This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
The story of this race again starts well before race day. I again pushed harder than I should have in training and, about a week before the race, crashed. I had a 13 mile run that was a significant struggle exactly a week before the race, then I completely crashed. It took me almost 45 minutes to run 5 miles 6 days before the race. Another slow 5 miles on Monday and I took Tuesday off. Other than relaxed strides Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I didn’t do anything hard this week until race day. I simply needed to get my legs back under me.
This is the race that has become a family event. By taking a pass on the shirts, for $20, I was able to register myself for the 5 mile, Lisa for the 2 mile and Shayla for the 1/3 mile kids fun run. What a family bargain. Also, they stagger the races sufficiently to allow me to finish my cooldown with enough time to let Lisa get ready for her run.
As a family event, we all piled into the car early this morning to head up to Fond du Lac. We arrived at the park a little later than I normally would. I headed off to pick up our packets while Lisa and Shayla stopped off at a picnic table to eat breakfast. The instructions in our packets clearly stated make sure your age and gender are correct on the bibs. Ours weren’t even filled in so I went off to find a pen and fill in Lisa’s and mine. Shayla’s was filled in but it didn’t matter because she was running a non-competitive event anyway.
I took a little time to relax, then it was time to get ready to warm up. No sign of Lisa and Shayla yet so I did what I had to do, then started walking out to run. I saw them coming so I let them know where I had our stuff and took off to run. The warmup started a few minutes later than I would have liked due to waiting for them but no big deal. I warmed up, with the legs feeling pretty grumpy at first but loosening up fairly well as I went on. I did my range of motion exercises, put my racing flats on, stripped down to my racing uniform and was off. A few strides at the start line, dropping my sunglasses with Lisa because they were fogging up and I was ready to go.
Lined up just to my right was bib number 1, last year’s winner. Oh, great. I’ll get blown away right off the line. Oh well, it is what it is.
As the race started, I did get blown away by bib number 1, as well as a few others around me. I must have picked a good position on the line to start because it seemed like all the fast guys were all around me. I quickly found myself in about 15th place but, like the last race, part of the reason for that was because my legs just didn’t want to go right off the line. It again took them about 1/4 mile to really start firing.
Once my legs did get going, I quickly worked my way up through the chase pack, separated, then was staring down the lead pack of 7. In front of that pack was bib number 1, wearing a white singlet. I saw 3 blue Fond du Lac Running Club (FDLRC) jerseys and a few other guys. Pretty quickly, 3 guys fell off the lead pack and formed a chase pack. Now, the race was 4/3/me. I figured my only hope of moving up was picking off guys who fall off through attrition. I did try bringing in that pack but it just wasn’t happening so my new goal became to keep as close to that pack as possible so, if anyone fell off, I’d be there to pick them off. Before I knew it, the chase pack grew to 5 as the battle for first became a 2 man race. That didn’t change what I was doing, though. My focus was on the now larger pack and watching for weakness up there.
Through mile 2, there weren’t any signs of weakness. Generally, that pack was running shoulder to shoulder. One guy dropped behind but didn’t fall back. The rest were still running 4 wide. Just after the 2 mile mark, we went around the turn and the pack fell into a single file line. Still, though, no signs of weakness. Then, it started happening. At about 2.5 miles, one of the blue FDLRC jerseys lost a couple steps. Then 5 yards. I was like a shark smelling blood in the water. He still had a good lead on me but he was hurting. He couldn’t hold the pace. I pushed a little harder, knowing this was my chance. By the 3 mile mark, I had cut the gap fairly significantly and he was maybe 20 yards ahead. Just after the 3 mile mark, we had a 90 degree turn and I saw him look back. I thought "Yeah, that’s right, you’re mine" and found a surge of energy. About 1/4 mile later, I went by him and he had no response at all. I kept pouring it on. He wasn’t responding now but, if he could hang close, he’s a young guy who probably has a kick and I didn’t have a kick even when I was his age. I didn’t want him anywhere near me with a half mile to go.
Nearing the 4 mile mark, I saw another guy falling off the pack. He wasn’t fading quickly, though, and I didn’t have much time left. Was it enough time? I pushed but I didn’t have enough in me to really move. I kept pushing, thinking chasing him would help me build a gap on the FDLRC guy I had passed not all that long ago. With just less than a mile to go, we went around a turn. I thought about looking back, then thought about that turn a mile earlier. I didn’t want anyone behind me thinking I was his to pass. I kept pushing, assuming someone was there even though I was pretty sure nobody was. With 3/4 of a mile to go, another turn. I didn’t even think of looking back. I just kept pushing. I knew I wasn’t going to catch the guy ahead of me but I wasn’t going to let someone come up behind me. With 1/2 mile to go, another turn. I stole a quick glance but couldn’t see much. All I knew is there was nobody within the first 10 yards behind me. What if someone further back saw me? He’s thinking I’m not going to have a finish. I push as hard as I possibly can to make it clear I’m not fading, just in case. With 1/4 mile to go, I try to pick up the pace again. I’m not sure I did. Around the last big turn and I’m going with everything I have, which isn’t much. One more gentle curve and I see the clock just over 28 minutes. I try to sprint but my legs have nothing left. I go as hard as I can, which is basically the same pace I had been running, and cross in just over 28:20.
Final result was 7th place overall, 1st in the 30-39 age group. 6th place was 42 seconds ahead of me. 8th place was 36 seconds behind me. I’m very happy with this result. Even before this past week’s struggles, I was thinking 5:40 pace or right around 28:20 would be a very strong run. With how the past week went, I was very worried that things could turn out far worse. My legs bounced back, though, and I ran about as perfectly on the original target as possible.
Lisa ran her 2 mile. She’s not exactly thrilled with her run but she says she now has something to improve upon. Shayla ran her run and was excited to finish ahead of mom (who ran with her) and at a faster pace than mom ran in her race. Then it was off to the festival for a few hours of run. A good day all around.