I have run more than a few track races, and a fair amount of road races in 25 years of running. My PR’s of 4:26 for 1600m and 34:41 for 10K roads are impressive, but were both done almost 23 years ago. Even more recent runs like my 3:06 marathon debut are pretty good for an ‘old’ man of 40. Like most people who’ve already posted, my most memorable race was not my fastest time, but one that set the tone for what I hoped my running style would be.
Junior year, Cross Country Sectionals, we really didn’t have a prayer of going to state, as a team, and individually, chances were slim and none, with 1:53, 4:12 and 9:20 guys. Still we had an opportunity to make some noise. The night before the race, we got 1-2 inches of snow, slush and ice in Madison, so we had to move from our normal course at Yahara (now a landfill) to across the road at the Golf Course. I was toying w/ the idea of going out hard and hanging on, or running w/ my two teammates and trying to run even splits. I told them I’d run w/ them, then took off like a rocket. 400 yards into the race, I realized this was stupid, and literally stopped and waited for them to catch up. We were probably in the bottom 1/4 of runners at 1/2 mile, but started picking off people in big bunches by running steady. At two miles, we had passed probably 40 runners, and were around 15th place. We passed a few more runners, then got to the top of the final hill (last .4 of a mile is all downhill), and I could see 4th 5th and 6th place runners, still kinda far ahead. I got as close as 6th, before finishing 7th in 17:12 for 5k (top 3 made it to state that year, regardless of teams that went). Only one team went to state from each sectional. Our top 3 runners (all in top 10)influenced who went to state, as we finished ahead of Memorials’ #3,4 and 5 runners, so East’s team actually went to state instead, even though Memorial was the huge favorite, and went 1-2 in the individual race.
2 weeks later, I ran the same strategy in USTFA state meet, and finished in the top 25 in a faster time. These races told me that picking out your goal pace and sticking to it was the best way to run your best, regardless of finishing place. I’m not always successful with it, but it is always my goal.