would be too much competition in the end.
In pretty short order, I found myself in front of the chase pack but the pack was remaining surprisingly large. I didn’t expect that many runners to keep hanging around. Eventually, though, I separated from the pack. About the same time, the PRO runner separated from the guy in the red shirt. My first thought was I hope red shirt guy is blowing up and I can bring him back in. I went into chase mode but pretty quickly realized that PRO guy likely just picked up the pace. I was bringing in red shirt guy but very gradually.
Every once in a while, red shirt guy would surge and build back his lead on me. However, one thing I noticed early and continued to notice throughout the race was that red shirt guy was not at all running good tangents. He was running much farther than necessary. Taking the shortest line possible is one of my strengths so this gave me an advantage and I could see it through parts of the course that had a lot of turns. He was always going wide, I was always trying to anticipate turns and take the shortest line. Between this and my slight acceleration, I was generally closing the gap but not quickly.
I was losing hope of closing the gap before the finish line when I saw the 5 mile mark for the 10K. I thought we were already farther along so this gave me a surge of energy. Maybe backward from what you would expect but, instead of saying I have longer than I thought to go and I don’t have a lot left, I told myself I have longer than I thought to work on red shirt guy’s lead and maybe I have a chance. Combined with catching him looking back toward me, a sign of weakness I love to take advantage of, I decided to take a shot. Of course, I told myself it’s now or never. If I don’t make some serious work of this gap in the next half mile, I will run out of time.
So I did all I could to make serious work of the gap and I did close the gap quite a bit. With what I would estimate to be a half mile to go, I was within striking distance. The problem is, if this guy had any kick, I’d be a sitting duck. I never have a great kick and, with all the work I had done to close the gap, my kick would be even weaker than usual. I tried with all I could to close the gap as soon as possible.
With about 1/4 mile to go, we go around a left, then there’s another left into the finish. By this point, I’m not with red shirt guy but I’m definitely in reach. He swung out to the middle of the road off the left turn, I stayed right on the left shoulder trying to minimize my distance. I kept chipping away at his lead until I figured that, around the final turn, we’d be almost even. Then it would come down to who had a kick. Then he kicked before that turn. I had nothing to respond and he extended his lead in the final straight.
In the end, I finished third in 17:23, 4 seconds behind second place but with a healthy gap over fourth. That was exactly 20 seconds faster than two weeks ago so I’ll call it a good race.
I can’t help but wonder if I could have gotten second with a more aggressive first half of the race but I doubt it. I ran about the best race possible and gave it all my legs had and I came up a little short. That’s life. Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don’t. I can still feel that the base is with me and I need sharpening work to run a more solid 5K but that’s a reasonable place to be at the end of April.
A couple pics from the race and results: