This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
I’m always nervous about inaugural events but this is a fundraiser for the scholarship program at my daughter’s school district. She will possibly benefit from this program in the future so I kind of felt obliged to make a showing.
Of course, any time I toe the line at a 5K, I’m thinking about breaking 17 minutes. Given that this was an inaugural event and that this is in a town where "flat" is a relative term, though, I was a bit skeptical. As it turned out, the course was about as flat as you can make it here but that’s not necessarily saying much.
The course started at the high school, at the gated entry to the track and football field. It then hit town roads, went up a long, gradual incline to the middle school, then looped back around to the high school, finishing with about 3/4 of a lap on the track and a U-turn into a 50 yard line finish on the football field.
I warmed up over the last 3/4 mile of the road portion of the course. I was feeling good but not great. Still, I expected to at least be in contention for the win and I expected myself to at least be in the low 17s.
At the start, I ran what I was told was the route and a few others seemed to be cutting some turns a bit short. Not a big deal but one of those guys was pretty persistent. Right on my shoulder the whole time. This was not going to be one of those inaugural events where you show up and win by 3 minutes. I had some formidable competition on my hands. That’s fine. There’s a time and place for time trial-style races but I’m always a fan of good, head to head competition.
We made a few turns then, probably before the half mile, started the long climb that would take up more than the next half mile. By this point, the guy who had been running behind me had already challenged me once or twice. At this point, between the coming long climb and a head to head battle, I knew this race wasn’t going to be a gun to tape time trial. I know I’m fit enough right now to run a real nice time but I’m not in the kind of race where I can just throw caution to the wind and go for it. The course is going to suck some life out of my legs and I don’t want to hammer the second mile and risk blowing up and getting passed in the last mile. So I hang tight up the hill, let this guy pass me a couple times but come back on him each time. Finally, as we reach near the top, he pulls away from me just a bit. I tell myself let him go and there’s a gradual decline where I can bring him back in as he’s sucking air from the effort on the incline.
I think it was on that decline where I saw the 2K mark. About 200 yards earlier, I was telling myself we had to be past the mile even though I saw no sign of it. It was a relief to know I was right. At the same time, I was back in the lead and I told myself the next 2K is make or break time for me. So I pushed but did so with just a touch of caution. Again, I wanted to make sure I had something left for the finish just in case. I knew I was pulling away a little but not much. Around a turn, not too far from what I estimated to be about a mile to go, and I see the 3K mark. OK, still on track and I’ve built up a bit of a lead. I round another turn and start the downhill stretch. By this time, my legs are worn down enough that I couldn’t really attack the downhill the way I wanted but I do think I opened up more of a gap there. Down at the bottom, I tried opening it up a little. I had some energy yet but my top speed just didn’t seem to be there.
I came into sight of the track with the clock on the scoreboard just over 15 minutes. I figured I had about 2 minutes to go but I figured I’d miss sub-17. I didn’t want to hammer until I was on the track so I picked it up a bit and got myself to the track. We do a near U-turn to enter the athletic fields and I see my lead is comfortable but not huge. I push a little harder but just don’t have that last gear. On to the track, I keep pushing and I watch the clock. Ticking toward 16:20. I figure I have about 200 meters or a little more to go as the clock hits 16:20. Can I run a 35 second 200? I doubt it but I try. Again, no last gear. I think the hill just took that speed out of my legs. I make the couple sharp turns to enter the football field and head toward the finish line. As I take the last turn, I see the clock ticking toward 17 flat. It isn’t happening. I have the win comfortably but I’m not going to kill myself for another second or so here.
I end up finishing in 17:05. Second was an assistant coach for the high school cross country team. A very good runner himself and obviously someone who knows a thing or two about running. Third was a young guy, probably not in high school, a few minutes back. He has a lot of potential.
All said, this was a very good race. Just not one you go to looking for a fast time. They have a few kinks they could work out but very solid for an inaugural effort. They also had very nice and unique awards for the top 3 overall finishers. I give them credit for standing out with their awards and for holding a quality event in their first attempt. I definitely think this can grow into a very nice race.
As for me, I feel good with this. Yes, I just missed sub-17 for the second time this year but I know, given a few sharp turns on the course and the long climb that drained my legs, I’m ready for it on the much faster course I’ll be at in 3 weeks.