Thanks to Duane Williamson for convincing Tracy and I to run this race! We almost didn’t come to the race. We’ve been on vacation all week, and when we got home last night I looked for the details on the race and found out we were seeded in the slow heat (I had sent in 5:10 for me and 6:10 for her). The fast heat for men was defined as sub-5:00, so that was fair to not make it in there, but for fast women, the time was 7:00. There was a second heat for competitive men expecting to finish in 6:30 or faster and I didn’t make that. The next heat was heat D, but neither Tracy nor I qualified for that one either, and we were put in the final heat E. I emailed the race director, former national-class runner Mark Stickley to enquire. As we went to bed, we decided we’d skip out because we weren’t going to drive over 90 minutes out there to run in the non-competitive heat. But at 9:46pm as we went to bed we did get a reply with an apology and Mark was confused why we were in heat E also, and he told us to just run in the right heats — no need to change numbers or anything.

Our last workout was in early/mid March as we started tapering for the eventually canceled Tobacco Road Marathon, so four months ago! As I pulled on my fastfred singlet, I wondered if I had picked up Tracy’s instead because it was very tight against my stomach. It looked so ludicrous that even my loving girlfriend pointed and laughed at my fat stomach. And for those thinking I’m embellishing, no, I’m 20 pounds heavier than I was in peak shape last fall. I told Stickley at the start that this singlet used to fit fairly loosely on me before the quarantine, and he quipped back “Maybe you SHOULD run in heat E.” 🙂
I didn’t really consider jumping into the fast heat, as I knew I wouldn’t be sub-5:00. There were a couple runners who identified as masters (they asked masters to raise their hands at the start of the fast men’s heat and they wrote their numbers down for some reason). I felt a little angst about that because I wanted to race my competition, but I knew I didn’t belong in that heat. Tracy’s heat of fast women was next. There were only four or so masters female runners in that heat. Tracy and I took our first days off in about a year over our vacation and skipped running Monday through Thursday, so we were tapered! But even so, Tracy is recovering from a probable torn hamstring so i didn’t know how to advise her to run except to play it by ear. She started midway back in the field and I didn’t know how the race went for her because it was point to point. With 3 minutes left until my race (there were 10 minutes between heats), I knew she was probably finished and hoped she did well and was still healthy, but I’ll let her describe her race in her own race report. Now it was time to start thinking about what a mile feels like and prepare mentally.

I’m looking back at Duane’s race last year on Strava to get the elevation data so I can describe it properly. In short, it starts with a little downhill, followed by an uphill to past 800m, but most of the 3rd quarter is downhill until a pretty flat final quarter. That first downhill amounts to 9 feet of drop in the first 0.2 miles, and I was pretty far back in the crowd of runners as we started the climb and hit 400m at 75 seconds. I felt a tingle sensation in my fingers — a feeling I get with severe oxygen debt, but it was just my body’s signal to be careful. Then we started climbing.

From 0.2 to 800m, we climbed 24 feet and I was passing the line of runners quickly. Suddenly I had moved from probably 15-20th to 4th and was gaining on 3rd. First and second place were way ahead, probably running in a heat they shouldn’t have. Third place with me was a little boy, at least that’s what it looked like (as it turns out he was 14 years old). I caught him probably at about 800m and we passed that at 2:35 with a little more uphill to go. From 800m, the next tenth of a mile climbed 6 more feet (so that’s a total of 30 feet climb in 0.3 miles), but that was the crest of the hill. The young kid and I were next to each other as we crested the hill and although we had 0.4 miles left, I wondered if this is where I should start sprinting. I mean, I could see the finishing stretch (not the finish line). This is where the smart runners would start making their move on older fat runners who might have gone out too hard.

I tried to push but watched the kid pull away. From 0.6m to 0.75m we dropped 25 feet, so a significant downhill, but for the whole quarter I ran another 80s (3:55). It looked to then be flattening out and I had a vision of what it would take to run sub-5:00. In the old days i could drop a 64 quarter, but not these days. I tried to focus on the kid ahead, but mostly listened for a group of guys to come streaming by me as we left the paved road and went onto the brick walkway (this part of Winchester is where the antique shops, restaurants, bars, and Stickley’s store Runner’s Retreat are, and it is pedestrian only). The final quarter dropped us another 12 feet (total net drop of 20 feet on this race), and I never gained on the kid (5:09) and no one caught me from behind as I finished in 5:12 (although official time was 5:13). I count that as a 77 second final quarter “kick.” In the final results, it shows one 50+ runner ahead of me in 5:11, so he must’ve chosen to run the fast heat, and I wonder how it all would have shaken out if I’d been chasing a peer instead of a little kid. 🙂

Matt Boyd