This month marks seven years since re-entering the world of compressing midsoles and obsessive recording of distance. In seven years, I’ve been remarkably fortunate in that I can’t think of a race that was truly a train wreck. Somehow my ever-aging body has managed to pull through, and while not every race has been exemplary, most have ranked at decent or above. Or at least decent enough that I can pull some positive out of the mush.
If you’re expecting me to say that the streak is broken, the locomotive ran off the bridge, the calamity came, well, sorry to disappoint. It did not. But Sunday was at least one of the rougher days at the races, even if it did turn out very well in the end. As my darling spouse put it, “Even when you have a bad day, you have a good day.”
The good bad day came at Stu’s 30K (no, that rhyme was not intentional), gloriously only a few towns away considering the previous two weeks’ successive Cape Cod expeditions. Though this was only my second time running Stu’s, it feels like an old friend, since it passes through West Boylston, my old home stomping grounds of the 80’s, on its circumnavigation of Wachusett Reservoir. Miles four through nine and a half were once my daily commute; I could probably run them with my eyes closed. And it’s good to have good feelings about this course, since it helps you forget the fact that it’s otherwise diabolically nasty, almost all hills, with the worst as the finale.
Like the hills on this course, our bodies tend to peak and fade. Two weeks earlier, clearly on a peak, I’d run off with abandon to Martha’s Vineyard, nailing a personal best pace for the long race category. The following week brought another, a hard personal-best-pace segment at Hyannis that put an exclamation point on February. But by race day at Stu’s, the gloss was fading. Sometimes you just know, though this time I only suspected. I’d figure it out for certain about seven miles later.
Call it reckless disrespect, but popping in eighteen-plus really didn’t concern me. I targeted hitting my mostly-flat-course Vineyard pace on the hills at Stu’s. And there was fire in my legs at the start. For fun, I led it for a quarter mile, not showing off, just feeling comfortable. A fast first mile was no concern; I’d done it on the Vineyard, yah, whatever. I dialed it back a notch into the first big climb, linking up with a buddy for a while, then enjoyed the ride down the backside to the lake, up again through the center of the old home town, and headed south toward Boylston alone.
And then, rather quickly, the dial spun from Cruise to Fried.
When this hit, I was in fifth place. How I finished in thirteenth, I’m still not entirely sure. It seemed like it should’ve been about twenty-fifth. The first notch down to sixth came rapidly, followed by, irony of ironies, none other than my rival EJ, alias Bad Dawg, who arrived perfectly timed as we came upon my Ace Support Team who aptly record our fourth meeting, this day clearly his.
Just past the halfway point the course pulls an odd sort of u-turn, offering to all the great relief of yet another hill conquered, but for me the dismay of learning that I wouldn’t be losing spots by ones and twos. Instead I was treated to the view of what looked like a massive chase pack. Ignoring for the moment the absurdity of being followed by the chase pack, it was an ominous realization. Screaming down the hill at mile ten, they swarmed, and twenty-fifth place or worse seemed a certainty. Yet the onslaught stopped around fifteen, and I bought a few back, laboring every stride.
Final parting random bit: How cool is it to be handed number 69, which you can (and of course I did) wear upside-down?