Much like the races themselves, it is with some trepidation that I attempt to make sense of it all:
The plan was ambitious but doable and it would save me from a hard choice: There are two races on the fourth of July that I like to run. One of them is a two miler through the center of our town which takes the same route as the parade that immediately follows. The other (a 5-miler) is part of a grand prix series that I have been doing the last few years and you have to do all the races. There would be two obvious drawbacks to running both: Can I actually run a 5-miler that starts at 8:15 and then get to another race, 20 miles away, that starts at 9:30, on time? The second issue is performance: 7 miles is not such a long way but one would have to expect a fall-off in performance--at least in the second race.
The problems started with the first few steps of the 5-miler. I had worn thin socks since my racing shoes are too tight with normal socks and sockless was out since I tried that in Groton and ran well but got blisters from it. In warm-up everything was fine but when I accelerated up to speed at the start of the race, the problem became clear. The thin socks were slippery and my feet were sliding around inside of my shoes. I had a real hard time going as fast as I wanted to because my feet would start to slide if I went above 80-90% effort.
The course is hilly and of a distance such that there is some drama. Some people can really power their way up hills while others can fly on the down hill portions. In the first mile, the runners sort themselves out: The sprinters burn-out and slow down while the people who take a while to fully hit their stride, finally come up to speed. By the end of the first mile you are with the people who will be running with you for the rest of the race. At this distance I passed an older man who was breathing heavily, I honestly thought he would keel-over and I would need to administer CPR. Also there was a woman in her 30's that I caught up with. There were others, but in general they either passed me and were never seen again or I passed them and never saw them again. The lady stayed ahead of me while the old man and I would pass and repass each other. He would pass me on the up hills and I passed him on the down. Finally, there was the giant hill. The lady was walking up it and I passed her plus the old guy on this hill. The lady passed me again on the flats and some spectators had encouraged her by telling her she was 5th among women. So I thought some drama was afoot when I heard a very feminine wheezing coming up from behind me. It turned out to be the old guy who sounded even more like he was about to die. Whatever sounds he was making, he passed me and I never caught him again. As for the lady, I finished right behind her and could have passed her right at the end, but I am not that guy.
Last year, I was third in my age/sex group so I was tempted to stay around to see if I placed this year too. On the other side of that, I was about a minute slower this time and I had places to be. I got in my car and zoomed out of there!
I will admit that I exceeded the posted limits but I made it to Drum Hill with about 5 minutes to spare. I took the time to get those infernal socks off and get my feet back into the racing shoes and then jogged to the starting line. Or rather, mob. Harvard was a petite race of around 200 runners, Chelmsford had over 2,000 official runners and lots of non-official ones as well. The first few steps toward the start reminded me of how, even though I didn't run very hard in the 5-miler, I was still not my freshest. I had already vowed that anything under 15 minutes would be fine, so I posted myself in the middle of the starting pack. It took a mile to get room to maneuver, which was about 8 minutes. I bridled at the poor pace but it gave me time to work out the kinks and start to feel like pumping it up a notch. Based on the total race time, I must have done well under 7 for the final mile and caught up to a bunch of kids I knew from the high school cross country gang.
I should be happy: I made it to both races, and ended up taking 2nd place in my age group at Harvard. Still, the times were slow: I would normally have run about one minute faster in each of the races.
39/205 overall 2/20 M5059 37:34 7:31
256/2085 overall 25/128 M5059 14:40 7:20
Added: A couple of coincidences. In the Harvard run, the other runner from Chelmsford also took second in his age division. In the Chelmsford run, a girl I know who runs with my middle daughter on the HS cross country team came in just ahead of me and she finished in the top 20% of her age group 9/45 while I also finished in the top 20% of my age group, 25/128.
Kate Walsh O'Beirne R I P
35 minutes ago