I knew Daniel Kirwa was going to run this race. Daniel won last year and I was 0-2 against him. I got whooped by him over the last couple of miles at the Convenent Knoxville Marathon last year and a few weeks later, finished about a hundred yards behind him at the Derby MiniMarathon in Louisville.
Patrick Cheptoek finished second in this race last year and recently beat Daniel at the Germantown Half-Marathon but he wasn't going to be able to attened because of class. Bad for him, good for me. Second place would net me $750, so I was hoping to nab that.
On the way there, I texted my super distant polish relative, Wojciech Kopec, to see if he had arrived in Murray yet because he was going to get my race number for me. He arrived, got my number and told me there were several Africans in the field. I debated heading home and instead showing up to defend my Purity Moosic Dairy Dash title and go for my 12 free ice cream coupons again but I shut that idea down. If it would have been the Kroger Private Selection Dairy Dash or the Bluebell Dairy Dash, I maybe would have taken my stab at the 10k. But I decided to press on and take my shot at 5th place and $150.
It was a little bit over a two hour drive and unfortunately, I didn't have any cell phone reception for about half of it. Goodbye Pandora. I did find a bluegrass station and while I'll never grow to like country music, I'm starting to become a fan of bluegrass. After a couple of hours, we arrived in Murray and instead of heading straight to the dinner, Mary and I went straight to dinner. My co-teacher at work has always talked about a Mexican place called Los Portales and Murray had one of those. I decided I had to check the place out, so that's where we ate.
I'm usually a creature of habit and normally in Mexican places, I will just get a chicken quesadilla. I'm not a fan of mexican rice (I used to love it when I was little but caught a puke bug once and threw up way too much of the stuff and haven't been able to eat it since) and the beans aren't worth the extra couple bucks, so my usually four buck quesadilla is my go to pick. But Los Portales had a really good menu with cheap food, so I decided to be adventurous and eat something else. I went with the Texano Chipotle, which was shrimp, steak and chicken covered in chipotle sauce and served with tortillas and rice, beans and guacoamole salad. It was really good and despite originally planning on a margarita and banana burrito for dessert, I was stuffed. Finally headed to the hotel for some good ol' shut eye. I got the names of the other top runners in the race and did my best Google stalking.
I felt like George Towett would be the toughest. He's a pretty consistent half-marathoner and can regularly run in the 64s and faster. I pegged Daniel Kirwa as the number two guy. Boniface Biwott ran 64:14 earlier in the year but has been racing a ton lately, so I was hoping he would be tired and maybe if he fought for the win, I could hang back and catch him later. Deus Rwaheru was entered and he has sub 14 5k credentials but he hasn't raced since last year, so I didn't expect him to be in top form. Lastly, we had Micah Tirop, who is an old buddy of mine who used to run consistent 65s when he lived in Murfreesboro but he now coaches at a college in Texas and doesn't run as much. I felt like I had a shot at a money spot with that field but was doubting myself of nailing a top finish. Wojciech reminded me that he didn't have a shot on paper to win the Knoxville Marathon but he ended up dropping all of the guys and winning the whole thing. His positive attitude was the positive slap in the face I needed before the race and I fell asleep with a better attitude.
After waking, I downed a couple of Powerbars and was on my way to the race. Wojciech and I warmed up for a couple of miles and then I took my spot on the line. I was hoping the leaders would take it out really hard and I planned on hanging back a little bit. If it was a marathon, I could give them a bigger cushion but in the half, no one hits the wall, so I wanted to stay somewhat in contact. Unexpectedly, when the gun went off, I found myself in the lead with a half dozen guys right on my butt. After a few minutes, George went to the front and threw in a couple short surges. I thought, "here we go" and expected some people to go with him but no one responded. I guess he was testing the field or something and I would just let him go ahead and then catch back up. It was way too early for those kind of moves, not to mention small surges like that don't make any sense.
We went through the mile in 4:54 and I was back in the lead. Over the next mile or two, I kept the lead with Boniface, George and Daniel on my tail. Daniel slowly dropped and when we passed some overly excited cheerleaders I told George and Boniface they were cheering for me. I will sometimes talk during races out of boredom but also as somewhat of a front. I like to see how the other runners respond and try to appear like I'm really fresh. They didn't say anything to the crazy mzungu and just stared ahead.
I was getting tired of doing all of the work and we were running a faster pace than I felt like I could hold, so I slowed down a hair and tucked in behind George and Boniface. We climbed a long hill and the pace started dragging. I felt really good and I didn't want to give Daniel an oppurtunity to catch back up, so I took the lead again. However, Daniel caught us shortly afterward and when he caught up, I told him that I was beginning to miss him. More mind games.
George was the next to crack and around six miles in, Daniel fell again. It was just me and Boniface. My man code states that when you are running with two other runners, you may draft, as long as you share the work eventually. When it's just two people, you can only "acceptably" draft if you share the work later or if you are dying and hanging on by a hair. Boniface broke those rules and was right on my butt with no signs of help. We ran down a long, country road with a headwind. I was getting really annoyed with him because I was tired of fighting the wind while he tucked behind. I decided if he did that the rest of the race and then beat me in the last mile, I would exchange some words with him after the race. Heck, with him running right behind me, I could have used my old MMA training and threw him with an Uchi Mata.
Right before nine miles, I could see a long hill made up of three short uphills. The idea of fighting the headwind and having to run uphill got me really annoyed, so I turned around, motioned for him to move forward and told him he needs to help out with his share of the work. He didn't respond but fell back on the hills. Good.
I was getting pretty pumped at this point. I was expecting to run around 66:00 but I knew I was probably going to break 65. Most encouraging of all, I never had to make any moves. I just ran and they fell back one at a time. Since I was running for place, not time, I didn't want to kill myself and compromise next week's training. I shut it down a hair because I was making up a lot of ground over everyone else. There were a lot of hills in the last 5k and I felt really good over them. That was a really positive sign because hills normally kill me, especially late in the race when your legs are tired. I was able to just coast up them and still run under 5:00 pace.
When I was close to the final turn, I almost became emotional. I expected to get beat like a drum today but I ended up getting the win, beating a tough field and not even have to dig deeply to do it. I knew when Mary saw me come around the final turn, she would be really happy and proud (but would have been even if I were last). I could see the clock in the 64:20s, so I picked it up some to get under my PR of 64:39. I crossed the line in 64:35, with Boniface just under 66 minutes and Daniel and George a little bit over 66 minutes. Man, I didn't expect to win by that much.
This was definitely one of my favorite victories and the $1000 will help, even though Uncle Sam will take some of that. Until the awards started, I hung out, drunk too much coke, ate too many rice krispie treats and cookies and just enjoyed life. Then it was back home with some more bluegrass and a nice meal at Cracker Barrel. What an unexpected race.
Balanced splits: 4:54, 4:51, 4:50, 4:56, 4:51, 5:05, 4:56, 4:59, 4:55, 4:59, 4:59, 4:57, 4:56,