Sunday, September 19, 2010

CVS Downtown 5k Weekend, Part 1

At long last, the CVS Downtown 5k (and US 5k Championships) has finally arrived. Though I was understandably bummed about not being able to compete this morning, the circumstances afforded me the unusual (for me) opportunity to spectate; more specifically, to spectate an elite race in which Jordan was participating. This was his third time to compete in the Downtown 5k but my first time to attend, and I was looking forward to experiencing the buzz surrounding an event of this magnitude.

The trip started early on Saturday morning with our flight to PVD. Jordan and I were on the same flight with Pezz, who was also competing. She ran 17:02 for around 20th place at this event last year but was hoping to improve upon both her place and her finish this time around. Our northbound flight was unev
entful, and before we knew it we were hitching a ride on the race shuttle to the elite athletes' hotel downtown. After spending a few hours enjoying the familiar downtown sights we cabbed it over to our weekend accomodations at the home of our friend Kim Smith. Kim was not only gracious enough to offer us a place to stay for the weekend, but she didn't even mind us making ourselves at home on Saturday while she was out of town preparing to beat up on some girls at the Philly Half-Marathon. Her friend and fellow Providence grad Richie Yeates and his girlfriend were also taking advantage of Chez Kim for the night, which further solidifies Kim's position as the most gracious hostess ever.

Checking out the action before the start of the race

Race morning dawned sunny and clear and surprisingly warm. The warmth would become even more noticeable as race time approached considering that the gun would not be fired until after 11am. I can't remember the last time I've run or witnessed a 5k road race that started this late. So late, in fact, that we had time to wake up and drink coffee while watching the online feed of the Philly Half-Marathon in its entirety before even thinking about departing for our own race. (Naturally, the Philly coverage was spotty at best and only followed the male runners, which meant we didn't get to see a step of Kim's race. We found out later that she totally rocked it and finished 5th despite being in the middle of marathon training, and made up over 10 seconds over the last 5k to almost overtake Shalane Flanagan.)

Jordan, Jeff and the legendary Johnny G

Just before 10am we hopped in the car with Richie and Corrine and made our way back into downtown. I wasn't quite sure what to do with myself for the seemingly endless hour until the race start, but fortunately I passed the time meeting new people (like Jordan's former college coach and mentor John Gregorek) and catching up with old (my friend Jennie from Atlanta and the one and only Jeffrey "G-Unit" Gaudette, both spectating the race). The final minutes before the race were spent strategizing how best to maximize our time on the course, as we wanted to see the start and the finish and as many mile markers as possible in between. Fortunately Jeff was quite familiar with the course and was ready with sound instructions. I must admit I was a bit apprehensive because I realized that in order to truly watch the race unfold, I would have to run--and not slowly--from point to point. I haven't run a step in three weeks and didn't plan for my tester jog to take place today, but I didn't have much choice. Sometimes you have to man up on game day, even if you have a concussion. (How's that for an metaphor, Jilane?)

At 11:15 sharp the race commenced, and before we knew it a veritable throng of athletes were descending down the first hill. I have no doubt that all of them were relishing the downhill, just as I know they were already dreading the return trip up a few miles later. As the athletes rounded the first corner, the spectating contingent (consisting mostly of myself, Jennie, Corinne, Jeff, and the Brown and Providence College xc teams) made a mad dash to the mile marker. My first steps out of the gate felt a bit awkward and clunky for sure, but to my relief there was no pain, just mild discomfort. At this point I'll take it. We reached the mile marker just in time to see the lead group come through under 4:30. Jordan was off the back of this group but not far behind in 4:35, the fastest he's gone out in a 5k all year. I yelled at him that he looked great and immediately began praying that he wouldn't die an agonizing death late in the race. The lead female, newly crowned 5k American record holder Molly Huddle, came through right around five minutes. This also made me happy, because I'd told Jordan beforehand that if Molly beat him he most definitely was not allowed to come home. (And, to be honest, it wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility. Molly just ran 14:44 on the track a few weeks ago, which is identical to Jordan's 5k PR on the road. Yikes.)

The lead pack mid-race. Jordan is somewhere in the vicinity.

As soon as the elites passed by we took off again to the second mile marker, then had a few minutes to hurry up and wait for the runners to approach. Jordan split right around five minutes for this mile, still well off the lead pack but well ahead of Molly (whew). It was cool to see all the Brown team members, most of whom don't even know Jordan because they're much younger than him, yelling his name and cheering him on. I'm sure it gave him a much-needed boost at the point when he was starting to fatigue. I only caught a brief glimpse of Pezz as she sped by, but it looked as though she was holding her own and putting together a phenomenal race. I shouted her name over my shoulder before darting off again.

View of the uphill finish

Onward toward the finish line! I'm a bit embarrassed to say I was breathing way more heavily than anyone should after six total minutes of running, but at least my foot wasn't cracking in half. It's all about the small victories. We reached the bottom of the hill just in time to see the leaders rounding the final bend several strides ahead of the chase pack. Unfortunately, the home stretch consisted entirely of the aforementioned uphill, which meant that only the strongest person would win out. We found out later that the strongest man would be Robert Cheseret, who powered up the final incline to take his first national title as a US citizen. I barely noticed who else passed except to count their positions, straining my neck every few seconds to see if I could spot the familiar Karhu/Craft singlet. Jordan rounded the final bend in 24th position, looking strong but definitely laboring. Jeff clocked his three-mile split at just over 14:25, which meant he would have to hustle to crack 15 minutes and best his performance from last year.

In the end, Jordan would miss this marker by one elusive se
cond, but it barely mattered. He managed to pull off his fastest race of the season despite a few crazy weeks of traveling and sluggish legs. And, more importantly, he had the chance to run on his home turf with his friends and coach cheering him on. Though I would be lying if I denied feeling a few pangs of longing as I stood by on the sidelines, for the most part I was just grateful to be outside enjoying the gorgeous early autumn day and watching a fantastic race. Speaking of fantastic races, I couldn't be prouder to share that Pezz finished in fifth place and set a new road PR of 16:29. She has struggled with her share of injuries during her short running career and deserves to finally reap the benefits of her patience and persistence.

And that, my friends, is my recap of the CVS Downtown 5k. And now that the serious business is out of the way, it's time to make the most of our remaining hours in Providence. Post-race celebration details to foll


Mad said...

Cool. Looks like you guys had so much fun. Sorry I couldn't make it.

Stephen Spada said...

Great recap Meagan! Would you believe I ran an 8 miler with John G. 3 years ago in Dallas at a work conference. Can't wait to have you back on the roads. I got your other half this morning...

Jilane said...

Wow. Just, wow.