I’m not even the fastest Old Guy!
I ran the Frankfort, Illinois Half Marathon today and found myself really questioning my sanity. First of all, I am in the middle of training for Ironman Lake Placid, and I usually avoid racing any distance road race to avoid doing something stupid and end up injured. But my training plan tapered this week with the instruction to do an Olympic distance triathlon on Sunday. Seeing that it is April in Illinois, good luck finding one. So I substituted the half marathon on a Saturday to end the week.
Second, this race seems doomed weather-wise. It was 40 degrees and pouring last year (I didn’t run it last year), and this year was predicted to be more of the same. I have never not started a race that I signed up for (and paid good money), and I really didn’t like thinking that I was going to blow it off. Fortunately, the rain held off at the start and I took my spot in Corral A. I found it slightly humorous that I was seeded in the first corral of this little local race.
So the gun went off and I found myself running along the guy holding the 1:30 pace group sign, a sign basically made from a dowel rod, two paper plates, and plenty of clear tape. We chatted for a while, but I knew that I would probably be better off not trying to stay with him. We passed the first mile and he said our split was 6:51! Okay, definitely need to back off the gas a little. I mentioned to him that I was surprised the big guy in green was ahead of us, holding that sub-7 minute per mile pace, but that guy started to slowly pull away. Pacer Guy said he had to pick it up in order to stay on pace. I found this particularly funny, because he basically had no one with him to pace! Maybe he grew tired of me, I don’t know. I do know the 2 hour pacer guy came in a little late and the guy with the microphone was razzing him a little. Maybe 1:30 pacer guy didn’t want to suffer the same indignity! Pacer Guy didn’t have a bib, and wasn’t racing because I asked him. So I let both the Pacer Guy and Green Shirt Guy go and I fell into a more comfortable pace, because I knew what was coming.
After a few minutes I found myself running alone. The Pacer Guy and Green Shirt Guy were at least 100 yards ahead, and there was no one immediately behind me either. I find myself in this situation all the time and it puzzles me. I guess it is a matter of perspective, but I can either say I am the slowest of the faster group or the fastest of the slow group. Maybe mid-packer is what I truly am. But it is tough to be in the mid-pack WHEN YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE! Trivial, I guess. The loneliness of a long distance runner.
I also realized at this point of the race, I was slightly overdressed. I took off the ear wrap and gloves and could feel myself cooling down. I thought about tossing the long sleeve shirt but kept it, because I remembered during my warm up that the wind would be blowing in my face on this out and back run. Glad I kept it on.
Standing in the elite (!) Corral A, I took notice of the competition. There was the typical thin twenty year olds who look like they just finished their college running careers, the backward hat guy, a couple of girls who I could tell had “game”, the guy with some race team singlet, and another guy who clearly didn’t belong in Corral A because his number was 438 or something, and we were all wearing very low numbers. Plus, he kept asking questions about the course. We racers in Corral A never come to Corral A without knowing the course and how to attack it! SMH, dude.
But the most interesting aspect of my fellow competitors in Corral A was that many seemed to be in my age group by the look of their greying hair and fuddy-duddy race outfits. I had looked at last year’s results and figured if I had a good day, I might win an age-group award, but looking at these guys I wasn’t so sure. They had the look of confidence, and well the look of fast, old guys.
Back to the action – At about four miles into the race, we turned off the mostly flat bike trail and headed into the nature preserve. Since I live in this area, I consider this area my home turf. I know every little hill, bump, crack, twist and turn as I have run this trail nearly every run since it opened in 2001 or so. I knew what was coming, about six miles of very difficult hilly terrain. So I paced myself up the hills and flew down the other side, over and over again. At about Mile 5, a group of volunteers were passing out water so I took a cup to wash down the gel I just ate. As I was doing that, the volunteer said “You’re looking good!” I replied, “Lady, I’m not even the fastest old guy!”
