But Roberta had a sore leg this week and decided against making a record attempt. Since I was already signed up for the race, I figured I might as well go all-out.
Fast-forward to Friday evening. China Grove is a 9 pm race, which is unusual for just about anyone but particularly for me. I decided it would be best to have dinner beforehand. But what to eat? We had already been planning on fish tacos, so despite the fact that that might not be the best pre-race meal, I figured it couldn't affect me too much if we ate 3 hours before the race. Then I figured it wouldn't really be "fish tacos" unless I also had a margarita. Just one--surely that will be out of my system by the time the race starts, right?
Chad picked me up at 7:30 and we headed up to China Grove through what seemed like a monsoon. But the weather cleared up by the time we arrived, and I was impressed to see that the locals truly appear to embrace this race. There were dozens of fans lined up along the main road through China Grove with folding chairs. All this, for me? (Or, perhaps, for US Olympian Anthony Famiglietti and US Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Caitlin Bullock, who were also racing this evening...both of whom would break the course record!)
As I jogged up and down Main Street to warm up, lightning began flashing in the distance. There wasn't any rain, but the lightning seemed to be getting closer. My stomach was growling (okay, maybe the pre-race margarita wasn't such a great idea), and I seemed to be struggling even to jog at what was ordinarily an easy pace for me. I was wearing my training shoes, and decided to change into my flats in case I had to make a dash for cover while awaiting the start -- I didn't want to be caught without them. Suddenly, with my flats on, each step felt a little springier. The roads were a little damp, and the K-Swiss flats also had a better grip on the road than my Brooks Launches. Things were looking up. Here I am about 30 minutes before the race start:
|Note the totally-dry shirt!|
I headed up to the starting line, just in time to hear that the start was going to be delayed 15 minutes due to the storms. Chad and I found an awning to stand under as the storm passed. As we waited, a lot of fast-looking runners continued to warm up in the rain. This didn't strike me as a great idea, because I felt like I was staying warmer by staying dry. One runner in particular seemed quite proud of his admittedly Adonis-like physique, and ran by us repeatedly, shirtless, through the driving rain. Finally they called the start on again, and I took a few quick strides on my way up to the starting line. The rain was tapering off, and I congratulated myself on staying relatively dry before the race start, while still getting in nearly two miles of warm-ups.
The large field stretched all the way across three lanes of Main Street. There were about 500 runners, and many seemed like they would be fast, perhaps attracted by the fact that this was a very flat course and was also the 2013 RRCA North Carolina State Championship 5K. I decided to line up in the second row. After a false start, they lined us up again and we were on our way. Immediately someone jabbed me in my arm, and another runner put his hand on my back as the crowd surged forward. After a hundred yards or so, the crowd thinned and we all had enough room to run in.
My plan, such as it was, was to try to maintain a pace that would get me a sub-19-minute time, something I'd only managed twice before. That meant 6:07 per mile. I didn't want to start too fast, and after about a quarter mile, I was pleased to see that I'd managed to do that; my watch showed a 5:55 pace.
Cliff Weston, another DARTer who had beaten me two weeks before at the Bare Bones 5K, and Bobby Aswell, who almost always beats me, were nearby. Cliff was just behind my left shoulder, and Bobby was striding out ahead of both of us, perhaps 20 meters out. I decided to run my own race, focusing on keeping my pace under the magic 6:07 mark.
It was still drizzling, and there were quite a few puddles in the road. My feet were soaked within a half mile of the start, and I could tell my grip on the road wasn't perfect, but it wasn't terrible either. I guessed the road surface was costing me about 5 seconds per mile. But I still wanted to hang on to that 6:07 pace.
I cruised through the first mile marker at 6:05, right on target! Cliff was still on my shoulder, and Bobby was out of sight up ahead. I could tell the heat was starting to get to me -- sweat was now dripping off the brim of my hat, and my singlet was already nearly soaked through. The course was nearly flat, but I noticed myself slowing down whenever we hit an incline, and speeding up on the gradual declines on the road.
I was also passing a lot of people, which is a great feeling. I had started at a sustainable pace, and now all the runners who had gone out too fast were coming back to me. It was an awesome feeling, and I gained confidence with every pass. Soon I was at the turnaround, and I passed another guy as we rounded the cone and headed back towards town.
Now I could see Bobby ahead of me. Could I pass him too? I knew he had a strong finishing kick, so if I was going to have a shot at beating him, I needed to make my move soon. I strode up behind him, rode his shoulder for perhaps a quarter mile, then surged past, trying to look as confident as possible.
My split for Mile 2 was 6:08 -- a little slow, but my overall average pace was right on target. I should be able to maintain this pace for the last mile. It wasn't a super hot evening, only around 70 degrees, but with 100 percent humidity it's definitely an uncomfortable temperature for me to run in; my ideal temperature for a 5K would be more like 50 degrees!
Somehow I was keeping my pace up, and ahead I could see another target: R J Scott, who was in my age group and had beaten me handily at the Bare Bones 5K. I passed him fairly easily. Next in my sites was a shirtless man -- Could it be the Adonis I'd seen warming up earlier? Somehow it gives me special pleasure to pass people who appear to be in better shape than I am. I passed him too! Next in line was a woman who looked to be running a fairly solid race. As hard as I tried, I couldn't seem to close the gap to her.
Now I was really laboring for breath, and looking for signs of Mile 3 and the finish line. I could see a fire truck on the side of the road -- I think that was about a quarter-mile from the finish. Sure enough, as I approached the truck in the darkness, I could see the lights of the finish.
Almost there... but as I ran, the finish line seemed to shrink back in the darkness. Was it farther than I had thought? I started to hear footsteps coming from behind. I hadn't been passed yet in this race, and I didn't want to get passed now, so I picked up the pace, but the footsteps kept getting closer. This guy was moving! I figured it was probably R J, and I really wanted to stay ahead of him since he was in my age group. Finally I could see the mats of the finish line and knew I had just 20 or 30 yards to go. I gave it everything I had and surged to the finish, just beating my rival to the line!
It wasn't R J, it was Bobby, who had summoned up an amazing kick and nearly beat me to the finish!
My final time was 18:54; I had run the last mile in 5:57, and the last fraction at a 5:23 pace. I congratulated Bobby on his strong finish and as we both panted, trying to catch our breath, he told me he thought someone in the crowd had clued me that he was close by shouting "Go Bobby" as we finished. I told him that I hadn't heard that, just the sound of his feet moving much faster than my own! Soon Cliff, Bobby, Roberta, and Bobby's daughter Nicole were all gathered near the finish line. All of us earned hardware: I was third in my age group, and Bobby and Cliff finished 1-2 in Grand Masters. Despite her injury, Roberta won the state championship in Senior Grand Masters and captured the Grand Masters title for the event. Julie Allsop also won her age group, and Jim Crotts was also at the race.
I also spoke briefly with Anthony "Fam" Famiglietti, who had been flustered by the false start but still felt fairly good about his 14:19 course record and overall win. Here are some photos of the DARTers who participated:
Finally, here's a shot of me that captures just how soaked with sweat I was at the end of the race:
Overall I'm quite pleased with my result. I'm training with a goal of breaking 40 minutes at the Atlanta Peachtree 10K, where the weather is usually oppressively hot, so this was one chance to test myself in the heat. While I don't think it was quite as warm as it will be in Atlanta, you can't get any more humid than a steady drizzle, and my time was still quite solid. If you plug it in to the McMillan Running Calculator, it projects an equivalent performance of 39:15 for a 10K, so while Atlanta will be hotter and hillier, I think I may be on track for a sub-40-minute performance.
Details of last night's race are below: