It was supposed to be one of the coolest days of the week on Thursday when Alice and I ran the Charger classic. The forecast called for a high of 83. I knew we were headed far beyond that when I drove by a bank at 10 am and the sign read 87 degrees. By the time 4 O’clock rolled around, it was in the nineties. The humidity was high and there were few clouds in the sky to block the unrelenting sun.
I waited until the girls’ race started at 4:00 and warmed up on the track while keeping an eye out for Alice. She came through the first lap of campus and the 1 mile mark running 4th place in 7:15. There were three girls in a lead pack and Alice was leading a chase pack of 4 about 20 yards behind. Based on her performance in time trials at earlier practices, I figured a top 5 finish here would pretty much guarantee her a spot on the Varsity squad for the opening meet.
I did a few more strides and waited for the girls to come around again. By the time they did, the lead pack had been shattered by an 8th grader who had a healthy lead. I counted the girls as they emerged from behind a hedgerow and onto the track. Alice was now running in 7th place, but the two girls in front of her were reachable. I encouraged her to finish strong, but I could tell she was in some pretty serious distress at that point. When she finally finished in 25:25, she had fallen to 9th. She said she had some dry heaves in the third mile and had to walk for a while.
We won’t find out the teams officially until Monday, but I suspect she’ll be junior varsity. That’ll be good for her I think. She’ll have the chance to run near the front of races and will contribute points to her team. If she starts putting up some really low times, she might even climb up to varsity by the end of the season. She’s still young, though so it’s really no big deal. I know she’s disappointed, though.
Richie showed up just before the girls’ race started wearing knee length basketball shorts in school colors that he dug out of his son’s drawer (his son graduated from the same school last year and he has another in pre-K there too).
“I guess you’re not running,” I remarked. He shrugged.
As I was warming up during the girls’ race, we was jogging around the outside of the track, giving the girls encouragement the whole way. When the boys lined up, he lined up with us in the back of the pack.
The whistle blows and we’re off. Aware of a typical fast start with high school runners, I hold back as much as I can. Knowing that Richie is in much better shape than me, I’m just waiting for him to pass me. I would be surprised at how long this would take. I settle in to a fairly comfortable pace and pass a few runners as they adjust their paces from the initial sprint. I’ve still got a good view of the race leaders not too far ahead and my legs feel pretty light. We make a weird right turn into some tress and up a very steep berm. It takes about five or six steps to climb and would be more of a wall if it was any steeper. It’s a small wrinkle in an otherwise flat course.
We emerge from the trees as we accelerate down the berm and run along a sidewalk at the front of campus. As we turn back toward the rear of campus, I can hear a familiar voice coming from behind.
“No parents out in front, boys. No parents out in front”.
Shortly after, Richie passes me. He’s running easily and almost nonchalantly picking off runners one by one. We’re about 1200 m into the race. I maintain my pace and watch him work his way to the front of the race. We exit the south campus road and round a small pond behind the baseball field. A quick right turn through a break in a hedgeroe and we emerge back on the track. 200 m later, I’ve completed 1 mile in 6:06.
At this point, some adjustments occur. I pass two more runners on the track and place myself right behind a third as we exit the track through the middle division parking lot and back toward the trees. I follow him through the grass, and over the berm. He rounds the outside of a stop sign and I go inside as that’s where the arrow painted on the ground points. He glances at me and I back off. I kind of recall one of the race leaders pointing out that we should go outside of the sign during the first lap. I tuck in behind him again as sort of a penalty.
As we cruise across the front of the campus, he’s slowing significantly. I pass him now with a pretty hard acceleration of about 20 yards. It puts some distance between us. I’m not feeling very good myself, though. We continue down around the pond and back onto the track. I know he’s not far behind because his teammates are cheering for him.
“You can catch him!” they yell. I realize I’m the villain as I’m running down the back stretch of the track. I pass the 2 mile mark in 13:00. Wow! I’ve slowed a lot in that last mile. It sure doesn’t feel like it, though. I’m pondering all of these things and I’m afraid this 6th grader behind me is going to catch me. I hate being “re-caught”. It says that the acceleration I’ve made previously was tactically a bad move and now I’m hurting. I’ve developed a small stitch on my right side. It’s very uncomfortable, but I’ve worked through worse. I stop to walk anyway. I’ve told myself this kid is going to catch me and in the moment of discomfort, I want a plausible excuse. The stitch is it. It takes him almost ten seconds to pass me. My lead had been so much larger than I thought it was. I could have just backed off my pace a little, recovered and been perfectly fine.
I’m surprised that’s it’s another 30 seconds before another runner passes. Finally a kid runs by and offers some encouragement.
“Hey, keep going. You can make it.”
I chuckle at my own stupidity and pull myself into a jog and then back into stride. Feeling bad about it, I pass the kid who offered the encouragement almost immediately. I’m back over the berm and in full stride. The rest of the way seems so short now. My mantra during so many training runs has always been “You can always make it one more mile”. In this case, I literally had one more mile and I mentally choked – amazing how much pressure I allowed an 11 year old to put on me.
I reach the track with no chance to catch the guy in front of me and a comfortable lead on the kid behind. My pace picks up a little and I finish in 20:37 – just over a minute slow on my PR. Richie claps as I cross the finish. He keeps jogging around the track and offering encouragement to everyone who’s finishing. He effectively runs about 4 200 m intervals in the process of jogging back, then pacing them all to the finish line. Many think he’s weird but most appreciate the encouragement.
I find the kid who offered encouragement to me and thank him. Then I find the 6th grader who I let into my head and congratulate him on a nice race. Finally, I find Alice and tell her I had to take a walk break in the third mile. Daddy is human too.
I later found out that Richie in just over 19 minutes. He pulled up on the track and let the high schooler win. He claims he could have passed him at 2.5 miles. I’m inclined to believe him. I know he’s in damned good shape and certainly capable of a sub 18 performance. I told him I took a one minute walk break and received some much deserved criticism (and almost 9 miles worth the next morning). I think it ranks up there with the stupidest things I’ve done in a race.
I might run another 5K or 10K before the Race for the Taste. I just want to run something without putting any pressure on myself to get the bad taste of my mental collapse out of my mouth.