Saturday, November 9, 2013

Race Recap: Spencer Mountain 5K

Saturday morning. I'm 1.8 miles in. The road turns uphill, again. I am gasping for breath, trying to focus on solid, long strides. Trying to look strong to intimidate the runners behind me. Wondering if I can possibly hang on to this pace until the finish. The plan was to run with complete abandon, to give it absolutely everything I had, to leave nothing in the gas tank. Finish on empty, or limp in, running on fumes. But here now is this hill. If I push hard up the hill, can I possibly have anything left for the final mile? I have to try. I pick up the pace...

Wednesday morning, three days earlier, I'm sitting in Summit Coffee after my last hard workout of the week. "What are you doing this weekend," Sam asks.

"I'm going for a PR at the Spencer Mountain 5K," I reply.

"Didn't you just PR two weeks ago?"

"Yeah, but I felt like I still had a little bit left. This time I want to go all out. I'm either going to PR or I'm going to finish in, like, 22 minutes."

"Ha! Seriously?"

I am completely serious; that is honestly the plan. But on race day, naturally, things can play out a little differently. My PR from the Runway 5K was 17:49, officially a 5:45 pace. So this time I would head out at a 5:30 pace.

Saturday morning at the start line, we're all standing around wondering when things are going to get going. Suddenly about 8:03 the race official shows up. "You haven't started yet? They already started the 10-miler!" Then she runs about 10 yards past the start line and yells "Ready, Set, Go!"

Here we are at the start! Rob is 3 to the right, and "Mop-Top" is just past him

Rob Ducsay, a mop-topped teenager, and I push out into the lead. About 100 yards in Rob yells "I'm in first!" At which point Mop-Top blows by both of us. I resign myself to finishing second to a teenager, again.

I look down at my watch and see that it reads 5:35. Really? It feels like I'm going faster than that, but I decide to stick to my plan and pick up the pace. About a half mile in I pass Mop-Top. It's just me and the lead police car.

The first mile of the race is a gradual uphill, which gets steeper towards the end. As the hill increases, I find myself slowing down. I'm going as hard as I can, but I can't seem to bring my pace down to 5:30. I don't want to look back and check on the other runners; I just have to keep pushing the pace. I pass Mile Marker 1 at 5:25, but my watch doesn't beep. I keep running, and 20 seconds later I finally hear the familiar mile chime. 5:49 according to Garmin, slower than at Runway. But this hill is bigger too.

I crest the hill and start heading down, again resisting the urge to look back. It's an out-and-back course, so I'll see all the competition at the turnaround. My pace is now over 6:00 per mile. Come on, Munger, you can do better than that! The turnaround should be at exactly mile 1.5, and it can't come soon enough for me. It's two cones in the middle of the road, and I realize at my pace I'm going to have to swing wide to clear it. I do, and I see Rob and another runner, right behind me.


Somehow I find the will to run faster. It's a gradual downhill now, and we're more than halfway through the race. There's just that one uphill right before I get to the Mile 2 marker, and it should be downhill all the way home. The rest of the field is still running the opposite direction, cheering me on as I go. I see Ashley, and Roberta, and Johane, and Bill, and many other familiar faces. They seem really impressed to see me in the lead. Maybe I can pull this off!

Then I reach that final climb, starting at mile 1.8. I'm gasping for breath, and though it honestly doesn't feel like I can keep this pace up, it's still slower than I want, about 5:43. In a moment of clarity, I realize that I must run up this hill all-out. Even if I take it easy on the hill and end up winning, I'll always ask myself how much faster I could have been if I had pushed it on the hill. So I push it. Hard.

Somehow, crazily, I finish Mile 2 faster than I ran Mile 1. Once again, I reach the mile marker before my Garmin clicks through to Mile 2. Now it is all downhill, and I try to stretch my strides even longer. I'm grunting with every breath. Really? Grunting? Who am I, Monica Seles?

The walkers are still heading out, and they seem amazed to see the leader of the race, running so fast in the opposite direction. I've been on the other side of that road many times, watching the leader streak by, wondering what it must feel like to run so effortlessly.

Now I know: It's damned hard.

Some idiot in a Jeep pulls between me and the lead car. The cop pulls over, and another cop gets out and directs the Jeep to the side of the road so I can pass. Crazy! Now I'm past all the walkers, less than a half mile to go. I know it's downhill, but it's so gradual and / or I'm so tired that it doesn't feel that way.

I can see the 3-mile marker ahead, and again I resist the urge to look back. Just keep pushing, Munger. Either you win or you don't; looking back won't help.

Headed for the finish!

I blitz around the final corner and dash through the finish. I think I even remember to raise my arms in victory. Then I remember to stop my watch.

17:32. Yes, it's a PR, but more importantly, it's a win! I've never won a 5K before, never won any solo race with this level of competition. Rob crosses the line in second place, followed shortly by three much-younger guys. I give Rob a huge high-five. He's PRed too! What a race.

As Rob and I congratulate each other and go over the play-by-play of the race, we notice several 25-ish guys hovering nearby. Finally one of them says to me "do you mind if I ask how old you are?" I tell him I'm 46. "Wow, you've got me by two decades."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I beat my two-decade-younger self too," I tell him.

Rob and I are subsequently grilled by these much-younger men on our training miles and methods. They're super impressed by Rob's ultra-running. We've clearly opened their eyes to what a couple of old guys are capable of. That was definitely the moment of the day: Those young guys looking at us, thinking "if these old guys can do that, who the hell am I?"

A couple of very fast old guys

Some other great moments from the race:

Roberta Villneff finishing first in her age group.

Jo Hirschfield finishing first in her age group and getting a PR.

Ashley Neff finishing first in her age group and third overall.

Winning $50 as the first overall male!

Spending the $50 -- on coffee for my teammates and a little nip of something for me:

Crashing and burning while on my cool-down run. Two big scrapes on my elbow and a very sore knee.

Watching the ten-milers stream in. Here's Chad approaching the finish:

Hanging out with the whole gang while we waited for results and collected hardware.

Mark Ippolito

Roberta and Diane

Kathy and Johane

Cheryl and Jenn
Overall, a great event.

One last note: After some thought, I'm not sure if I'm going to count this as a PR after all. My Garmin measured the course at 3.04 miles, so it's probably short. My pace according to my Garmin was 5:46 per mile, compared to my official pace at the Runway 5K of 5:45. So despite finishing in a time of 17:32 versus 17:49, despite feeling like I gave it absolutely everything I had in this race, this one doesn't seem as "legit." The win, though? That definitely counts!

Details of today's race are below.

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