Going into this race, I knew I was way out of shape. I think I only did like one tempo run since the spring, which was really ugly the second half. But I still wanted to give a hard effort, so my goal/hope was to hang around 5:00 pace (assuming good weather and a fast course) and gain a little bit of confidence.
After an hour drive, I was finally in Leipers Fork, TN, which is a really pretty place. There's lot of rolling green hills, wide open land and nice houses. I would love to move there but I'm too poor. After registering, I met up with Jeanette Faber and a guy named Nash to do a little bit of a warm-up. We ran a little over a mile down on the course and while it was pretty, it didn't look like fun. It was down-and-back and as far as I could tell, the first half was uphill. At least there was a decent tailwind that would help push me up them.
Before I got back to the car, I noticed a lot of the faster runners in the area were coming out of the woodwork. First, I saw Ryan Snellen hanging around his 1990s or something Cadillac. He was a sub 14 guy several years back and gave me a whooping in a 5k in 2011. Then it was Ryan Chastain who is a talented guy and ran right at 68:00 for his half-marathon debut a few years ago, off of 30 miles a week. Then it was Geoff Musick who ran under 15 minutes a year ago and whooped me in a ten miler in 2010. But I think all three of them haven't been training too hard lately, so I still felt fairly confident that I could win with a good effort.
While pinning my number, I saw my second worst fear at a money race, Justus David (Patrick Cheptoek is #1). Justus was a 14:00ish and sub 29 10k guy in 2013 and is probably about 20 pounds lighter than me. He's been struggling with an achilles injury over the last year or so, but ran a sub 25 8k in early August, so I knew he was probably getting pretty fit. While I enjoy good competition when I'm in shape, when I'm just chasing dollars, I like the fast guys to stay at home.
I was 90% certain I had no chance to beat Justus but I was going to see what happened anyway. I tried to get my mind in the right state and get ready and accept that if I destroyed myself, maybe I could pull it off. As a long-distance runner, I have a lot of trouble with the really intense efforts and embracing that sharp, middle-distance pain. But today, it would probably be necessary.
Justus normally likes to follow the pace and win at the end. So my plan was to keep the pace honest and not let him relax. When the gun went off, I immediately pressed on the gas. My GPS was saying I was running around 4:50 pace but it was uphill, so it wasn't a big deal. I was glad to see Justus running behind me, instead of drafting and stealing my tailwind. We went through the mile in 4:53 and I wasn't feeling that bad, despite nearly 70 feet of elevation gain.
The second mile was even tougher with over 100 feet of gain and with a couple little downhills, it had quite a big of climbing. I noticed Justus was breathing a little bit hard and shortly afterward, he gave me a small lead. In a one-on-one race, if someone is running with you and then is suddenly a few meters behind, they are either peeing or close to breaking. So once I smelled a little blood in the water, I started hammering. At the turnaround, I had about a 100m lead and came through the second mile in 5:03. I lost over 10 seconds from the first, but it was a tough mile. With the third mile having a lot of downhill running, with over 130 feet of drop in the last 1000m, I was able to start rolling without much effort. Even though I now had a somewhat tough headwind, I was able to go through the third mile in 4:30 and double my lead. I don't know if I've ever run a mile that fast in a road race and if the wind would have been reversed, I bet it would have been close to sub 4:20. Maybe I'll go out there in shape one day and run sub 4:00 for the mile if I don't rip my hamstrings first.
The last mile I relaxed just a little bit but kept up a somewhat decent effort. Sometimes when you're flying nearly effortlessly, the pace feels relaxed and you enjoy the moment. I ended up crossing the line in 18:10 and according the my GPS, ran the last .77 miles at 4:50 pace and sealed the victory by a minute. The rest of the local shootout went: Chastain, Musik and Snellen. Jeanette won the women's race to beat literally one of the top Master's in the world and Nashville resident, Sonja Friend-Uhl.
This race was a really fun event, was run really well and a huge confidence booster on a tough course (580 feet of gain and loss). For feeling very out-of-shape, hopefully this points to much brighter things to come.