OrthoCarolina Classic 10K III

Buried somewhere in the many Merriam Webster definitions for the word streak, you’ll find one that reads, “a consecutive series”.  In road running parlance, “a streak” refers to having run a race every year that it’s been in existence.  I have “a streak” going in exactly one race, the OrthoCarolina Classic 10K.

2010 OrthoCarolina 10K. That’s me in the middle, turning to my right to explain to Derrick how the starter didn’t give the official start yet. He said, “I will give the instructions. They will be, ‘Get ready, get set, go…’ when everyone took off.  (Oh, and if you look 3 from the right,  you’ll see a racewalker that should be disqualified as both feet are clearly in the air, running.)

2011 OrthoCarolina 10K – I’m on the 2nd row. You can catch a peek of my mostly bald head just behind Aaron’s (2nd from the left on the front row) completely bald one.

Two years in a row, this race had destroyed me.  Both years, I struggled mightily and I vowed not to put myself through that torture again this year.  But I did want to keep the streak alive.  And this one has personal meaning for me – OrthoCarolina was the place where I had my knee surgery back in ’04.  Without those guys, I wouldn’t be doing any running at all.

Things serendipitously fell into place for me to run it again this year.  First, I couldn’t make Hood to Coast.  Then, this week was a down one on the marathon plan, meaning I only had one workout/hard run, so it was easy to just substitute a race for a workout without much of a disturbance to training.  Friday, I shot over to OrthoCarolina and registered.  The streak was alive.

Saturday morning, I rolled back into the Ortho parking deck.  I procrastinated a little later than usual since I was much better prepared than I normally am. I knew exactly where I was going, where to park, I was already registered, and my bib was already attached to my shorts – it was even relatively straight, unheard of for me – normally, the bib is crazily askew.  The temperature was in the low 60’s and the sun was shining, a picture perfect morning.  For once in my running life, things seemed to be going well.

I spotted Ken in the parking lot and stopped to chat for a few minutes.  It was great to see him back at a race after having had heart surgery only a few months earlier.  He looked as good as ever and we had a pleasant chat before he needed to head to the start of the 5K and I needed to start warming up.

I ran a little warm-up on the finish straightaway, remembering how mightily I had struggled along this stretch in the final stage of last year’s race.  But now I was eerily calm, a pretty unusual state for me on race morning.  I ran by Matt Jaskot and called out, “Hey Matt, you running this?”  He probably thought I was stupid since he was wearing his Charlotte Running Club singlet and racing shorts, but I’ve made assumptions and been wrong before, so I was just making sure.  He smiled, waved, and responded, “Hey Allen.  Yeah.”

First hitch to race morning – Laura and I, warming up, approached the corner of Randolph and Caswell, the exact spot where the race had started a year ago, and there wasn’t a runner in sight, this with about 5 minutes until start time.  I didn’t panic – we calmly turned around and headed back toward OrthoCarolina and moments later I saw the crowd gathering.

I settled in towards the front, next to Matt.  Both of us looked around and saw none of the usual suspects, the typical contenders to win – no Aaron, no Paul, no John Compton, etc.  I saw quite a few familiar faces (Jeremy Gray, Elisa Moreno,etc.) but none of those guys that you typically would expect to challenge for the overall win.  So Matt leaned over to me and whispered, “Am I gonna have to run this thing alone?”  I had seen John Fillette earlier and thought he might be in Matt’s wheelhouse so I answered, “John Fillette’s here somewhere” but he was nowhere to be seen and we were set to start any second.

Anna Farris, also lined up in front, asked me what I was planning to run and I answered, “Well, I ran 42:53 last year.  I just want to beat that.  So 42:52.  Hoping to go about 6:45 pace.”  Anna turned to a girl next to her and said, “There ya go.  Just run with Allen.”  The girl, who I later found out was Anna’s sister, Emily, asked me, “You’re going to run 6:45 pace?”  to which I responded, “I’d like to, but let me warn you, I’m sometimes pretty bad at pacing.  I’m liable to go 6:20 pace one minute and 7:15 the next.  That’s kinda my M.O.”  “Maybe I’ll just run on my own”, she said.