And that was true. I hadn’t caught any of the old dudes that had started with me in the race. I had a good idea of where I stood, about 14th overall, when I had the opportunity to count the lead out pack earlier in the race. At the halfway point, I had only been passed by two runners – the two girls with game – and that was it. I also saw Race Team Singlet Guy walking on the side of the trail after getting through Round 1 of the hills. As I hit the turn-around and started back into the fury of hills, I could see that he dropped out. Yes! I made up a position! But I could also see how far the Fast Old Guys were ahead of me. Way ahead of me.
Back into the hills and that’s when the rest of the racers got a view of the awesomeness of the Corral A starters! Out and backs are interesting, as you get to see the lead runners and how far ahead of you they are. I got a little depressed when I saw the leaders already heading back while I still had a half mile to the turn-around. I wonder if the back of the pack runners get that too. They and I shouldn’t, we’re awesome too!
The trail got pretty crowded and I was no longer able to take the straightest line and run the tangents. But I got plenty of “great job’s!” and I returned the complement. I have been running since the late 1980’s, and truthfully I think this is the biggest running boom that I have seen in a long time. Glad to see so many others taking up the sport, especially the longer distance stuff. The lone runner that I actually know personally, Holly, saw me and we exchanged hello’s!
At Mile 9 I caught Green Shirt Guy, and as we continued leaving the hills behind us, he didn’t seem to want to keep up. But I didn’t get to enjoy passing him for too long, because within a mile I got passed by White Shirt Guy. I had dismissed White Shirt Guy earlier because he didn’t look the part of my other Corral A competitors. We were wearing real running shorts and looking every bit the part of running legends, and this guy had a pair of baggy shorts pulled over some tights. And he was wearing earphones! I got to say, I see people wearing head and earphones in races all the time. I never take them seriously because I think its a crutch for them, like they can’t do such a boring activity without music! And if they can’t run without music, my thinking is that they probably aren’t doing intervals and hill repeats either. But maybe I misjudged White Shirt Guy and his earphones.
White Shirt Guy passed me quickly as I was trying to down my second and last gel, but he was panting pretty hard and I felt like I was floating along. My immediate thought was that he is kicking way too early. I grabbed a water from another volunteer and said something that I would quickly regret: “That guy sounds like he’s suffering.” He wasn’t.
We turned on to the path and briefly headed west until a quick turn around and then it’s a 5K or so straight back to the finish. It was then when I saw the pack starting to form behind me, and the lead that White Shirt Guy was building. I figured I better keep pace with White Shirt Guy, and focus on the race ahead instead of what was behind.
The wind was now blowing straight into our faces. It wasn’t that strong, but it was cold and it made me duck my head a little. It had also started to sprinkle just a little. As I crossed Wolf Road one of the ESDA volunteers shouted my name. It was a kid that I had coached and had on my baseball team when he was about 11 or 12. I tell you that really gave me a pick-up! I actually had a little adrenaline flow through me from that. Glad I made an impression on the kid. And I am thankful that he was impressed.
I kept the pace until Mile 11 and started to draw White Shirt Guy in slowly. I could see the big bridge that goes over Route 45 ahead at about 12.5 miles and knew I would pace up it and try to fly down it. I made up some space on him and it was then that I knew I probably had him. As we came upon the 13 Mile marker, he took a quick look over his left shoulder, but I don’t think he saw me as I was running far right. I made my move and passed him quickly. I don’t think he even heard me, because he didn’t make any sort of effort to match my effort. Another reason not to wear earphones in a race! I heard him struggling and finally give an exasperated sigh, and I kicked to the finish line with what I had left. He kicked too damn early. And he wore earphones. I don’t get beat by runners wearing earphones.
I walked to the car and grabbed my sweatshirt and sweatpants to keep warm and then I walked back to the finish and watched quite a few runners finish. The race directors Jim and Bev own the little running store near the finish line. My son worked for them last summer. I spoke with Jim and he reiterated how great of a kid he was. Even though he has told me that once before, I still beam with pride. (Note to my son – use Jim as a reference on your resume!)
Bev walked up and had the current list of finishers and she let me have a look. There it was: 12th place overall. 4th in the 50-54 age group. I finished in the top twelve and didn’t even medal.
I’m not even the fastest Old Guy.