Sunday, April 5, 2009
Did I Pull a Fargo?
Really, sandbagging is not my thing. I’m never one to preface my races with dissertations on why I’m unlikely to go fast. Well, never except for this time, in yesterday’s post, for today’s Race for the Roses. But I still believe my analysis was sound. I still say it was reasonable to expect a 1:34 or 1:35 from me. Really! Everything pointed to that kind of run. Sometimes, though, it all comes together perfectly and things go happily awry.
The first suggestion of good tidings came when I stepped onto the front porch at 5 a.m. and felt a mild easterly, giving us a morning low about 20 degrees up from Saturday morning's. Blue skies, fresh breezes and a race-time temp in the low 50s: That can't be beat. And as it was last year, the sprawling Convention Center was the ideal race hive, with coffee and snacks, plenty of real, clean bathrooms and a well-run gear drop.
Plus: The start line is right outside the hall, and I headed out there about a half-hour before the appointed hour of 7 a.m. I jogged for five minutes and did a few strides. My legs felt fresh and strong, ready to go hard—but there was a sense, too, that going hard, they might wilt. Or maybe that was just fear talking.
There's something about the Race for the Roses start line that engenders conversation. It's weirdly uncrowded—my theory is that the Convention Center is so commodious and close, people are comfortable waiting until just before the race starts to get out there. Anyway, standing by myself at one point, a young guy approached me and explained that it was only his second race and, well, he was wondering: "Just how tight should I tie my shoelaces?" For a split-second I thought I was being punked, but the kid was too earnest and anyway, I believe a key aspect of punking is that the victim be worthy of humiliation. I told the kid the laces should be so tight they leave welts in the skin of the top of your feet for days if not weeks. I hope he had a good run.
Finally, around 10-till I wandered up to the area designated for those believing they might run at a seven-minute per mile pace. I was a fraud there, I suppose, since I didn't think I'd manage that for the whole 13.1, but I didn't want to get stuck behind a clump of slower people. Anyway, it was a good move. I soon was surprised to find a young woman holding a sign announcing herself as the "7:00/mi Pace Leader." I asked her whether she would maintain that pace consistently, despite the long, gradual climb beginning at Mile 3 and the subsequent and similarly mild descent beginning just after the Mile 4 marker. She said she'd try and we proceeded to talk right up until it was time to start racing. By then I'd figured, what the hell, I'll try to stay with her and the other 7:00/mi runners for a while.
I got out ahead.
I didn't look at my Garmin for the first mile as we crossed over to the west side of the Willamette on the Broadway Bridge and headed south. I didn't know my pace, but I figured the 7:00/mi pace wizard was doing her job, and thusly assumed I was faster than that. That worried me a little, but I felt great, very comfortable. The running was easy. And so we went up to the hill, where Pacer Girl and her sign slid past me by 10 yards or so. I tried not to work too hard as I stayed within hailing distance. On the descent I caught up with Pacer Phenom, who actually has a name: Kim. Until we hit the Mile 11 marker, I stayed with Kim. And she did not run seven-minute miles. Well, she ran one or two, I guess. But mostly she was under and as she was under, so was I.
Now, I don't know if I would have run as fast as I did if it weren't for Kim. I tend to think not. It's so easy to slip off a hard pace in a long race—not consciously, even; you just lose your edge, give up a few seconds per mile, then another few seconds per mile, and the next thing you know, well, you aren't going so fast. But with Kim rolling along, I rolled along. Generally, it felt easy. The few times I grabbed a gulp of something to drink threw me off a stride or two, but I recovered quickly.
I was pretty tired in the late stages, and Kim and other of her acolytes pulled in front of me, but I stuck near the seven-minute pace right up to the Steel Bridge approach, that mutha ucker, a 75-foot or so climb in the last tenth or two of the race. The way down was nice. A guy kind of mindlessly blocked me off, and I got pissed off and surged past him on the turn into the final 30 yards. So I finished hard, finished good, finished in 1 hour, 30 minutes and 19 seconds. That's a PR, beating last year's official 1:31:47.
Yeah, I thought about how close that is to beating 1:30. I engaged in a short bout of, "I wonder if," and "Maybe if I'd" thinking. But honestly, I ran hard to get that 1:30:19. I ran well. Kim helped. The weather helped. The volunteers helped. It was a gas.