Delusions of Grandeur

A few weeks ago, over lunch, Aaron and I discussed all things running. Somehow the subject of winning came up and I made the statement, ‘Just once before I die, I’d like to win another race.’ To which Aaron responded, ‘You just have to find the right race’. From that moment on, I started entertaining the notion of winning again.

This weekend presented the best opportunity I’ve seen in quite a while. There were at least 6 local races that would spread the talent around. And with many of Charlotte’s best runners headed to Boston, the talent pool was diluted even more. If I could find a small race and run well enough to go sub-20, I might actually have a shot at victory.

A couple of weeks ago, Laura discovered a small race, the Ada Jenkins FIRE 5K, in nearby Davidson. Since April 17th was her 40th birthday – welcome to the Masters division – and her dad and sister would be in town to celebrate, this race sounded perfect as there would be a little barbeque festival afterwards. I quickly compared 2009’s results to the list of 2010 entrants and saw that none of last year’s top 5 were registered. I had a legitimate chance of winning.

In the ensuing days, I did a little more research. There was another small 5K in nearby Mooresville. Since it started at 9:00 and Ada Jenkins at 10:00, I could possibly double up, thereby doubling my odds of picking up a win. But this would be pushing it. It would take a logistically perfect morning to run the Mooresville race and make it back to Davidson in time for the start. I didn’t want to disrupt Laura’s birthday in any way – missing the Ada Jenkins 5K would definitely disrupt it – so I opted to stick to Ada Jenkins.

But race day, or rather Laura’s birthday, came and we got off to a rough start. We drove to the address of the start, according to the website, and there was no starting line in sight anywhere. After a few spins through the parking lot, we discovered a tiny sign that said ‘Event Shuttle’ so Laura and her family waited there while I set out on my warm-up jog which now doubled as a search for the start. A mile of jogging later and I spotted the starting line, near where Laura, her family, my buddy Bill who was also running, and a hundred or so other folks mingled in nervous anticipation.

I was a little concerned about the course – earlier in the week, I had emailed the race director and asked for a course map. She sent me a word doc describing the course and there were, by far, more turns than I had ever seen in a 5K. But my fears were eased a little when I emailed my friend Todd Hartung who had run it last year. He assured me the course was well marked and plenty of volunteers made sure nobody took any wrong turns.

As we waited for the start, I surveyed the crowd of runners. I spotted a few fast-looking folks, namely a couple of teenaged kids who appeared to be local tracksters and/or harriers. There was a gray haired guy that looked to be around my age – he was thin, fit, and wore a sleek racing singlet and nice running shoes. He looked potentially fast. Then I spotted Jim Crotts, a Davidson area runner who had always beat me in 5K’s in the past, but usually by only a few seconds. I knew I was capable of beating him on a good day. I was still optimistic that I could win this thing.

Then it happened. A young, athletic guy trotted up. Chad Crockford, a fellow member of the Charlotte Running Club and a guy that typically beats me by about 2 minutes. Allen, say goodbye to any chance of winning. We chatted for a minute when Chad told me that he had just run the course and it was ‘crazy’, with a ton of turns and spots where people could cut corners to shave time.

After lining up and nearly starting 5 minutes early before somone pointed the time out to the race director, someone finally signalled the start as 10:00 actually arrived. The 2 teenagers bolted out to the front, Chad looked comfortable in third, the guy my age (who turned out to be Chris Schmidtke), a couple other guys, Jim Crotts, then me.

I had no idea what the teenagers were capable of, but I knew Chad typically ran high 17’s/low 18’s, but was ever-improving. I knew I had to let them go. I didn’t know Chris or the other guys, but I knew Jim was right in my wheelhouse, so I settled in right behind him and tried to get comfortable. The course was indeed crazy – all the turns meant you never got to settle into a fast stride. And yet I still came through the first mile in 6:06 – a tad fast but typical of my 5K starts. I felt fine through the first mile as we zig-zagged through an apartment/condominium complex.

Jim seemed to drop pace a little shortly after the first mile marker, so I zipped past him. Just ahead was another guy who appeared to be in his forties so I started tracking him. If I couldn’t win overall, I’d at least like to win my age group.

Next up came the strangest part of an already strange course. There was a water-stop dead ahead, but not on the side of the road as in a typical race, but directly blocking the way – it required you to turn around. As I headed toward this bizarre sight, I got mesmerized by it, thinking ‘what the *&$#?’ when I suddenly looked up and discovered that I was directly in the path of Chad who was bearing down on me quickly. Chad’s a big, muscular guy for a runner – he looks more like a tailback than a distance runner. He’s about the last guy in this race that I’d want to collide with. I darted to the left, out of his way and said, ‘Sorry. Go get ’em Chad!’ He replied, ‘No problem’ and continued extending his lead. Barring disaster, it was obvious he was going to win.

At the water-stop turnaround, the ‘other guy who looked to be in his forties’ (subsequent results show he was Keith Smithers) made an abrupt stop to get a drink. Always one to recognize opportunity in a race, I bypassed the water and took advantage of the crazy course to make a pass. As we headed back and ran against the throng of runners coming in, Bill waved and yelled some encouraging words, as did Laura a moment or two later. I didn’t have enough oxygen to yell back, so I just waved instead.

I ran my second mile in 6:45 (I found this particularly disconcerting as a week before I had run a hilly mile 10 of the Racefest half marathon in 6:50). By this time, Chad, the 2 teenagers (Kevin Harrow and Andrew Kendall), and Chris Schmidtke had put enough distance between us that it was not feasible to make a run at them. But the guy immediately in front of me, Jeremy Grant, was within striking distance. I tried to reel him in, but on the last hill, where I thought I’d be strong enough to overtake him, he started pulling away. I asked myself, ‘If this was for the win, would you make a move?’ and I answered, ‘Yes.’ But when I asked, ‘Are you willing to chase him down now?’, I found the answer was ‘No’ even as Danielle Walther, the female winner of the morning’s Elizabeth 8K, and another Charlotte Running Club member (not to mention Chad’s girlfriend) and Chad, yelled for me to power up the last hill. I half-heartedly gave it a go.

Bill and I show off our medals

Chad won in 16:55. I finished in 19:15, in 6th place overall, and second in my age group (which turned out to be 40-49 rather than the usual 40-44). Bill ran a 23:22 and came in 3rd in our age group and received his first ever age group award. Laura ran a 27:18 on her birthday.

Oh well, there would be no win for me on this day. Later, I checked the results of the Mooresville 5k. 53-year-old Jay Cook won it in 19:18. Could I have beaten that? It’s a little doubtful when you do the math and realize that my 19:15 time on a 2.95 mile course translates to about 20:20 over an official 5K distance. But could the extra motivation of being in contention have bought me another minute? We’ll never know.


One Response to “Delusions of Grandeur”

  1. aaron Says:

    Ha! Glad you gave it a swing. One of these days! Chad is running darn well these days so tough to beat that fella. Enjoyed the race recap. Thx for sharing.

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