Three months ago I wasn't even aware that this race was out here. Heck, I assumed 'Masters' races began at age 40. Also from experience of previous USATF events I have come across, my non US citizen status has precluded my being able to enter. However, coach emailed me and told me that the USATF Masters track championships were being held less than a mile from his house, that over 30 was the Masters age requirement on the track and non US citizens could compete as 'guests'. I was in!
Originally we were contemplating doing the 5k/10k double, with the 5k on Thursday and 10k on Saturday. However I had just run a decent 5k on the track and knowing that the weather for this July meet was not likely to be conducive to fast running I figured what was the point in running a slow 5k and then having to come back for the 10k two days later with sore legs.
So the 10k it was. I had never raced more than 5k on the track so I was going into the unknown. We set up my training plan and for the last couple of months this race has been my focus. Obviously I've jumped into loads of races in the mean time but the end goal was always this race.
I was pretty happy with how training had gone. The heat had had a big impact on some of my workouts and longer runs but in the last couple of weeks of the schedule I'd gained confidence with a new 4 mile PR and was feeling pretty good about everything heading into the race.
We headed up to Ohio on Wednesday and arrived in Berea (where the meet was being held) on Thursday after a quick pitstop in Marietta. The first thing I noticed was the ridiculous humidity. A storm had just passed through and I literally felt wet as soon as I got out of the car. Tim had just won his age group in the 5k and considering the dew point was in the 80s which apparently is 'rainforest', his time in the 15:40s was nothing short of outstanding! I was hoping the dew point would drop before Saturday!
Thursday and Friday we just hung out with the Budics. Tim won another race on the Friday (3k steeple- he is attempting to pull off the hatrick with the 1500m later today) and I just did a couple of short runs each day, turning the legs over but keeping them fresh for Saturday.
Saturday morning dawned and, as forecast, the weather was somewhat less humid than Thursday, but the sun was out and you could tell it was going to be a hot one! I warmed up with Salisbury running legend Bob Marchinko who had also come up to race and we discussed race strategy. Knowing that the race was going to be pretty painful in the heat we decided we would work together as much as possible and in Bob's words "try and beat the rest of the field up"!
We were called to the track and 31 of us toed the line. Lisa and the kids had stationed themselves in the shade down the backstretch and Bob had family and friends positioned on the homestretch so we had plenty of support. A sprinkler had been set up to provide water over our bodies each lap and there was a water station at the 250m mark. The temperature was in the 80s and rising and the sun was beating down relentlessly.
Originally the goal had been to attack my 10k (road) PR set years back in England of 32:30 but with the weather as it was, the goal was now more simple, just win the race!
The gun went off and I tried to get out of trouble as soon as possible and settle into a nice early rhythm. With 31 runners on the track the first couple of laps were likely to be quite hairy. Soon a lead group of 5 of us developed, with Bob at the forefront, the guy who had finished runner up to Tim in the steeple and two other guys from California who we had been told to look out for. Tim was at the 200m mark calling out splits and we were going along pretty comfortably splitting 80s.
I knew this was 33:20 pace and figured that sort of time would probably be good enough to win in the conditions so I decide to settle at the back of this group and just sit in while we were churning out 80 second laps. This was the pattern for the first mile or so before the first move of the race was made. Bob suddenly sprung out of our group and dropped a 2:32 800 to establish a 20 yard gap on the field.
I was surprised by this and my immediate reaction was just to stay in the group and hope Bob came back later. My negative side was worried that he was feeling good and was just going to run away with it though!
The four of us carried on splitting 80s and Tim was telling me each lap just to stay right where I was and be patient- there were still over 4 miles to go! Gradually our group started dwindling as the pace became a bit too hot to handle for a couple of the guys. I was still feeling comfortable and decided this was the time to start pushing the pace along a little. I broke out of the group and now it was Bob about 20 yards up ahead, followed by myself and then the rest of the field now strung out behind. I went through 5k in about 16:44 and the race was now well and truly on.
I was feeling pretty decent still, although I was very warm at this point! each lap I would grab a cup of water and douse it over my body, taking the occasional sip, but soon my singlet and shorts were drenched and I didn't know if it was worth adding more and more weight or keeping as cool as possible! Bob was now running 81s and myself 79/80s. If I could stay patient and Bob didn't get a second wind I would be able to reel him in within a few laps.
With about two miles to go I was eventually up to Bob's shoulder. As I passed him we exchanged a brief couple of words and decided to work together the next few laps. We traded laps for about a mile and then just as I was expecting Bob to come through and take lap 20 he wasn't there as I pulled to the side so I just carried on regardless. The move had been ade for me and now it was just a question of whether I would be able to hold on to the finish.
The stadium announcer exclaimed that I had taken the lead and I could hear the girls screaming excitedly on the backstretch. I was suffering now but trying to plough on, just a mile to go. I was now on autopilot but still hitting 80 second splits and I mustered up enough energy to close out the race with my fastest mile split. Bob followed just 6 seconds behind to win his age group and complete a notable one-two for the Charlotte Running Club at a national championships! We were thirty seconds ahead of the next guys.
As soon as I finished I didn't get much chance to reflect and congratulate the other racers coming in as I was whisked off for random drug testing! Needless to say after putting my body through the ringer for over 33 minutes the old bladder was not ready to cooperate! I downed three Gatorades and five bottles of water and waited patiently for the body to do its stuff and let me get out of there. After over two hours (!!) of waiting around, eventually I was able to do my business and they let me go. I jogged back to the hotel where the girls had been waiting for me patiently, grabbed as much food as I could find in the room and then headed out to the pool for the afternoon for some welcome recovery in the cool water. Needless to say, I was going backwards and forwards to the bathroom for the rest of the day!
So for the next year I can call myself USATF 10k Masters track champion. That's pretty cool I think!
Definitely taking a couple of down weeks now to let the body recover and
recharge the batteries for my Fall goals- hold on to my lead in the Grand Prix series, Blue Ridge Relay and Thunder Road Half Marathon on November 12th!