Saturday, August 28, 2010

Greek Fest 5k and Other Misadventures

AM: 3 mile w/u + strides
Target: 5k race @17:00 or faster
Actual: 17:04 (5:16, 5:37, 5:30)
Total: 6+ miles

The morning started as most race mornings do, with an early wakeup, a cup of coffee and some last-minute preparations. Jordan and I headed over to the Greek Orthodox Church around 6:30 with plenty of time to score a good parking spot, snag our race chips and wait around for our friends to arrive. I warmed up nice and easy with Paul, Billy, Brian and a few others and was r
elieved to note that my foot didn't hurt at all. Though it's been getting better the entire week, this was the first day when I can honestly say it felt completely normal from step one. In hindsight, that makes what transpired late in the race even more perplexing.

Back to the race start, just before 7:30 we were all lined up and ready to go. I was situated on the far left side of the median next to middle school phenom Alana Hadley and not far from a large group of CRCers. I knew that my main competition in the race would be none other than my good friend Pezz, who rarely races in Charlotte but is fresh off a 16:51 on the roads a few weeks prior. I also knew she planned to go out pretty fast, between 5:10 and 5:15, and since I doubted I could handle that pace I decided to wait and see if she would come back later in the race.

Early in the race, flanked by Cory (26) and Chad (white CRC jersey)

Sure enough, from the gun she shot out in front. For that matter, so did everyone else. The first mile is flat with some gradual downhills, so the terrain combined with the typical early race adrenaline meant that the pace was hot from the gun. I wasn't feeling all that great, but since Pezz was already a good distance ahead I figured that I must be running fairly conservatively. I was wrong. I passed through the first mile marker with the clock reading 5:16, a pace faster than I typically went out on the track this spring. Oops. Simultaneously my thoughts alternated between panic (at how quick the pace was moving), dread (at how badly it was going to hurt when I died later in the race) and wonderment (at how fast Pezz must've split the first mile--I found out later it was an eye-popping 5:02). Sure enough, a few paces later I spotted my trusty cheerleader Caitlin, who quietly informed me that Pezz had gone out too fast. (I know that she said that in hopes of encouraging me, but I also know that two seconds later she turned to our friend AJ and told him that I had also gone out too fast. Both of these were true statements.)

Predictably, I slowly started to implode during the next mile. This section contains the only moderate uphill of the entire race, and my legs were growing heavier by the second. I knew I was running much slower, but I was pretty surprised and discouraged to split 5:37 at the marker. (Side note: post-race several people mentioned that their Garmins were off from the race clock by as much as 6 seconds during the first mile, meaning that the first two splits on the course might have been incorrect. On the one hand I'm inclined to believe this because 5:37 is awfully slow, but on the other hand that means that I would've had to split the first mile closer to 5:10, which is even more improbable. Who knows.)

Running with my trusty companion Caitlin late in the race

Fortunately for me, this was the exact moment when Caitlin jumped in to help keep me company through the final mile. I'd told her before the race that I wanted to finish in the low 5:20s, but it was simply not to be. The last mile was utterly torturous, and I felt frustrated and embarrassed that Caitlin was having to drag me along at a clip that would not even break 5:30. I tried to refocus, but the first reckless mile had already sealed my fate. I was counting the seconds until our final turn back onto East Blvd., but at that point there were still 600 seemingly endless meters left until the finish. Caitlin was practically ordering me to pick up the pace but I just couldn't do it. I knew that sub-17 was tantalizingly close, but I just didn't think I could push any harder than I already was. Caitlin pulled off at the three-mile marker entreating me to pass Spada--yes, Spada was having his best race of the season and had passed me a mile or so earlier in the race, though he was coming back to me now--and I resolved to put my head down and fight the final remaining meters to the finish.

And then, inexplicably, it happened. Simply put, somewhere in those last 50 meters I felt something pop in my foot. I don't know any other way to describe it other than it felt like a pop. In that exact moment I felt no pain--too much adrenaline surging, not to mention I think my quota of pain was already maxed out in other areas of my body--but I knew instantly that the situation was not good. That is the last part of the race I remember. One second I was catching Spada, and after that I don't remember anything until 15 minutes later when I was stretched out on the table at Dr. Greenapple's tent. I'm not trying to be dramatic, nor am I claiming that I blacked out or anything like that, but I am saying that as soon as my foot popped I lost all interest in the race. I didn't even know if I had passed Spada or if I'd broken 17 minutes, though I learned later that I'd failed on both counts. All I knew was that I had seen the upcoming weeks and months of training and racing slip away in the span of a single step. I was devastated.

To wallow in my own self-pity, however, is to neglect acknowledging all the standout performances in today's race. Jordan won, though not quite in the time he was looking for. Paul, Billy, Chad, Danielle, Alice, Ben, Stan, my new friend Dean and many others ran season bests. And Pezz, with the performance of the day, notched an incredible 16:35, just as fast as she's run on the track this entire year. It looks like the Greek Fest course is worth every bit of the hype bestowed upon it. Though it may not have ended up being the best experience for me, I can guarantee that I will crack the 17-minute barrier (and, hopefully, not crack my foot) this time next year.


Anonymous said...

Yikes. Very sad to read about your injury. You still put forth a great effort for the 3.07 miles prior to that awful "pop" in your foot. Thanks for the shout-out, it is a privilege to be noted in your blog.
: )
- Stan