A grumpy cop yelled at us all to stay to the right of the yellow line as the opposite lane was open to traffic.  I’m pretty sure this was the same grumpy cop who yelled at the race director to hurry up and start the race last year.  But I’ll try not to complain too much as he showed up early on a Saturday morning so we could race – I’d probably be a little grumpy too.  Or a lot.

Finally, the starter yelled, “Get ready.  Set.  Go!”  And we were off.

Each of the last two years, I went out too fast as the start cranks downhill on Randolph/4th.  This year, with the new start, we actually had to climb a little – I was amazed that they somehow managed to add yet another climb to this already brutally uphill course – but it did help me remain a little more in control.  Anna’s sister shot past me and I calmly let her go.  Be cool – WWFD?  (What would Fonzie do?)

We hit the downhill stretch and I snuck a peek at my watch to make sure I was remaining within myself – 6:35ish – perfect.  Just be calm and enjoy the descent – you’ll be climbing soon enough and things won’t be so easy.

Moments later, we started climbing Hawthorne.  This was the point in the race the last 2 years where I pushed too hard and paid for it the rest of the race.  This year, I relaxed.  Some young and thin kid (looking at the results, I think he’s 23-year-old James Ryan, Jr.) passed me and, very uncharacteristically, I let him go.  Now playing the role of Allen Strickland will be James Ryan, Jr. – by the time we reached the top of the hill, he had come back to me and was huffing and puffing.  I casually passed him back, exactly like Bob Heck had done to me in the same spot last year.  I would not see young Mr. Ryan again.

Having successfully navigated the first big hurdle, I locked into pace, right on goal around 6:45ish, slower uphill and faster down.  Soon, I was in no man’s land with Emily too far ahead to chase and those behind seemingly too far back to worry about.

Bob rolled up on his bike and yelled encouragement, “Looking good, Allen!  Nice and steady!”  He was awesome and I worked a little harder than I probably would have otherwise.  At one point he told me, “I think you have the Masters lead.  Closest looking 40-something guy is at least 150 meters back.”  And that’s when the competitive juices kicked in.

Now I started racing, pulling out the good ol’ cross-country tactics.  When I rounded a turn or crested a hill, I surged, hoping to break the will of anybody, especially any masters, behind that had the intent of catching me.  And I felt good, so very unlike the prior 2 years.

Mile 3, 6:39.  4, 6:45.  5, 6:47.  I would steal peeks behind me and I never saw anyone close.  Bob spurred me on, “Push through here, there’s a downhill where you can recover just ahead!  Looking good, way to run steady!”  And so forth.  I started getting cocky – Masters win in the bag.

And then it happened.  With less than a mile to go, some guy slipped past me.  Where the hell did he come from?  He must have been tracking me, reeling me in, for a while.  We had to climb the last three quarters of a mile and I finally handed the conductor my ticket to get on the pain train.  Permission to step aboard?  Granted.  Now things started to hurt.  But it was a good hurt, a “I can conquer this” kind of hurt, unlike the “My body is officially done and I just wanna lie down and die” hurt of the past 2 years.

This guy, a fit looking Asian man, made a strong move to pass me, on the inside no less.  He looked pretty young, I was guessing low-30’s and I was just about to let him go, when I spotted something: There were tiny specks of gray in his otherwise jet-black hair.  Shit – he just might be over 40.

He was accelerating so I did too.  I was trying to keep in touch but his lead grew.  5 meters.  Ten.  Fifteen.  Dammit, Allen, time to man up.  Go with him.

We had less than a half of a mile to go and this guy kept speeding up, ostensibly trying to shake me.  I struggled to stay in contact.  Bob, quietly said to me, “Go get him.  Go.  Kick.”  But I knew I didn’t have enough left to kick that far.  I had a little something, deep down, but not enough to make it to the end.  All I could do was try to stay in contact, until we got close enough where I could sustain something until the tape.

