After Ironman Florida, I thought my race season was over, but it appears this is not so; I took a week off, then hit the track for my weekly supply of lactic acid, only to find that my legs were in pretty good shape and I was running well.
Nancy wanted to do another race, so we went down to the Hobble Gobble in Potsdam and I ran a comfortable 35min 10k. I started to think about one more race. Knowing the US Thanksgiving was coming up, and knowing there are many, many races on Thanksgiving Thursday, I searched the net and found the 98th Run for the Diamonds in Berwick, PA. I had heard of this race for years and knew a few people from Ottawa who gave it rave reviews. One of them was Joe Duvall, so I contacted him to see if he was going and, sure enough, he was. After a few e-mails, I was committed to the race and travelling with a few others: Henry Dore and super masters Chris Jermyn, Ian Sims and Mike Day.
Travelling down was easy and we were there in no time. Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised at the temperature: 60 degrees and sunny, as opposed to the snow storm we left back in Ottawa. We went straight to registration, met the race director and a few of Joe's friends and got our kits. While we were there, Joe pointed out the reigning multiple Masters Division Champion, Greg Cauller. Even compared to the regular crowd I hang around with, he was skinny and looked like he deserved a lot of respect on the race course. We then drove the course, which was renowned for being 9 very hilly miles. To put it mildly, this promised to be quite a challenge. But then, that's why we were there.
We then checked in to the hotel and headed back to registration for the pre-race dinner. Ed Whitlock joined us, which raised the level of our table to Running God status. For those that do not know, Ed is now 76 years old and the world record holder at too many distances to name. His most impressive record is a 2:54 marathon, set last year. At 75.
Ed was a multiple winner of the over 60 category in this race, even though he was in his 70's. Last year, Chris Jermyn de-throned him to take the title, but at least kept the honor in Canadian hands.
After dinner we headed out to a bar for a beer or two and to catch the hockey game.
The next day, we woke up at the leisurely hour of 7:30 for the race that started at an even more leisurely hour of 10:30. We drank loads of coffee, ate the bagels and English muffins then hung out for a while. The weather was fantastic: 60 degrees, overcast and windless. It does not get much better.
We arrived in good time, hung out some more then started moving. The townsfolk were out in great numbers, some already drinking beer in celebration. Others were smoking big cigars.
I took mental note of the mats in front of the timing tent, just in front of the flatbed trailer they use for the announcer. There was no start/finish banner anywhere, but I ass-u-med this was the finish line.
My warm-up started at 9:40, and as I ran, I felt pretty good and became optimistic. When I got to the end of the 1300m straightaway, which is also the last 1300m, the crowds were already out in anticipation of the race. At this particular point, there was a porcelain toilet on the corner with a guy sitting down drinking a beer in the middle of the party. I think I mentioned it was before 10 AM?
I ran around feeling better and better, changed into my racing shoes and clothing and ran around some more, making sure not to stiffen up. As I warmed up, I could not help but notice all the seeded numbers and stick men and women. It was rather intimidating. I did not know anyone here. Not their strengths, or weaknesses or anything else about them. This would be as different a race as I have done in a long time.
They played the Canadian and US national anthems on the clarinet, then we lined up and the gun went off, right on time.
I and 1100 other runners went screaming down the arrow straight first 1300m, hung a right turn and crossed the first mile marker. Doubts about my ability, both to sustain the effort and be competitive crept in early as there were a lot of people cranking out a pretty fast first mile. I did my best to put the doubts away. My first mile was just under 5:20 and I was in about 40th spot. I reassured myself that that many people could not sustain that kind of pace. Besides, I was on the pace I had envisioned, so I just did my thing.
From the first to second mile the course started to go uphill. Nothing dramatic happened but I did pass a few of the fast starters. My second mile was 20sec slower and only one person passed me, so I figured that was about right.
From mile two to four, the course really climbs a lot. The race is renowned for this hill that would best be described as a combination of Pink Lake at its steepest, but the length of Fortune. Mile three took 90 seconds longer than mile two and only one person passed me. As we approached the 5k point, I forced myself to push harder to close the gap on two guys that had been sitting 5 seconds in front of me all the way up the hill. We crossed the mat together in 18:39, which was easily the hardest 5k I had run in years. Mile four included more uphill and then a big downhill. With the leveling out of the hill, and my extra effort to close the small gap, I knocked my pace back down by a whopping 15 seconds, which I was not sure was worth the effort. The downhill portion was like racing down Pink Lake-kind of a free fall. I was passed by two people as I tried to stay in control of my momentum. One of them looked really comfortable and was gone before I knew it. The other guy looked like he was trying really hard to run fast on the downhill. I thought he was trying too hard, and doubted it was a sustainable effort on his part.
