Last weekend, I made the somewhat rash, somewhat thought out decision to race back-to-back 5Ks: the National Police Week 5K on Saturday and the Angel Kisses 5K on Sunday. There’s something liberating about going into a race having no expectations and no clear grasp on your fitness level, particularly when your diet has consisted primarily of what I can only describe as the post-marathon beer and ice cream nutrition plan. So, it was with a come-what-may attitude that I laced up and lived through the tale of two races.
National Police Week 5K
Rohan and I rounded the final turn and came into the homestretch. I felt a slight surge of adrenaline but it wasn't time, not for the real thing. Despite the easy pace of our warmup, my shoulders were already slick with sweat courtesy of the heavy humidity. Before we pulled up to a jog, I turned to Rohan and said, “Ok, in an ideal world, we turn onto 4th street like this and we’re shoulder to shoulder and alone. How do you feel about a tie?” He started laughing. “I was thinking the same thing last night! And we split the pot.” “And we split the pot,” I replied. In addition to battling for cash, the Police Week 5K also features a team competition, of which Rohan’s team (1 Life to Run) has won the past three years.
We nervously stood on the start line, sizing up the other runners around us, fingers atwitter, and stepping from foot-to-foot. When the gun went, Rohan bolted to the front followed by two other runners, and then me. I was content to sit on the shoulder of the St. Joseph tank top in front of me. Our group made two quick turns before a long straightaway that would bring us in front of the Capitol. The pace felt fast but comfortable. Rohan pulled 10 feet in front of me followed by a shorter runner in baggy shorts. “I’ll see you later,” I thought, snickering at baggy shorts.
The day before, I’d been at the eye doctor, and the conversation turned to running as it often does with me. He told me about how his son can turn a 4:50 mile, which got me thinking, “How fast can I run a mile?” As this thought crept back into my head over that first half mile, I looked down at my watch and my eyes bulged when I saw the 4:37 staring back at me. I tried to pull the pace back at that moment but when I looked at my watch again, it said 4:34.
With a more deliberate adjustment, I came through the first mile in 4:59 – the fastest mile of my life. Literally. Ever. The smirk disappeared when I realized I still had 2.1 more miles to run. “This is where I die,” I thought.
The course curved and we ran a jug handle in front of the Capitol. Baggy shorts had taken off and I really would see him later…after he’d crossed the finish line far ahead of me. I started to reel Rohan in at this point, and looked at my watch again: 4:50. “Maybe this is what 90 miles per week gets me.” Well, it didn't get me much farther.
St. Joseph tank top went by me like I was standing still. Mercifully, I reached mile 2 and saw a more reasonable 5:30. Still, I felt death coming on. I glanced over my shoulder, and it wasn't death, though, but another runner gaining ground and in a hurry. I turned my eyes down at my watch and realized I still had .75 miles left. An eternity. Lead poured into my legs. I lived the awful dream of trying desperately to move my legs but simply couldn't get away. If I could have managed to form audible words, I would have said, “I am dead in the water.” But it came out, “Gaaaack.”
The finish line finally came into view and I threw every last bit I had into it and came across the line in fourth, salvaging a 16:53. Rohan followed just eight seconds behind, though I didn't see it because my hands were locked around my knee caps.
It wasn't the finish we had imagined, but 1 Life to Run captured its fourth straight title, I found out I could run a sub-5 mile, and could still turn in a sub-17 5K.
Angel Kisses 5K
A week before Angel Kisses, my dad and I met up to preview the race’s new course. The majority of it traversed my daily running routes with the exception of a 200m jug handle .25mi from the finish. That diversion featured a steep uphill followed by an even steeper downhill that sent one hurtling toward the finish line. My dad and I agreed that should the situation arise, that short uphill would be the perfect spot to make a decisive move.
The morning dawned 10 degrees cooler than yesterday, but the zip in my legs had gone and in its place, the lingering exhaustion and memory of Saturday’s effort. I chatted with a couple runners at the start line to gauge how fast everyone might be going out. Everyone seemed to agree that they’d be around 17 minutes. “Hmm,” I thought. “This could be interesting.”
At the gun, my pre-race chatters took off in a swift pack and began a steep climb that would take us out of the neighborhood. My legs already felt tired but I ground up the hill to try and stay with the lead pack. Out of breath at the top, I thought, “You could have done that better,” but I forged on with little other choice.
The pack hung about 10 feet in front of me. My thoughts toggled back and forth from “keep contact” to “meh, another fourth place finish isn’t so bad.”
We came through the first mile in 5:17. “Much more doable,” I thought, but that 5:17 felt much harder than the 4:59 had the day before. Our pack made a left turn onto the stretch of road where I run my 400m and 800m repeats. “Slight down into slight up” I thought. I stayed on the left side of the road knowing that would give me the best tangent later in the race, while the other three drifted to the right.
All at once, the group seemed to slow and I began making up ground. One runner came back to me then completely dropped off. I used the gradual incline to reel in the other two and maintain contact. My childhood friend’s father was a course marshal and tossed me a “Good job, Brad." “Thanks, Mr. D,” I said back as casually as I could. We crossed back over the main road and came upon mile 2. I didn't bother to look at my watch. “Place not pace,” I thought, as things had indeed gotten interesting. I pulled even with the second runner as we began a steeper climb. Having run it many times over, I knew the pitch down was coming. The leaden feeling in my legs began to return and I pulled back on the pace, knowing what was to come, knowing that I didn't have to burn myself out here. Even slowing, the second runner dropped off.
I fixed my eyes to the back of the orange singlet slicing his way through the 2K walkers. At the crest of the hill, I’d pulled even. His chest heaved loud gasps. I hurt, too, but hearing him breathing so hard, I knew I had a chance. On the back side of the hill, I was content to stay next to him and let him listen to my easy breathing. Volunteers started waving wildly to send us into the jug handle. “Isn't this convenient,” I thought, as my plan came together. A couple feet before the turn, I began to accelerate and cut the diagonal across the road as I came to the top of the hill. My arms powered me forward and when I reached the top, I heard only my own footsteps hitting the pavement. I gave a quick turn over my left shoulder and nearly did a double-take when I saw the empty road behind me. “Did I make the right turn,” I wondered. Momentum carried me downhill and I took one more look as I made the final turn to the finish line. Orange singlet was duking it out with runner three. I took the break off and came hurtling down the final straight, taking first place in 17:03. In that last quarter mile, I’d opened up a 16 second lead.
I tried to walk off the nausea that overcame me but had to grab my knees. Still, that bile in the back of my throat was nothing compared to the sweet taste of victory. I smiled through the deep breaths, letting the win wash over me, having avenged last year’s loss at the line, and finally adding my name to the list of this race’s winners.