The Spartan was a much smaller event than RFG--maybe 1/5 the total registrants--so I entertained thoughts of a podium finish, maybe even a win, which would be my 4th win in as many races. Surely, a spot on the overall podium was in reach. However, you never know who's going to show up, so I also set a goal of finishing the tough course in under 1:30. On my warmup, I recognized Kevin, another runner against whom I'd raced at one or two other local races. He was faster than me in a 5k, and he looked to be a shrewd enough runner to be a threat for 13.1 as well. A couple of other fast-looking, unfamiliar faces also swaggered around, sizing people up, just like I was. I would have to be on my toes.
When we lined up at the top of South St--before the largely downhill first mile--the predicted contenders all shouldered themselves beside me. With the field of 75 runners punctually assembled, the RD, who had an actual starter pistol, fired the start signal. Kevin and I started shoulder-to-shoulder, neither of us interested in gaining position over the other. A 30-something named William and a 13-something named Jake strode ahead on the downhill, and after a couple of minutes, a lithe young lady named Katie--who was wearing a long-sleeve top and listening to her iPod...carried in her hand--easily flitted ahead of us all. Kevin angled into a calculated pursuit, with Jake and William following a few strides behind. With some space between William and me, I was in a comfortable 5th by the time we hit the greenway at the bottom of the hill. There was no reason to worry. If my heavy racing schedule had taught me anything this season, it's that the race won't be won in the 1st mile, but it can be lost in the 1st mile.
|The first 50 meters. Kevin (yellow shoes) and I (cyan singlet) are side-by-side. Photo courtesy of Bobby Aswell.|
6:17 was my split for that 1st mile, which was predictably fast considering the downhill, but if I were running the 10k course, it would be 6:00, or 5:45 for the 5k course, so 6:17 sounded about right. The hill on Avinger tended to cool things down up front. Katie was still ahead, and Kevin was looking very smooth, but young Jake was fading behind, and William was closer still. I started closing on William. We turned right on Pine at the top of the hill, and I pulled up alongside him.
"What're you shootin' for?" he asked in loud and labored breath.
I shrugged. My inner voice said "a win," but my out-loud voice said, "90."
"Okay," he said, "I try to do 90 too."
This may sound callous, but I wasn't particularly interested in running with William. I really wanted to run my own race, and I had my doubts as to whether or not he would keep the pace I was looking to run. Sure enough, William steadily faded behind me a half mile later on the continuation of the greenway. Katie's and Kevin's leads were growing like bamboo, but I had my sights set on young Jake. When we turned from the greenway onto Robert Walker Rd, we hit our next notable hill. Here is where I overtook Jake. I listened to his lenky footfalls grow quieter, and then I focused on the two runners left way ahead of me as we entered the River Run neighborhood. Around this time, my running buddies Allyson and Kristin cheered me on as they crossed paths with me on their regular weekend run. "She's fast!" I yelled to them, referring to Katie, whom I was having a hard time keeping in view. They acknowledged that fact and bade me to give chase. Somehow, I was beginning to realize that this lithe young woman, who was overdressed and casually jamming to her iPod, was not going to make it easy on any of us.
I settled into a groove on the next 3 rolling, residential miles. I was maintaining splits that hovered around 6:40, and I was learning not to look for Kevin or Katie. On the few turns at road intersections, I glanced behind me to find Jake and William running together, but still at a healthy distance behind me. They were keeping me honest, though. Before too long, I had reached the 3/4-mile section of greenway that led to the turn-around. Soon, I would see the two leaders and find out how much of a lead they had. Sure enough, Katie came running back towards me with what I surmised was a 1/4-mile lead on me. Aside from some sweat on her brow, she was not showing signs of exertion. Kevin was about 45 seconds behind her, also looking pretty strong. We traded thumbs-ups. I finally reached the turn-around and tried to reverse my bearing as quickly as possible without losing too much speed. When I happened upon Jake and William, they were about as far behind me as I was behind Katie. That was reassuring, but there were still more than 6 miles left in the race.
It was nice to get a look at the outbound field of runners as I continued on my inbound leg. Most were cheerful and and encouraging. That made the rolling hills a little less arduous, despite my accumulating fatigue, and the growing desire to use the restroom. I knew there was a Port-A-Potty on the course, but I was not sure how far away it was. I was about to hop into the residential woods and bushwack my way to a suitably concealed spot when the Port-A-Potty shone ahead like a Golden Shangri La at the top of a hill at the mile marker 9 water station. Ahead, Katie and Kevin were out of sight and beyond reach, so I glanced behind me...no sight of Jake or William. This was my window. I hit the lap function on my watch, which informed me that the entirety of my potty break was 41 seconds. I glanced down the course from whence I came. "You're still in the same place," the water-proffering volunteer reassured me. Relieved (in more way than one), I took off to continue my race. That interrupted mile was about 7:15, counting the 41 second stop, so I had lost very little time in regards to the big picture.
The rolling hills continued, and I maintained my effort and pace. There was no one in sight ahead or behind, so I focused on racing for time. I was ahead of pace for my sub-1:30 goal, so I started to do the mental math for sub-1:29, which was well within reach if I kept my foot on the gas. I was glad to finally be out of River Run at about mile 10.5. I glided down Robert Walker and used the length of the greenway to psych myself up for the impending climb up Patrick Johnson--everyone's favorite hill in Davidson. When I popped out of the greenway, I grabbed a cup of water at the aid station, actually stopped to drink the whole thing, and proceeded to shuffle-run up the hill. There was no sense in charging all-out; the few seconds I would gain would not be worth the resulting agony that would linger through the last 1.5 miles if I did. I reached the top of the damn thing, and I started turning the legs over again. By the time I made my right turn on Pine, I was nearly at race pace again.
Pine was 3/4-mile of gradual uphill, but it was close enough to my running group's home base that I didn't really mind so much the incline. I made my last real turn on Lorimer about 1/2-mile from the finish, and I poured on everything I had, just as I do with every Davidson race that ends along this side street. Everything I had didn't amount to much faster than 6:50 pace at that point, but at least I could maintain it. When the finish line came into view (up one more little hill), I was able to knock my pace down into the low 6's. Allyson and Kristin were cheering me on for the last 100 meters, as were some other fellow DARTers who had run the 5k or were just in the neighborhood. Official time: 1:28:31. The course was predictably tough, and the day was fairly warm, so I was more than satisfied with that time.
|Photo courtesy of Bobby Aswell.|
Katie extended her lead on Kevin to get the outright win in 1:25:03, looking effortless at the finish, as all reports confirm. Kevin squeaked in just under 1:27, which meant my necessary potty stop would not have made a difference in my standings VS him. I was the 3rd finisher and 2nd place overall male, so I achieved my other goal of making it onto the podium. Jake finished in 1:30 flat, and William crossed the line at 1:31:20 after what must have been a late-race fade.
That course was no joke! It was not the hardest Half I've done--not even the hardest Half this Spring--but it certainly took its toll on you if you intended to run fast. After I finally cooled down, I found I had awoken a two-pronged ankle injury with a vengeance, and even if I hadn't, I would've felt like I was breathing through a coffee straw if I had tried to run the next day. I don't know if I'll do that Half course this September at RFG...how about a nice 10k?