Run for the Diamonds, 2015

 

The 106th edition of The Run for the Diamonds is in the books and it was another exceptional day in Berwick, PA.  It’s a 9 mile road race, and it’s a tough one, but highly rewarding.

 

A group of seven--no, not that group of seven, this one is from Ottawa--and one person from Green Valley, made the yearly 600km trek from Ottawa down the US-81 to Berwick, PA.  Dave Pedley, Joe Duvall, Jetje Antonietti, Dave Yaeger, Richard Borsos, Chris Jermyn and Henri Dorey from GV.  For most of us, this trek has become a yearly ritual made more fun by the rituals within the ritual--the sub-rituals, if you will.  Rent a van, lunch in Cortland at the Community Restaurant, check into the Patriot Inn at Mifflin, head over to kit pick-up at the Elk Lodge, reunite with the Race Director and crew as well as the other regulars at this race, including the incomparable Ed Whitlock, and this year, Rob Legge, who won this very race 40 years previously in 1975.  He was there as a support crew, but still looks like he could run a pretty solid race.  We enjoy the pre-race pasta meal, followed by a guest speaker--this year it was ultra-runner Dane Rauschenberg (he was very good)--win some draw prizes, then head over to The Scoreboard Sports Bar for some beer, French fries and a hockey game.  Bed time by 10.

 

The weather for this race, late in November, can be all over the place--my first year it was 25 degrees Celsius.  The next year, it snowed.  In 2014, which I did not do, there was eight inches of snow on the side of the road.

 

This year, Mother Nature was smiling--it was forecast to be 13 degrees and basically windless.  Sweet!

 

Since the race takes place on the US Thanksgiving, which is a Thursday, the START is at the very reasonable hour of 10:35AM.  Our wake up time is pretty leisurely.  Unfortunately, most of us are up at 6 anyway, so it’s a long time to hang around feeling unproductive before we actually leave for the race at 9:30.  This year, I went for a 20min run to see if I could get an idea of how my legs would feel later on.  This was not as motivating as I had hoped it would be--my legs felt like lead.  “Oh well,” I thought, “maybe they will feel better when the warm up is for real.”

 

We park in the same place every year, just beside the garbage bins at the YMCA.  Every year, we get that spot.  It’s uncanny...maybe it smells and we just don’t notice.

 

Everyone takes off in various directions on warm-ups, washrooms, whatever, and then meets back at the van at 10:15 before heading over to line up for the start.

 

I run out to the first mile mark, turn around and run back, arriving back at the van on time, change into race shoes, then head over to the start.  Strides, stretch, more accelerations, more stretch, then line up and wait for the START.  

 

The starter has been the same guy for many years, and takes his job seriously.  He and his crew scan the front line for anyone they don’t think should be there--only seeded runners with numbers under 100 on the front line.  101 can be on the second line, but not the front.  If they run well enough, they can be on the front line the next year.

 

I had a good race in 2007, winning a diamond ring for my efforts, and what seems like perpetually seeded number. This year, I was 24.  That good race was a while ago, and I have no illusions of grandeur, so I moved myself all the way back to the second row.

 

This race is pretty ‘old school’. They have everything that is necessary to put on a great race--1400 runners, chip timing by Chip Time (Hamilton), an announcer, the US national anthem (they used to play the Canadian anthem as well, but that seems to have fallen off the agenda), a fantastic and challenging course, great spectator support, and appropriately spaced water stations.  No banners, no speeches, no hoopla--it’s a race, not a spectacle.

 

The official time clock is the town clock, up high on the church.  At 10:32, Mr Starter, who is not a young and agile man, began the countdown, holding 3 fingers up in the air.  He walked 30m out in front of us and dropped one finger.  Timing guy went out to confirm when to drop another finger.  They stayed where they were a bit longer than the guy beside me thought they should “are they going to move?”  As was stated at the pre-race meal the night before, the starter trains all year for his yearly sprint out of the way.  “Yes, he’ll move.”

 

Seconds later, we were off, and the starter did move.

