As much as I would have liked to be running a race in a town immortalized by the Doobies, a quick glance at the lyrics of that classic rock song let me know that the Brothers Doobie were actually jamming out about a place somewhere in Texas (In the San Antonio area I believe) and not Rowan County, North Carolina.
Going into this week, the last in my first meso-cycle of the new Mark Hadley training plan, I knew I was either going to start my summer season in China Grove for the Main Street Challenge on Friday night, or in Hendersonville with the Civitan Sun 5K Saturday morning. Ultimately, it was Paul Mainwaring and the rave reviews of China Grove that convinced me to give it a try. With just one month of post-Boston marathon training under my belt, this race was to act as a fitness test. I really wanted to do well, but I also wanted to use it as a gauge of where I was and what kinks needed to be worked out as I settle in to the 5 and 10K distance for the next couple of months.
I think the last time I raced at night was in college....maybe even high school, and that was on an indoor track. Well, not counting the Blue Ridge Relay. It's tough to plan your day around a 9pm race. What do you eat? Can you sneak a nap in the middle of a work day?
At the last minute, Jordan decided to join Paul and me for our 38 mile road trip from Charlotte to China Grove. We took off at 6:45 in hopes of a 7:30 arrival. We arrived right on time and got a money parking spot between the moonbounces and the porta-johns. I hadn't registered yet, so I signed up while Paul claimed a door prize. The race packet was definitely nice. It contained a dri-fit shirt and a coupon for Chick-Fil-A which I would later learn was only usable at a Chick-Fil-A up there. Oh well.
Around 8:10, Paul, Jordan and I set out to run the course. We found it to be pretty flat with some very modest inclines. It's an out and back, up main street. On the way back, just before town, the fire department had parked one of its trucks and it was spraying water from above. This was needed on a night where it was near 90 even after the sun went down and a pea-soup-kind of humid.
At the line, I did some strides, jumped up and down a few times, then a man in a paper Krispy Kreme hat said a prayer. Shortly following the "amen", the horn went off. I knew enough to stay away from Jordan and Ryan Woods. They were in a different race. But, I wanted to keep Paul and Chris in my sights. I figured the three of us were the race for third. Chris left me about 400-600 meters in to run with Jordan and Ryan a bit. I chose not to go, hoping he would come back to me later in the race. Paul was a few seconds back when I went through the mile in 5:04 (that's what the Garmin said, but the guy on the side of the course calling out splits said '5:00'). Paul caught up to me shortly after the mile marker and we ran side-by-side to the turn around. We both believe we lost a couple of seconds by taking the turn around so gingerly. Both of us slowed down to go around the barrel that marked the midway point.
As we went through the turnaround, I noticed Chris had pulled up from the lead two and we were catching him quickly. I figured he wasn't finished and was glad he went with us when we got to him. For a half-mile or so, it was the three of us running as a pack. I decided to make a move and Chris came with me. For the next half-mile we ran together. I'd put in a little surge and he'd come right with me. With about 800 to go, I put in one final surge and opened up a nice gap between the two of us. I was hurting, but thought I could maintain. I hit the firetruck with the water, and remembered it being MUCH CLOSER to the finish. Did that firetruck move? I was still composed though, and could see the line. I guess this is where I got complacent because all of the sudden, Chris was right on me again and I had nothing left. As we approached the line, he outkicked me and I lost my breath. I started to cough like I haven't coughed in a race since some track races back in the day.
I finished in 16:07, but probably lost three seconds trying to breathe as I came through the chute. Chris, Paul and I both had our hands on our knees for a good two minutes following the finish. We may have underestimated the toll the conditions were going to take.
The time is a new PR, and encouraging as I plot out the rest of the running season. I know I have a lot more workouts and development left. I know I need to work on finishing (and that has been the case since I started running), and I could still use a little work on pacing. According to the Garmin, the splits were 5:04, 5:14, 5:14 and :35 for the last 0.1. Looking at times from last year's race, I think the humidity slowed the average pace down a bit. Ryan ran 14:58 to win in 2009, and Jordan won it this year in 15:05. The guy who was fourth last year ran 15:58 and I ran 16:07. Of course, I can't say I could run 15:58. I have never run that time. This performance made me optimistic that a sub-16 is possible though.
Gutsy performances out there by Jordan, who is in awesome shape, Chris who had my number at the end and Paul who left everything out on the course. Also, a nod to Alice Rogers who set a new PR in 18:01, finishing as the second overall female.
This race also gets high marks for its post-race buffet. There was cantaloupe, watermelon, legit bottles of Gatordade, Cheerwine (which I don't particularly enjoy, but is a Salisbury-area staple), cookies and Pizza Hut Pizza. Kudos to Jordan for snagging a whole box on the way out.
Next race could be Summer Breeze at Freedom Park, but the next meso-cycle ends with the Sodus Point Light House 5k at HOME!