This past weekend was the ROC City Classic invitational, a terrific track meet hosted by Nazareth college, and subsequently our very own Rob Castor, who is a coach there. Two of Roadkill Racing’s very own toed the line on the tartan: Josh Perks and myself, both entered in the 5000m.
Josh had entered with a 16:30 seed time, although anyone who knows him and realizes what his training has been like lately will understand that this was a conservative time for him, as he has been beasting tempo fartleks in preparation for the Flower City Half Marathon on April 29th. I entered with a 16:15 seed time, coming off from last week’s road 5K, where I tied my PR of 16:24 for the third time. My workouts have been going ok, but I was only running 16:15 or so for 5x 1000m in workouts, so I figured anything under 16:20 would be great.
One thing Josh and I realized and discussed before the race is that while neither of us get really anxious before a road race, track races are a whole different affair. I think the whole atmosphere, waiting around while everyone else races, watching the stellar performances and the seeing the agony of defeat, really prepares one to endure and suffer through his own race. I can’t speak for Josh, but I know that I was very nervous before the race, especially since I have not raced on the track in many years, and can’t remember the last time I actually raced well on the track.
Josh and I set off on a warmup, and then returned to go through the familiar pre-race routines of switching socks and shoes (Josh was sporting some very spiffy socks with “speed holes” in the top; he scoffed at my typical “heavy” socks with all their excess weight and material), and tried to keep my body from dumping too much pre-race adrenaline. After a few strides, we all lined up and the moment of truth was here.
The gun went off and we all jumped ahead. There were 14 of us in just one heat, so there was some jostling around, especially in the first few laps. I knew I could very easily get out way too fast, especially with several people seeded sub-16, so I settled into the back of a large pack that formed and tried not to get to over-zealous. I was hoping to run around 77-78 seconds per lap (5:08-5:12 pace) with Ryan taking my splits, but even with a deliberate effort to start easy, I still split a 74-second first lap, and Josh was a second or two ahead of me. We stayed like this, both of us in the pack, Josh slightly ahead, through the 1600m in 5:04-5:05. Despite being faster than my high school mile PR, this felt incredibly easy, and I momentarily allowed myself the thought that sub-16 might be possible.
During the second mile, the pack thinned out a bit, and I kept up with the “leaders.” The real race leader had gapped us in the first lap, so I was really hanging onto the runners trying for second place. I passed Josh on a turn, and shortly thereafter, two guys broke away from the pack. I went with them, although the pace was starting to get to me. I had been running 77s-78s for a while now, and my legs were complaining. I came through 3200m around 10:15, a nice PR itself, but my mind was too fuzzy at this point to determine if I was still on pace for sub-16:00 or not. I just tried to keep the pace as best I could, but I could tell from Ryan’s yelling that I was slowing down. With 600m to go, he screamed at me to pick it up if I wanted to break 16, but I didn’t believe him that I was that close, and my legs felt like sacks of concrete. I tried to push, but to no avail. I was at my limit.
Chanse was also there, taking Josh’s splits, and with 200m left, yelled at me that I had 30 seconds to break 16 minutes. Without even thinking, I shifted into top gear and sprinted the life out of me. I knew that I had finished workouts with sub-30 200s, so I thought that I had a chance. I have literally never sprinted as hard as I did at the end of this race. Even as exhausted as I was, the pure yearning desire to break 16 lifted me up onto my toes, and I ran my face off that last half lap. As I teetered around in a state of oxygen deprivation, Ryan and Chanse ran over, and Josh finished just scant seconds behind me. Both Ryan and Chanse estimated I had run somewhere around 16-flat, with Ryan’s unofficial time at 15:59. However, since the results would take a while to compile, we had to wait to find out the final result.
We cooled down for a few miles, and when we returned, the results were posted. Officially, I had run 16:00.48, a 24-second PR, but a measly half-second off my goal for the season. Josh had finished in 16:17, a very respectable time for someone training for a race longer than this by 10 miles. While I was outraged at my inability to run a half-second faster, I can not be disappointed with a 24-second PR, and I honestly did not expect to run that fast at all this year, especially not at my first track meet. I still have a month of training left, and I am hoping I can break that elusive 16-minute barrier once and for all!