It was a beautiful cool morning in Lenoir, NC. I registered, received my XXL t-shirt (either that or a youth M) and took off with Goliath for a little warm up. After another, more formal warm up, and a quick look at the course's initial miles, I returned to get my flats and singlet donned. I stepped to the start, became utterly confused as to the course directions and prepared to get out well. As the "go" sounded the jostling began, the cheers from onlookers spattered onto our ears and thoughts of what was to come filled our heads.
Two races were taking place; one was a 5k and one a 10k. As we made our way down the first 1/2 mile a small group of runners (me and a few high school runners) settled in together. The pace seemed a little fast, but last year at this race I was left behind without the ability to bridge the initial gap. That was a 5k and so I could have been more patient but it did not cost at all, really just helped me open up the lungs and the legs.
At the bottom of the first hill the 5k course split from the 10k course. The bibs for each race were identical and so at this point we learned who was racing which. I turned right and everybody else turned left. I was alone and it was quiet and peaceful along the small creek. I settled in, peaked back to see nobody was close and continued on... not knowing the actual course.
About 1.5 miles in, a turnaround sign was posted which in retrospect was obvious. However, not seeing a course marshall here, and mistaking the sign for something else, and not knowing that we were to loop back so soon all contributed to me meandering through a sizable parking lot for 90 seconds or more while the rest of the race caught up and passed me. Finally one man hollered to me to turn and I was back on course soon enough. I dropped a 3k paced half mile in and was soon back in the lead. Now however, the gap was much less comfortable.
So I pushed and pushed this entire run. The body of the race was flat with many turns. I felt my lead growing slightly over miles 4 and 5 and then I settled back a bit to prepare for the final climb. This is the same hill as the Leprechaun Leap finale. My last two times at this hill I was stride for stride with kids... first a 16 year old in 2008 and this past March a 12 year old. On this day I had a 15 year old behind me, by a couple of minutes and so was a little more relaxed running the final climb. As I reached the top I saw my wonderfully beautiful wife and the big Goliath (aka G-man) cheering me on! I petted Goliath's head as I passed and completed the course in an official time of *35:36.
My first victory was a 10k in 2003 where the 'real' winner made an unexplained bad turn with a half a mile to go. He was so far ahead that I could not correct him, no way for him to hear me. I understand as well that course navigation is up to each of us. Fortunately my mistake was made early on so I had time to correct it. In fact it led to a better, more consistent effort than I would have most likely had otherwise.
Now on to the Grandfather Marathon next Saturday. My focus will be honed this week. Mentally I am not there at this point. Physically the body is rested, yet well trained. The pace work is paying off as I could feel in the 10k... the more relaxed pace of the marathon should feel sustainable and comfortable for the body of the run. My hope is that I am able to run with a pack at the front of the run and somewhere around 20 miles or so the race will begin. At that point the deciding factors will be many. I hope I have addressed enough of them to feel satisfied with my run over the final stretch. No matter the result, the day should be something to remember, right up there with Chicago as 10,000 Highland Games participants greet the finishers on the cinder track at McRae Meadows.