Saturday, December 17, 2011

Celtic Solstice 5 Miler...Lived up to Expectations

This race may very well have erased any and all disappointment I've had lately with my failed marathon attempts.  It was certainly a way to end off the year on a high note.  Now, I've got to tell this story while it's still fresh, because it is epic.

The 5 mile race started right around 8:30AM.  There was no wind, temperatures were right around 40 degrees, and it was nearly an overcast.  Overall, great weather for a late December race.  I went into this race with no thoughts whatsoever as to what pace I was going to run, or what time I was shooting for.  My plan was basically just to show up and run hard.  However, now that I run with a lot of the fast guys that show up to these races, it was really easy to key off of everyone around me to settle into a pace that made sense.  I just made sure to go out a tad bit slower than usual though, since this course was mostly uphill for the first half, and mostly downhill for the second.

As it turns out, I apparently hit the pacing nearly perfectly.  As the race started, a rather large group of maybe 15-20 people went out hard.  I just stayed right where I needed to be as we went up, and up, and up.  The dust started to settle rather quickly and the field thinned out to look more like I expected.  I was roughly 10th or 11th at this point, and close enough to have a front seat for the battle for 1/2/3 (a race I am not fast enough to be a part of).  We passed the 1 mile mark in what was allegedly 5:09, but it was definitely short.  Our actual 1 mile split was closer to 5:35, based on the omnipresent "Garmin beep" a little bit after that mile marker.

I felt like I was surrounded by Howard County Striders, with about 3 of them in my vicinity.  There were other runners too that I run with relatively regularly now, perhaps allies amongst the sea of pain.  After we passed mile 1 and went up around and down the Mansion House Loop, the individual races for particular places were starting to materialize.

A few guys that were ahead pulled away for good, a few guys further back dropped back.  That left essentially me and 3 other runners to battle it out the rest of the way for 7th-11th.  We continued uphill again, made a turnaround, and started back down towards the finish, nearly 3 miles into the race.  I never bothered to take any split times, just glances at my watch and the overall time elapsed.

I had realized that the time didn't really matter at that point.  This one was all about racing the guys next to me.  It was clear that no one wanted to give in and we were going to have to run each other to death to sort this mess out.  The course continued forward, made a sharp right, and dumped us off onto the loop around the lake in Druid Hill Park.  The loop is about 1.5 miles, but it felt like it was 50 miles.

I had been neck and neck with a Strider pretty much since the turnaround.  Every time I went even with him, he pulled just a step ahead of me.  Again, and again.  I was content to hang tight, but he kept trying to shake me.  Eventually, by mile 4, another Strider whom I passed earlier came barreling forward like a train.  He sounded like he was ready to collapse, but his stride suggested otherwise.

That was the push I needed as we left the other Strider in the dust.  This new guy also continuously tried to put distance on me.  I never let him get more than two strides ahead, though it was starting to hurt a lot to do so.  I knew the last half mile was downhill, and I was pretty satisfied to hang tight and just wait for the right moment.  It can be hard to explain when I "know" it's time to go, but I knew it wasn't quite yet.

We left the lake and made the final turn off for the ~0.3-0.4 mile downhill to the finish.  I heard someone behind me urge me on, a runner whom I've done a couple of Monday afternoon "not-so-7-minute-paced" runs with.  The Strider with me was also starting to put a gap on me, and I could feel my tank running nearly on empty.

It was time.  If I waited just a second or two longer, the gap would have become too much.  I turned it on and used the downhill to just open up whatever I had left.  The Strider never stood a chance as we screamed down the hill.  My ally caught up with me, and continued to urge me forward, making sure I didn't slack off on the flat right before the finish.

We crossed side-by-side in 27:01.  I then proceeded to dry heave 3 or 4 times and nearly puke my brains out.  I managed to hold it in, and certainly couldn't have asked for a better performance out of myself!

I ended up 7th/8th overall and 3rd in my age group.  I got a little Christmas Tree ornament for my efforts, which I think is probably the hardest earned award I've received in a while.  My time was 1 minute and 16 seconds faster than last year and good for a 5:24 pace.

I felt really really fresh for the first time in about 2 months, and am really feeling ready to implement my new plan and get going on a strong 2012.  I also heard my choice of attire, bright neon yellow singlet, and socks, black shorts and gloves with neon yellow accents, and completely off color orange and blue shoes was completely obnoxious.  It definitely is, but it is also awesome!


  1. Congratulations! I like how you focused on just the simple art of racing-challenging the others and taking it in hard.

    I didn't know you were in Brooks ID-very cool.

  2. Well...not quite. I managed to get a hold of the stuff so I could support Brooks, regardless of whether I'm in their program. Plus, the neon yellow singlet is right up my alley.