Monday, March 22, 2010

St. Pats 5k

(Results) I was very nervous in the days leading up to this race. I thought I had a good chance to win, which made me fret over the race more than usual. When I tried to visualize the race, my heart rate would skyrocket and adrenaline would course through my veins. Every time I tried to imagine the race, I would be racing someone neck-and-neck and have to out-kick them at the finish line. One of my reasons for wanting to win the race is that I saw pictures of last year, and there was a finishing tape. After I won a couple of races last year, I decided I wanted to win a race with a tape, and I was hoping that they would have one this year also, and that I would be the one to break through it.

Saturday was sunny and warm. I walked down to the capitol building with some other people in the club, and immediately lost them all when I went to get in line to get my tech shirt. I made a few laps of the huge crowd, but didn't find any of them. I did luckily find Trish H. [my new experiment to refrain from using people's full names, so this blog doesn't show up so high in search results] and gave her a book which she had expressed interest in reading. I abandoned my effort to find my teammates and went for my warm-up jog, to the 1-mile mark and back. I made sure to note the various mileage marks on the way back -- for instance, when the capitol building came into view, there was 3/4 mile to go, and at the Dunkin' Donuts, about 1/4 mile to go. I changed into my racing flats and hoped that no one would steal my warm-ups and sneakers, which I left in a bag near the start/finish line.

Luckily, I ran into Melissa and we made our way to the starting line. "Excuse me, you have to go around!" said a volunteer, pointing us to the sidelines so that we could line up in the very back of the huge crowd of people behind the starting line. "We're running the race," I explained redundantly, and headed towards the starting line. "In the front?" he asked. "Yes." No one ever said I looked like a fast runner! This guy clearly thought we were not starting line material!

Once on the starting line, I looked for all the people who I should worry about. Trish was there, and Melissa. I saw a woman in a TNT uniform that I recognized, so I introduced myself and learned her name, hometown and occupation. I looked around and didn't see anyone else who looked dangerous. My nervousness subsided a little bit because I knew exactly what I was dealing with. But then there was the whole deal with the starting gun... There wasn't a gun; there was an air horn, but not a regular air horn; it was like an air horn whose engine was backfiring! I didn't think the race was starting, but everyone else started running, so after a fraction of a second, I was off and running, too. I'm sorry for the person behind me!

The first mile was relatively uneventful. Lots of men went out really fast, but I didn't see any women in front of me after the first 100 meters. Trish appeared on my left at about 3/4 mile, but I didn't see her after that. I passed the mile in 5:43. At about that time, I heard a female breathing right behind me. I have mistook a man behind me for a female before, so I took a quick glance back: definitely female. And not one of the three I recognized; someone completely unknown. Now the race was much more interesting.

On the starting line I had asked Trish about the course, because I didn't have a chance to run the middle mile. She helpfully told me that there was a steep but short hill in the second mile (unlike the race volunteer, who told me it was a gradual uphill on the way out and gradual downhill on the way back!) so I was prepared for it when we got to it. This girl was hanging right on my shoulder. I tried to drop her by accelerating up the hill (didn't work). Tried the same thing going down the hill (didn't work). Gosh, it was turning out to be just like what I had imagined, running neck-and-neck with someone the whole race! Shortly before the two-mile mark, we got back to the out-and-back section of the course, which meant that we were passing by the thousands of people who were behind us in the race. So much cheering! It seemed like half of the people we passed screamed as we went by, and some shouted "Yeah, first woman!" or (less frequently) "yeah, first women!"

We passed the two-mile mark in about 11:45, for a 6:02 second mile. I was satisfied with this because of the hills. Now it was just a question of the long straight mile back to the capitol. I surged, and the breathing on my shoulder got further away, but only for a moment, and when I took the pressure off she came right back. Now I was getting worried. Alan was by the side of the course and said something encouraging. "How much?" I said. "She's right behind you." "How much, how much?" I said again. "About two seconds," he said. Maybe a minute later, he shouted something encouraging again and I realized that after I passed by him, Alan had started running and was now shadowing us from a few meters back (like he did at the Tufts 10k).

Well, now things were getting desperate. When I got to my 1/4 mile to go mark, she was still there, so I surged again, but this time, I wasn't going to let up. I told myself, if I can stay in this level of pain from now until the finish line, she won't be able to keep up and I will win the race. When I started the surge, her breathing got further away, and as I kept pressing, I didn't hear it come back. With maybe 150 meters to go, three motorcycles came off the sidelines and converged in front of me to usher me to the finish line. For the first time I thought I really would win. Up ahead of me I could see the finish line, and I saw that they were holding up a tape! I ran straight towards it and lifted my arms before I got there. Wow, I had actually won the race!

I ended up running a (net time) PR of 18:24.3, winning by about seven seconds. I thought it was much closer than that. In this picture you can see the second woman (who ended up being named Kaitlin), in blue, over my shoulder:

The race results say that I set a new course record:

But that is wrong, because the woman who ran 18:43 listed above was actually second, and Trish ran 18:22.55 last year, which is faster than my time:

so I have e-mailed the race results person and asked them to take out the part about it being a course record. I hope they do, because it's not true.

Everyone I have mentioned won the same prize, a pair of running shoes. I chatted with the other women for a little while after the race, and everyone was very nice and personable. I was quite thrilled to see Matt and Tom, who had come all the way downtown to see the race! (Tom has confirmed that I actually did not have the nose-squinching expression that the above photo has captured.)

The running club ended up winning our division, for which I believe we won a plaque (they hadn't tabulated the results yet one hour after I finished, so I left without picking up the team prize). We had the third-fastest time of any team in any division, and all the scorers of the two faster teams were all men (our team was two women and one man). I was 20th overall, out of about 3600 people.

As an aside -- you know how sometimes you ask people about running, and they say "I only run to catch a bus"? Less than three hours after the race ended, I did have to chase a bus. I chased it down and caught up to it while it was driving, waved down the driver, and got him to let me on. So it was a success.

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