This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
Every year, I tell myself I’m not going back to this race. Every year, it draws me back in. This year, I was going back and forth when Ed offered me a free entry if I run on the Potawatomi team. So I was back.
This course always frustrates me. I know by now it’s just a slow course and I’m running for place, not time. The field is also deep. Over the past several years, at my best I would struggle to get in the top 10. In recent years, top 20 or 25 would be the best I could hope for. So my goal was set. Top 25 finish and see if I could win my age group. I finished a close second in the age group last year.
As Ed and I warmed up, we realized how warm and humid it was. It hasn’t been a warm and humid summer but, on this day, a simple 1.5 miles of easy running left me soaked in sweat. Still, we all face the same conditions. I just had to get out there and battle on. We also noticed that it looked like there would be a course change. There were cones suggesting we’d be coming off a bridge that the course never before ran across. I wasn’t quite sure how this meant but I figured this change couldn’t make the course more challenging so I was welcoming the change.
The start line was pretty narrow so I lined up right behind the PRO team. I knew they would get out well so I wouldn’t get held up. This worked out well as they all got out as well as my legs were going to allow me to get out.
Around the first turn and down the long stretch toward the east, I just settled into a solid but somewhat relaxed first mile pace. I felt like I should be going faster but my legs just didn’t want to and I didn’t want to start struggling so early so I didn’t try to fight it.
Shortly after turning on to the southbound stretch, I found myself pacing the second pack. I kept the effort up but not quite redlining it. Next thing I know, someone is pulling up on my left shoulder and I hear a familiar voice greeting me. I look over and it’s Tim. I figured he’d be there so I wasn’t surprised to see him. This is good for me. I have someone to run with. Kind of like Al’s Run last year, my plan became to let him go a bit in the first half, then try to bring him back in during the second half. Maybe we could work together through that second half to pick off runners who were fading.
My legs still didn’t feel responsive so I let Tim go and just tried to remain within reach. Tim worked his way up through a few people falling off the lead pack and I just hung back a bit, picking off those same people a little later. Things stayed pretty much the same through the mile mark and into mile 2.
After we turned around on Canal Street, we went down a gradual slope and I tried to use that to get my legs moving a little more. I had some success with that but not a ton. I did bring Tim back a little but he still had a nice gap on me. Around a turn we went back into an industrial area and into the shade of a factory after another turn. That shade sure felt nice but it didn’t last long before we hit the trail and crossed the river. Again, I was gaining some on Tim but my legs weren’t totally happy about the pace and I think I let myself back off a bit, which allowed Tim to build the gap back up.
A little after the 2 mile mark, we had a hard right, crossed a bridge, then a hard left and we were running back toward Miller Park and the finish line in its parking lots. I told myself this is it, about 3/4 of a mile to go. I passed a couple of guys and tried with all I had to close on Tim but I think he was also picking it up and, if anything, pulling away from me a bit over the last 1/4 to 1/2 mile.
At the 3 mile mark, one of the guys I just passed came back on me. I think he was the first person to pass me since Tim passed me in the first mile. He said something like "I know you can go faster" and I wanted to just puke on him. He obviously doesn’t know who I am, I’m already going as fast as I can. I tried with everything I had to go faster but I just couldn’t. As I approached the finish line, I saw the clock ticking through the 17:50s. I thought I got to the finish line at 17:58 or 17:59 and about in 24th or 25th place.
It turns out my final time was actually 18:01. But time means nothing at this race. I finished 25th overall and 1st in the 35-39 age group. That’s what counts. Ed and I also helped Potawatomi move up from a 10th place team finish last year to 3rd place this year.
Team HillRunner.com had a solid showing out there also. Three members who are currently signed up for Team HillRunner.com (sign up!) were there and finished 23rd, 25th, 50th.
All in all, it was a good rust buster for me. I need a couple recent races behind me before I’m really ready to race a good 5K. This was my first race in 2 months so I wasn’t expecting greatness. I could feel that I wasn’t quite able to redline the way you need to for a good 5K. That will come back with another race or two. In the meantime, this was a good tune-up race for the fall season.