Going the Extra (.13) Mile

An artist's rendition of Chris Lamperski.

It’s not surprising that it happened.  It’s surprising that it took this long to happen.

Anyone that knows me well knows that I come with certain defects, and one of the chief among them is my lack of any sense of direction.  As far as I’m concerned, GPS navigation is the greatest invention of all time, because prior to GPS, I spent half of my life driving around lost.  So the fact that I made a wrong turn in today’s race should come as a surprise to no one.

The Run Ballantyne 10K started out like most other races, the big difference being that I lined up on the very front row.  What I do at most races, and I really wish that everyone would do this, is try to line up somewhere approximating where I’ll finish.  Looking around at the running crowd, I only spotted one of the well-known, usual running studs (Chris Lamperski).  Obviously, looks can be deceiving, but most of this crowd didn’t look exceptionally fast.  There were maybe half a dozen exceptions so I took a spot next to them on the front line, along with the 5 or 6 starting-line-ubiquitous 10-year-olds.  (One of my friends recently had a great idea – make a line in the starting corral maybe 50 feet back from the start and require anyone under the age of 12 to line up behind it (while making exceptions for any known prodigies like, say, Alana Hadley).  The start was signalled, the kids bolted in front of me, and I did the usual dodging and side-stepping, even though I started on the very front row. 

I went out a little too fast, as usual, but I felt comfortable so there was no need to panic yet.  I didn’t see Chris and for a minute I thought maybe he wasn’t actually running the race.  But moments later I heard his voice behind me.  He comfortably cruised past me and I calmly backed down to something more in-line with my actual abilities, about a 6:30/mile pace.

Also as usual, the kids, with one exception, rapidly dropped off the pace one by one, until only Chris, a couple of other guys, me, and the sole kid representative remained up front – all pretty standard small race stuff.  I came through the first mile in 6:14, a bit faster than the 6:30 pace I was hoping to run.  I backed off as the kid and I ran side by side.

I tried to settle down a bit.  I felt like I was locked into 5K pace after running one every weekend for the past 3 weeks.  I passed the kid shortly before the 2-mile and then my Garmin beeped 6:42.  I had overcompensated so I sped back up.  It was about this time that things went awry.

I approached a turn.  Several teenaged volunteers stood there.  A little volunteer girl said, ‘5K left, 10K right.’  I watched a couple runners ahead of me peel off and turn left.  The guy directly in front of me continued straight and I followed.  Shortly thereafter, maybe a 100 meters or so, I heard someone behind me yell ‘Wrong way!’  I looked back and saw the kid turning around to take the left.  Up to this point, I simply assumed all the up-front kids were 5K’ers, so when I heard the yells of ‘Wrong way’, I assumed the kid had followed me and gotten off the 5k course.  I also assumed I was headed in the right direction.  I continued running in that direction.  The guy in front of me inquisitively looked back at me and I gestured for him to continue going the way we were going.  He did.

Then I heard my name.  I looked back and saw someone running towards me – I didn’t recognize him at first but he was rapidly approaching and yelling , ‘Allen, wrong way!’  I yelled back, ‘I’m running the 10K!’, now assuming that someone thought I was supposed to be running the 5K, in which case I was headed in the wrong direction.  But I wasn’t running the 5K so I thought I was okay.  Then I recognized the guy – it was Jordan Kinley – and as he approached he said something like, ‘Dude, you were supposed to turn back there.’  I was pretty sure he wouldn’t steer me wrong, although for a split second the thought did occur to me that maybe he didn’t like being called ‘Cuervo’ and had shown up to exact some revenge.  As this seemed pretty unlikely, I turned around, cursing profusely all the way.  I was hoping to maybe break 41:00 today but the odds of this happening now seemed pretty slim – I had just run a couple of hundred extra meters, nearly an extra minute.

I sped up, still cursing.  I glanced down at my watch and realized I wouldn’t be able to sustain this pace for very long.  I told Jordan, ‘I’m trying to make it up all at once.  I’ve gotta back off or I’ll crash and burn.’  I calmed down, dropped the pace, and asked Jordan what he was doing there – he told me Meagan (his girlfriend) was working the race for Run For Your Life and he was just hanging out and running 8 miles or so.  I was amazed at how effortless 6:30 pace was for him.

I continued on, a bit frazzled at this point.  Now every time we approached a turn, I did so with trepidation.  Is this the right way?  Jordan seemed content to hang out at about my race pace so I settled in behind him.  I’ve regularly read his blog since December and nothing in it ever indicated that he was the least bit directionally challenged.  So as long as he didn’t up the pace too much, I could follow him.  And this worked well.  There were a couple more odd spots – complete u-turns – that I almost certainly would have run past had he not been there leading the way.

All things considered, I managed to hang on relatively well.  I faded a bit on miles 5 and 6 (6:43 and 7:00 respectively), but mile 6 had a pretty significant upgrade so I’m not going to beat myself up too much.  Jordan pulled me along and yelled a few words of encouragement as I struggled up the last hill, nearing the finish.

Right about mile 6, at the last u-turn and final stretch, Laura and Ken were standing on the sidelines.  They cheered me on.  In a comic twist, they both thought Jordan was an adversary and that he and I were battling it out.  They yelled things like, ‘You’ve got him!’ and ‘He’s fading!’  I wanted to laugh but I couldn’t suck in enough oxygen.  When Laura and I talked afterwards, I asked, ‘Didn’t you see how effortlessly he was running?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, I thought you were in big trouble.  I kept waiting for him to blow past you.’  I took it as a compliment that they actually believed I was in contention with such an obvious runner.

I crossed the line right around 42:00.  I thought I had gone under 42 until I saw the official results which listed me at 42:01, still good enough for a 7th place overall finish, and an age-group victory, but a little short of the 41-something time that I was shooting for.   But if you look at my Garmin stats, you’ll find that I came through the 6.22 point in right at 41:20.  Considering that my last, and fastest master’s, 10K was 43:29, I’ll gladly take today’s time, with or without the extra detour seconds.

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3 Responses to “Going the Extra (.13) Mile”

  1. JSK Says:

    You kept it together nicely despite when you realized the volunteers sent you off course. 41 flat was certainly within reach without the detour. Good race all things considered.

  2. Anthony Says:

    Enjoyed the race recap and running the Davidson trails today.

  3. Chris Lamperski Says:

    I could tell with the teenage volunteers that this race was going to be interesting. Luckily I knew the course, so when I caught up to the teenage kid leading the race I was explaining the rest of the course for him so that he wouldn’t lead anyone else off of course.

    The kid that finished 2nd overall in the 10k went straight through that parking lot you did but he didn’t turn around, so by the time I got to mile 3 I was apparently 30 seconds behind this kid! I think the course wasn’t too bad, they just need to step up the volunteers.

    Great job out there Allen! Sorry you got steered wrong, luckily Jordan was around, congrats on the AG win.

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