Monday, June 13, 2011

We're talking 'bout the China Grove

(Yes, I am putting off writing the sappy entry about how I am leaving Charlotte. I haven’t found the words yet.)

The China Grove Main Street Challenge is one of the best local races in the Charlotte-area, and easily a top three 5K. That’s why I penciled it in as my “comeback race” when I started a new training plan in April. Of course, I got trigger happy and ran the King Tiger 5K last weekend. But this Friday night race in Rowan County would be the real return.

I met a crew of the Charlotte Running Club’s finest at the Dowd YMCA right after the 6pm news on Friday night. A caravan consisting of Lauren, Caitlin, John, Boriana, Lat , Matt and Alice made our way up I-85. When we got there, we found a money parking spot on a side street near the starting line and made the short jog over to the registration area. There, we ran into a sea of familiar faces. Pete, Theoden, Allen, Richard…it was like being at a Grand Prix race. Back at the car, we took a series of humorous photos before heading out for a three mile warm-up.

In the vein of superstition, I peed behind the same abandoned building as I chose last year. We also saw a sign outside what appeared to be a dive bar advertising “50 cent Wangs”. One might think it was a mistake, but the opposite side of the sign said the same thing. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a male strip club. But to play it safe, I didn’t go inside to check.

I had heard the horses were coming out for this one, and at the line I saw just how big the stable was. Seven or eight guys from Asheville’s stud team (Ryan Woods, Stuart Moran, etc.), a guy Brett that I thought I might be able to hang with for a bit and Bob Marchinko and Compton were both representing the CRC. As is customary at this race, there was a prayer from a local preacher/runner then the gun went off. The pack of gazelle’s shot out front and I knew I needed to resist the urge to try and hang on to them, even though I would probably only last a half-mile anyways. So, I tucked in with Brett and another guy and we took turns leading the chase pack. The pace felt brisk, but sustainable, however, that first mile is blazing fast. We hit the mile in 5:01 and I didn’t feel totally spent. I thought I was either going to have a great race or a colossal collapse.

China Grove is an out-and-back course. You turn around by circling an orange traffic barrel. I, for some reason, am scared of the barrel and always gingerly make the turn. As I did, I lost a step or two on the other two guys. Heading toward the two mile mark, they were gapping me. I hit the two mile in 10:17, proving that my early pace was apparently not one I could hold. Now, I found myself at a familiar place – alone on the race course. My Garmin indicated my pace was slipping, and my goal was to make sure it didn’t slip too far. Nearing the three mile mark, I saw Mike Beigay and Ben Hovis, both cheering and encouraging me to step it up a little bit. At one point, I had dipped down to 5:30 pace, but I brought it back to 5:25 before the mile clicked.

I crossed the line in 16:23, 11th place overall. I’m not disappointed with the time. Considering I am still building race strength, I’m happy to have cracked 16:30. I think my pacing plan needs some work and that will have to be my focus over the next couple of weeks before Boilermaker. I ran this race in 16:07 last year, but I was coming off the Boston Marathon mileage and I had stiff competition from Paul and Chris to push me a little harder. To show you how much this race has grown, in 2010, my low 16s time placed me 4th. This year, I didn’t even place in my age group! I don’t even remember the last time that happened. There were 9 guys under 16, most of them between the ages of 25-29 with impressive Division 1 college stats. So, you could say it was a pretty humbling experience.

The CRC had some strong showings. Caitlin Chrisman brought home the cash and the trophy on the women’s side with Alice in second and Boriana in 4th. John Compton was the third place finisher with an impressive time of 14:50! Leonard Hilliard got a new PR and was the second master’s finisher. I know Allen got an age group award and Lat won his age group. I am sure there are more.

Jordan Kinley would be proud. Following the precedent he set at last year’s race, I snagged an entire left over pizza for the car ride home. On a side note, let me just say that China Grove has the best post-race food. Pizzas, unlimited fresh fruit, cookies, donuts, bagels….it’s a buffet!

A memorable experience at what will likely be the last race I run here.

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