The Habitat 5km was a small local race with about 75 runners. My father volunteers on a weekly basis for a local crew in Buffalo NY so he suggested I do this race. It was an interesting experience for me because he was talking a bit of smack with his co-volunteers in the weeks before the race. "Well, you guys won the Habitat Golf Tournament this spring. My son is going to win the 5km." In the kitchen at my father's house, expectations were running high.
Just last week, I has listened to a podcast talking with Olympic runner Suzy Favor-Hamilton. She had been widely expected to win the 2000 Olympics 1500m race. The pressure ended up being too much for her and on the final 200 meters of the race, she had a panic attack. She slowed considerably and after dropping to 5th place, she faked a fall rather then the embarrassment of a bad finish. Would I be able to take the pressure of the family's expectations?
That morning, saying good bye to my sister Jennefer, she asked again, half joking, "So, are you gonna' win?"
At the start line, I looked at other runner's shoes. Nobody wore racing flats. I then talked to a young guy - he was a soccer player just out for a run. He wasn't going out for cross country. "In soccer," he said, "at least I'm running after the ball." I did a couple striders off the front of the assembled runners - nobody else was doing them. All signs were that I had a good shot at giving my dad something to brag about this coming Thursday - his "work" day.
From the gun (yes, there actually was a gun - unusual for the kind of races I do) I imagined I was at track practice and was going to do an 800m at 85 seconds a lap. I checked my stride and the power I had to put into my arms to maintain form and everything looked good. I felt I was on stride to lay down a few 5:40 miles.
After a small straight, the course went around a corner and traveled a block. After the 1st block, not only was there nobody near me, I couldn't hear anybody else. I was only me and the motorcycle cops.
At the first mile, a friendly volunteer shouted out "5:25". I was a little faster then my goal of at least a 17:30 finish was fine since was was hoping to set a new PR. Note, this is a new PR in the last 10 years. While my highschool 5km times were on the cross country course, I will never again be able to go sub-16minutes for a 5km. I was dreaming of going sub-17 again but haven't been focusing on the training for a 5km. I'm really thinking about my upcoming 50km - not much of a speed race.
By mile 2 I had slowed a bit but still felt strong. The cops kept leap-frogging ahead of me. All I needed to do was following the one in front of me who kept glancing in his rear view mirror. When there was a turn in the course, the guy in front of him would have his white, 2-wheeled steed pointing out which way to go. All along the course were volunteers but with the white steeds, I didn't need their help for directions.
As I turned onto Southpark street (no association) I began to feel a twing of burn in my legs and the discomfort was climbing. There was an ever-so-slight rise and this was enough to make a cruise speed a bit of work. I looked back for only the second time in the race and saw a regular car far behind me. I knew there was no race to be had for me, which is a big relief when you're late in a race and starting to question why you're running so fast. I reminded myself what I had thought at the start line - run strong and if there's a contest at the end, dig deep the last 1/2 mile.
Now, running all alone, I simply wanted to run strong.
At the distant finish line, I could see the time clock click over to 16 minutes. Judging the gap I needed to cross, I was pretty sure a sub-17 was not in the bag today. Ask I strided out the finish, I hoped for a PR but was greeted with the voice at the finish line saying, 17:24, 17:25, 17:26. "Oh well," I thought, "matching my PR of 17:26 from last year isn't bad."
Later, waiting for the next runner to come in, I checked the results table and saw they had granted me a 17:25. That, I decided, would be my time. So, a new PR and a pleasant race.
As I trotted back to my family, we watched the 2nd runner come in. I hadn't realized what kind of a lead I had built until I watched the time - 20:11. I was nearly 3 minutes faster than the next runner. "It was almost embarrassing," my father declared at the end. The race director came up after. She said, "I saw you at the start and I knew you'd be the one."
The 1st place price was some nice gift certificates to local restaurants. As an out-of-towner, I tried to give them to my dad but they weren't for restaurants he went to. I found a guy with tape measure (the 1st place prize for age-category winners.) He was happy to trade and threw in $10.00 with the deal. Between that and my dad paying the registration fee (thanks!) I think this might be my most lucrative race yet!
I don't know if I will ever again have the kind of police escort that is normally afforded to presidents and lead runners of international marathons. Still, I will long remember the thrill of having of the helmeted riders surging pass me to make sure no cars interrupted my headlong rush to the finish.