Last Sunday I ran my best race ever.
Granted my racing career consists of 3 races, but still, you gotta start somewhere.
I was a little apprehensive going into it because I wasn't exactly sure where the course went.
The organizer's site had a crappy Yahoo map up that was small and hard to read. I was hoping for a turn-by-turn description, but the best I could fathom was: Short red line. Turn. Long red line. Water stop. Double back.
I kinda sorta knew where it was going, but since the route was on a major street in a large, ahem, "urban" city, the ability to safely run the course before the race was unlikely.
I knew most of the race was on Chandler Street, which has no big hills, so I thought I'd be OK, given the last race's two Matterhornian inclines. Plus, my workout runs have some sucky hills in them, so I figured I wouldn't have too much of a problem.
The other source of anxiety is the race started and ended in downtown Worcester, which meant parking in downtown Worcester. However, the race start was early (7:30 am) and there was plenty of parking. I got there about 25 minutes before the half start, found a nice spot on street and walked about a 1/4 mile to the staging area.
Once at the staging area I passed a very impressive line for the Port a Potties, and then headed for the Half starting line, looking for a friend who I thought was running. I walked around to warm up and tried to pick her out of the crowd. I found her, on the opposite side of the street from me, just as she was crossing the starting line. Bad timing.
Once the Half was underway the announcer told us the 5K wouldn't start here, but back by the staging area. Um, OK. We all walked back to the staging area and looked around for a sign that said Start. The announcer eventually intoned: "Line up by the CVS." Glad it was super official, LOL.
I headed for the back of the pack, looked up and soon everyone was running. No gun, no countdown. OK. I quickly hit Start Workout on my Nike +iPod, started the heart rate monitor and was off.
There were no mile markers for the 5K, which is always a nice touch. Maybe next year? About 9 minutes into the race I saw a big 1 sign. I'm thinking, We can't already be a mile in. I'd be way off pace and I feel fine. I took out one ear bud and asked a runner next to me, That's not for us, is it? She agreed it was the 1 mile mark for the Half.
The 5K portion of this race appeared to be an afterthought to the half-marathon, understandably.
Since there were no mile markers, it made pacing a little difficult. However, the day was glorious. It was sunny, low 50s, with a nice dry air.
Seventy-five percent of the race was on Chandler Street and 100% of Chandler Street smells like garbage. But a flat course is appreciated by me, even if it's a stinky one. If that's the worst I can say, that's still a great course.
We got to what I assumed was the halfway point (again, no mile markers) and the water station. It was lined with spectators and volunteers, all of who were hooting and hollering and clapping for us as we rounded a pylon and headed back up smelly Chandler.
I really appreciate race spectators. Even though they're not there to see me run a 13-minute mile, they cheer and encourage nonetheless and make me feel like an elite athlete.
Soon, we were almost done with Chandler Street and I spied my watch. It read I was 38 minutes into the race. I only had a couple of turns left and then I would be heading for the finish. I think I can PR this thing. Maybe I can get in under 40. I wasn't sure exactly how long I had left (no markers!), but I picked up the pace a bit. The weather was so great, I felt really good.
Two turns later I saw the chute for the finish and sped up a little more. As I turned into a really long chute I saw the official clock: 39:50.
Nuts, no way I could cover the distance in time to do a sub-40-minute race, but I decided to sprint anyway. I knew it would be a PR, regardless.
I started racing toward the finish, trying to keep my form streamlined and also remember there was a race photographer with his lens trained on me: Head down. Suck in your stomach. Don't look like a dork.
Seriously, look at that photo. My leg kick is never, ever that high. I was jammin.
Turns out I ran a 40:14, which for me was great, 3+ minutes faster than my last race. Later, when I saw the official race results online, I noticed that a woman came in at exactly the same time as me. A 64-year-old woman. In my defense, she was very fit.
I went through the finish, returned the timing chip and grabbed 3 waters. Sitting on a shady bench, I got my breathing back to normal and perused my various gadgets to see how I fared. Really liked what the HRM had to say: 498 calories burned. Yeehaw.
After finishing 2 bottles of water, I walked over to the finish and clapped for the other runners coming in, trying to savor the moment. Not all races end like this, I wanted to enjoy it for as long as I could.