 

Ever since my pacemaker implant, I have not been a great starter in races, and this day was to be no exception--the crowd goes out hard, and I just do not seem capable of that anymore, so I have to bide my time.  Still, I passed through the first mile at just under 6min.  Pretty solid, really, except there were over 100 people in front of me.  I was going as hard as I dared, knowing what was coming--this is a hard, hard course--the first half has one huge hill in it, followed by a not as big one, followed by a crazy downhill to the halfway mark.  After a 120 degree left turn, there is a whack of rollers with a net downhill to 7 miles, then a few gentle rollers with a net uphill to 8 miles, then the last mile seems flat, but actually is net downhill for half a mile, and a net uphill for the last half mile.  On an easy run, you probably would not notice, but when you are pinned at your max, it’s hard.

 

Anyway, after the first mile, the too- fast-for-themselves starters faded back a bit and the slow starters started to find their groove.  I was not one of the slow starters--I was trying hard, I was just not going as fast as my effort justified.  Others were specifically going easy so they could hit the bottom of the big Foundryville Hill with some enthusiasm.  I was just patient.

 

One of the guys I use as a guide is multiple diamond winner Greg Cauller.  We have been close to each other every year.  I am usually behind him until later in the race, but today, I was ahead of him at 1.5 miles.  He passed me looking stronger than I felt as we started the climb up Foundryville Hill.  I lost a few spots, and gained one but I could tell people were really working hard and may have been digging a hole for themselves.  Two women went by me--one looked 14, the other looked about 25-her name was Brenda, and we would see each other again.  As we hit the top, I realized my strategy of holding back had been a good one.  Many of the people that had passed me on the tough parts had stalled.  I reeled some of them in on the second step of the hill, and almost all of them on the big downhill to half way--both women included.  Greg was almost out of sight, though.  He is good going uphill and downhill, it seems.  I guess that is why he has a handful of rings.  If not for the lime green racing top, I would not have been able to see him, but as it was, he became my beacon.  

 

I held steady on the uphills and worked the downhills, being caught by Brenda on the ups, then getting away on the subsequent downhill.  I heard her say to one person “how does he run downhill so fast?”  I did not answer, but I mused that I would gladly trade for running uphill like she did.  Eventually, due to the net downhill aspect of that part of the course, she stopped catching me back and I forgot about her as I closed on Greg.  

 

Eventually, at 7 miles, I caught him, along another two guys--one wearing sweatpants and sweat top knocking off 3:40 kilometers, and the other dressed like the rest of us wearing as little as he could get away with.  We all passed the sweatpants guy, with one of us saying aloud what we were all thinking “I can’t let a guy in sweatpants beat me”.

 

We all pushed hard and eventually got away from SPG.  Due to the net uphill aspect of this part of the course, Brenda caught me at 8 miles and slowly pulled away.  There was nothing I could do to stay with her, and try as I might, my engine was tapping out on me.  A few guys passed me in the last half mile, and Greg finished just one second behind me.  I should thank the guy that yelled his name with 100m to go.

 

I finished 5th in my category, just 35 seconds out of 2nd.  First was a long way off the front.  Two of the guys that passed me in the last mile were in my category. They finished 12 and 3 seconds in front of me.  Drag, but good for them.  They were better than I was.  I had given it everything I had on the day, leaving no regrets.

 

I turned around and ran back to cheer on the rest of the group--I saw Richard, Chris, Joe, and Jetje. She was my turnaround point, so I joined in and ran with her.  After the fact, she thanked me for running with her, but at the time, I did not get the sense she wanted me there.  Unfortunately, I missed Dave and Henri.

 

Our race photographer and logistics coordinator Dave Pedley was there for all our finishes.

 

In terms of hardware, our vanload from Ottawa finished up with Richard in 3rd, Chris in 1st, me in 5th, and good races by everyone else.

 

I believe that with some proper and specific training, I can knock off 2min next year.  That still won’t likely be enough for me to get another diamond, but maybe if I pay the other guys to stay away…

 

Anyone know a good coach?