The Finish Line

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Race Day Round-up

Posted by Bill Skowronski on July 4, 2011 at 7:20 PM

Is there any better feeling than setting a target on another runner's back, catching him/her, passing him/her and never looking back?


Today, I ran the Columbus Firecracker 5 (mile) 4th of July race. I wanted to try to set a new PR (41:51 previously), so I planned my strategy and convinced myself it was doable. My plan was to run five 8:20/mile splits, finishing around 41:40. I figured 8:20/mile was feasible. I figured I had the following mini-battles to wage:

Adrenaline vs. Heat

Competition vs. Unfamiliar Course

Low winds vs. Rolling Hills

"Runners ready, set, GO!" I turn on my iPod shuffle...."Battery low." FML.

I didn't want to go out too fast (like I tend to do when trying to PR), so I kept a close eye on my Garmin to make sure I didn't get too far below 7:45/mile pace for more than the first 1/2 mile. I wanted to embrace the adrenaline, but not let it ruin me for later since this was my first 5-mile race and I wasn't sure how that last two miles beyond a normal 5k would affect me.

I got out comfortably and allowed myself to be passed by anyone who wanted to go faster than 8:00/mile pace. One of the runners who passed me fairly easily was a much larger Hispanic man dripping with sweat. I kept thinking, "Is this guy for real? How is he doing this? Can he really sustain that pace? Damn, he's got some huge calves."  As I picked up my pace approaching the 1-mile mark, I heard the timer call "8:06". I figured I was right on track, which is to say I was a bit ahead of track, leaving a little room for error down the road. Cruising through mile two, I felt good, but a bit slower--which was fine because of my faster start. The timer called out "16:24" just as I told myself I wanted to be in the mid-16's. Perfect. 

All along, I had been picking out runners in front of me who I thought I could or could not catch. I targeted a taller, fitter male runner in his 20s and another runner in his late 30s running neck and neck. I figured if I could keep up with them, I would be happy with myself because they looked to be doing really well and running comfortably. Then something strange happened. As the rolling hills approached in mile three, I began to feel stronger--like I had a kick of adrenaline. So, I embraced it, and split the two runners ahead of me with a burst of speed. It felt AWESOME to pass them both like they were standing still even though we were all running uphill.I felt strong, confident, superior even.

Cresting the top of the hill, I heard the timer call "24:36". The burst I had just used rendered me incapable of simple math, so I coasted downhill with no one around me. Pretty quickly, I felt slower and tired. the adrenaline was gone. I could only see a few runners ahead of me, all very fit, all obvioiusly strong competitors. I figured I could use the fourth mile to catch my breath and turn it on again to close strong.

Mile 4, "33:02". Time to do the math now: "33, plus 8 equals 41. Do I have an 8-minute mile left in me? 8:20 would do it, what's been my pace so far? 33 divided by 4 equals 8-something....8......8.....20? No, there aren't 80 seconds in a minute.....8:15? Yeah, ok, so I'm on pace. I can do this."

Funny how simple math escapes you during physical exhaustion.

Looking ahead after the final water station, I thought back to the RC2 Half Marathon earlier this year. I remembered seeing a female runner significantly ahead of me midway through the race as the most challenging hills (a damn mountain really) approached. I remembered thinking to myself, "She's making this look really easy. I don't think I can catch her, but if I can stay with her, that'll be enough. Just don't quit. Keep her in your sights. Follow her to the finish line." She was the only runner in sight and she's a big reason I didn't give up though Spaulding Hill Road nearly killed me--and she'll never know it because I never caught her.

This time, I noticed another younger female runner who had been consistently ahead of me, but seemed like she could be caught. I thought back to the end of the CHN 5k earlier this spring. Then, I found myself chasing an even younger runner, waiting for her to faulter so I could pass. Eventually, I made my move, and passed her only to have her pass me again. Being a younger runner (12 or 13 years old, maybe), I think she used her kick too soon and that allowed me to blow past her in the final 200-meters.

Back to the Firecracker 5, fifth mile. Chasing a high school age female runner, maybe even drafting. Thinking, either follow her in or pass her, but don't let her get away. She's going to keep me on pace to set a PR. Right around 4.25 miles, I blew past her, going up a slight hill--and immediately regretted it. She was older than the girl from the CHN race, more experienced, stronger---and not willing to let me show her up. Within a quarter-mile, she zipped right past me and ahead. I thought to myself, "OK, you can have it. I just want my PR." I thought I'd spent my load too soon.

Then, with a 1/2 mile to go, something strange happened...again. Another kick? A third wind? Where the hell is this adrenaline coming from? "Shut up, and use it," I said to myself. Seeing the final turn ahead, I pushed forward past her. Almost immediately, she caught me and tried to pass, but I coughed a bit and faught her. I wanted to laugh as we entered the high school circle drive, literally neck and neck. A 4th of July fundraiser just turned into a race for pride. A grown man versus a teenage girl. A fair fight? I don't know.

Again, back to the CHN 5k and me literally sprinting--high stepping even through the final 100-meters and through the chute, ahead of my adolescent adversary.

"Alright, let's go," I huffed.

Smiles, applause, laughter maybe coming from the crowd at the finish line. "Look at these two," they're probably thinking. "That old guy is going to kill himself trying to keep up with her."

As the finish line got closer, I began to pull away. I finished just ahead of the teenager, almost taking out a few volunteers in the chute. I pressed stop on my Garmin, verified a new PR (41:11) and instantly turned  to find the girl who led me there. Exhausted, breathless and thankful, I wasn't going to let her get away without letting saying something. As I turned to pat her on the back and say, "Nice kick, thanks for pushing me." she beat me, hardly as out of breath as me, and said, "NICE job!" with a genuinely impressed look that translated into, "Geez, I didn't think you had it in you."

I didn't think I did either.

Planned (Actual split/overall)

Mile 1......8:20 (8:06)

Mile 2.....16:40 (8:18----16:24)

Mile 3......25:00 (8:26----24:36)

Mile 4......33:20 (8:05----33:02)

Mile 5......41:40 (8:13----41:11*)

*New 5-mile PR

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