Results would later reveal my adversary to be Han Zhang.  Han kept dropping the pace.  I grimaced to hang on.  I slowly closed the gap, which by the time we passed the 6 mile mark, was about 10 meters.  I gritted my teeth and sped up.  With about 200 meters to go, Han had me by about 5 meters and he was ever accelerating.  Bob said to me, “Unleash it”.  And I did.

On the sprint-effort-meter, I hit about 98% –  I held back two in case Han proved to be faster than I originally thought.  I blew past him and he countered.  I countered his counter, finding another gear, using one of my last two percent.  Now playing Mo Farrah will be Allen Strickland.  Han, you can be Galen Rupp.

I out kicked him, barely.  And luckily for me, not for Han, this was a gun time only race, no timing mat at the start, or he would have beaten me on chip time, since I was lined up at the very front.  So no need to seek chip times, Scott, there are none.  😉

When the results were posted, I perused them.  I finished seventh overall in 42:19.  Han Zhang, 40 years old, finished eighth.  Did you catch that?  Han Zhang, FORTY YEARS OLD.  I was so happy that I hadn’t let him go.  I was officially the Masters winner, although my victory was tainted somewhat when I discovered that the third place overall finisher was 40-year-old Ping Hu, a teammate of Han Zhang’s.  They wore identical blue singlets with a team name that I can’t quite recall – Force something?  My masters friends, keep an eye out for these guys lest they beat you out of your masters awards.

Afterward, I fought back puke for about half an hour.  I found a cool-down pace that I could sustain without vomiting – I felt like anything faster, or slower, would result in upchucking.  So Laura and I walked around until I felt good enough to drink beer – the OrthoClassic now featured Big Boss beer, free, and I was happy about it.  Let the games begin.

This race has really stepped it up – I’m surprised more people don’t run it (maybe the hills scare them off?)  Great SWAG – water bottles, shoe bags, Smoothie King, a Velcro wrist wallet to carry stuff during runs, etc.  And cash prizes for the winners.

Over beers, I chatted with the overall winner, none other than Matt Jaskot, who did end up basically running alone – it turned out that John, feeling under the weather, switched to the 5K.  But Matt told me a story that is simply too good not to share.

Moments before the race, Mother Nature suddenly urged Matt to, um, take care of some business.  Spying the long lines at the port-a-johns, Matt, a mechanical engineer, did the math and realized he did not have time to, um, take care of business prior to the start.  So he headed to a nearby dumpster, wherein he found a Bojangles box, in which he left a, um, deposit.  Luckily, the Bojangles box still had the receipt attached which Matt utilized to, um, finish the paper work.  I did mention that he’s a mechanical engineer, right?

But the best part of this story is that Matt once had to do this exact same thing before another race (I believe it was the Dowd half marathon).  Which he also won.  So if you’re ever making a wager on a road race, and you see Matt Jaskot squatting over a cardboard box, quick, put your money on him.

If you happen to find yourself about to race this man, and you see him squatting over a box, you’ve already lost.

Just another of the many bizarre stories you’ll find along Allen’s Road to Boston.

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4 Responses to “OrthoCarolina Classic 10K III”

  1. Boise Runner (@RunInBoise) Says:

    I love all your race recaps.

  2. Jinbo Lu Says:

    Hi Allen, nice recap. Han Zhang and Ping Hu’s team is called Flying Foxes and we will run the BRR next week. I am one of the oldest foxes on the team, same age as you, smoked for 28 years and quit for 7 months, started to run about 13 months ago, finished 10K with 55’38”. Thanks to Ping, Han, and you, I got the third place of our age group.
    Without Ping getting to the 3rd place overall or Han being a half yard slower, you wouldn’t have won the master, I would have been the 4th place of the age group. Han did take the credit after he saw the results.

    • Jinbo Lu Says:

      Just realized even my wife finished faster than 55’38”. I finished it with 50’38” – my first 10K race.
      Will I ever be able to beat Allen in any race? Probably not, unless I can drop another 30LB and get to 150ish.

  3. jayloh Says:

    agreed.
    The details make all the difference. Awesome results, too! Congrats.

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