The first mile was long, that I am sure. When a race starts off with 800 meters of flat running, followed by near a half mile of downhill running, there's no way (unless they're at 8000 feet) that somebody struggles their way to a six minute first mile when they average just over 5:30's for the whole thing; not at that distance. I wasn't the only one groaning on about mis-measurements though; more than a couple of the guys in the group I was struggling with had something to say about the time relative to our efforts. Nonetheless I soldiered on. Somewhat unsure of myself and my assessment I pushed the pace for the second mile, just in case I was wrong I didn't want to leave myself in a deep hole so early on.
By the second mile I was back on track, and by the third I had established my place in the field and set upon racing the men then surrounding me. I was particularly concerned with the Collegeville runner in front of me, for I was almost certain I had passed the remainder of their team at that point and thought him a worthy target. There was a masters runner there with me, Pat Billig I believe, working it seemed harder than the rest of us already just a third of the way through. His breathing was labored and audible from a good distance away, as on occasion he would drift forward or to the side some fifteen to twenty meters and still I could hear him as clearly as if he were right next to me. Amazingly he pushed on from mile three to the finish, sounding like death, grunting and panting and sounding so pained that there was no way I was going to let myself even think of slowing when a man hurting that badly was still striding forward. He was the toughest guy I saw that day, even managing to out kick me down the hill from the cathedral and across the finish line.
I wasn't sure what I had in me at the start. I wasn't sure what the time would be. My parents came to watch and my dad always asks me what the goal time is. Expecting this I plotted a recent workout with an online measurement tool, adjusted for surface responsiveness and punched a converted time into a race calculator. It gave me a finish time of 55:31, and so I gave that as my goal time. Until I hit mile nine I had no faith in that assessment.
My watch read 50:13 at mile nine and for the first time that day the thought of crossing the line in the mid-50's seemed attainable. The group of men around me began to drive to the finish and I did all I could to hang on. By the time we reached the Cathedral and began our descent to the capitol the Collegeville runner I was pushing to beat fell off the pace and I drove on in a vain attempt to keep even with Pat Billig and another runner from our pack.
The downhill finish sent a ripple of contractions into my hamstrings and they tightened greatly, reducing my range of motion and limiting my speed. By the finish they were one solid mass of pain. I stopped the clock at 55:19, 12 seconds faster than calculated, exhausted and spent. It was a good day and a good race.
Next time I think I'll attack the marathon.