We see-sawed back and forth with each other for the next mile, roaring through the fifth mile 90 seconds faster than the previous one. He would drag me on the downhill and then drift back a bit on the uphill, then catch back up on the next downhill. I decided it was time to make catching back up very hard for him and accelerated over the next hill. He did not catch back up again.
All this time, Greg Cauller was running about 15 seconds in front of me. There was a runner just in front of him who also looked to be of a master's age. I put my head down and hammered the next downhill then up, then down and caught them both. As we approached the 6 mile mark, I waited a few seconds to assess the situation, then shifted gears and went by them hard. My legs felt surprisingly good for the effort and point in the race.
Neither guy hooked on for long and I ran by a few more guys in the next mile. I am usually the guy being passed in the latter stages of races, so I was feeling quite confident this was going to be a good day.
At seven miles, I ran by Mike Rutledge, another guy who looked to be a master. He was breathing like a freight train, but he was running well and hooked on. We had never met or raced each other before, so I knew nothing about him, other than the fact he looked to be in the hunt for first master and so was I.
I also knew that he would not let go. I pushed as hard as I dared with what I calculated was about 11 minutes to go and his breathing faded slightly into the distance. I was dropping him. And then it got louder. He was closing the gap. I pushed the level up again, going beyond what I thought was sustainable, and his breathing faded. I was dropping him. And then it got loud again. He had closed the gap a second time.
Just past the eight mile mark, he came up beside me. I thought I was done but he either stalled trying to get by or decided he could go by me at any time and was going to wait. Either way, I would not dare push any harder at that point. I was maxed out. All I could do from that distance was maintain what I was doing and hope it was too much for him.
With 1300m to go, we veered onto the final straightaway. The crowds were lined up all the way to the finish. It was show time!!
Mike was still breathing like a freight train and drifted back about 1 second. He was close enough that I could hear him breathing, but also far enough that I would know if he was coming.
I thought many times I was at my limit and that I would blow up soon, but I maintained my effort and listened intently for the freight train known as Mike. Every time he got louder, I said to myself "Do not make it easy. If he is going to get you, make him hurt to do it."
With half a mile to go, I tried again to put some distance on him. I am pretty sure that this is the exact same time he tried to close the gap I had on him, because I know I sped up, but he stayed exactly the same distance behind me.
I could see the flatbed truck the announcer was sitting on, therefore the finish line.
I could hear freight train behind me.
I saw the mats. I pushed as hard as I thought I could maintain to them.
I could hear him, still there.
And then my heart sunk. The runner in front of us ran past the mats I was gunning for. My legs almost buckled. The mats I was aiming for, the mats I was budgeting my last ounce of energy for, were not the finish line. They were for the announcer. The finish line was 40-50m further away.
I told myself "Stay up. Look strong. Do not give him any hope. Look strong."
Mike was still there, but no closer.
"Look strong. Do not give him any hope."
Finally, it was over. I had held him off. He stayed that same, agonizing second behind me for almost two miles. Wow, that was fun. We both gave it everything we had and were empty.
To me, that is what racing is all about: face the doubts, give it everything you've got and deal with the result.
I turned, shook his hand and congratulated him on a great race. We laughed. We smiled. I felt like crying because my legs hurt so much. And then we asked each other important stuff like what category the other was in. He was 39 and won his category. I had won the masters race, running away from a guy not in that category, but happy to have done it.
Chris Jermyn crossed the line minutes later, followed by Joe, Mike, Ian and then Henry.
We showered at the YMCA, hit the awards ceremony and looked at the results.
Mike was first in the 70+ division. Chris and Ian were both 3rd in their divisions. That's a lot of loot from our group of 6 Canadians.
I had won the masters division, but was not the first over 40 year old across the line. Budd Coates, 50, finished 25 seconds in front of me. I was shell shocked, which quickly gave way to thoroughly impressed and amazed. Joe listed a few his credentials, including a 2:13 marathon PB, multiple US Olympic Trials participant and writer for Runners World. Just recently, he cruised to the finish of the NYC Marathon to win the 50-54 category in 2:36. I decided I could live with being beat by a guy like that.
All in all, this was a great last race for the year. Lord knows it's been a busy one for me, and to tell you the truth, I am not sure which I like more: racing, or writing the reports.
I would sincerely like to thank the Race Director Margaret Livsey for her outstanding job, and Dr. Albert Alley of Berwick, PA for donating the diamond ring that was the prize for Masters Male.
Oh, and if anyone is wondering, my roommate Joe does not snore when he sleeps.
Thanks for reading.