14 October 2012

Clean Sweep

This one has been a long time coming. Forty-nine months to the day, to be exact. Not that I started counting back on the 13th of September, 2008, when last I recorded a 5K Personal Best. But having come within seconds of that now nearly antique mark several times, most recently this past June, this quest had long passed the threshold of frustrating. I don’t consider myself a terribly effective short-distance racer to begin with, and knowing that speed is the first thing to go as you age, this was the runner’s equivalent of a biological time bomb.

Why, you ask, would it matter? After all, it’s a given that at some point, each PR previously set will become my last PR ever set. I certainly won’t be cracking these times when I’m eighty. I could die a satisfied runner with the numbers already in the books, right?

Yes, except for this one item. It was a matter of pride. You see, my local club, the Highland City Striders, maintains a list of club bests, and before yesterday, I owned all the masters marks (for that matter, all of the marks – period – since nobody in other divisions had bettered them)…except one: that pesky 5K. And just because I had all the rest, I wanted that one, too.

For that one, the record belonged to a club-mate who’d recorded a performance from years before I knew him, indeed several years before what we often think of the “modern incarnation” of our club, which has gone through several phases of life stretching several decades (and since we have utterly no knowledge of top performances notched in those earlier generations, this is an entirely artificial accounting, but…), his in fact being the only record on the books not from the “modern era”. That mattered not. What mattered was that his performance was precisely ten seconds faster than the mark I hit back in September of 2008. And when I came within ten seconds at age forty-five, I looked forward to clipping off those seconds and snagging that spot in the books in short order. Instead, a month later, that famed foot tendon snapped, and it was a long time before I was even coming close again, years that by sheer aging shaved speed potential.

Cut to the present day, and reality was that the months were ticking away to when I’d miss that shot. Age Fifty looms in under six months, and while I can snag the “Best Overall” time any time I’m capable from here to eternity, my window to own the age forty to forty-nine masters records was closing. And winter, with unpredictable racing conditions, also nears. It was pretty much now or never.

Never will never come, because Saturday was now. It’s done. The barrier is broken, the forty-nine-month Personal Best drought broken at age forty-nine, and with enough to spare to snag that club masters record. And so for the time being at least, I’ve got the clean sweep: five-K, five-mile, ten-K, ten-mile, half- marathon and marathon.

I don’t kid myself into thinking that this is either important or eternal. It’s neither. Our local club is a wonderful bunch that I love to run with, but it’s not a highly competitive crowd. In contrast, I’d never touch a single record in my Greater Boston racing club, where one of my masters compatriots just aced an incredible two-thirty-six marathon. And besides, someone will come along and better these marks. After all, that’s what records are all about. But for the moment, it’s a fun achievement.

This momentous event unfolded in the hamlet of West Acton, Massachusetts, which I like to call Wacton, at their Oktoberfest 5K, a largely local affair but made interesting by two twists: an invitation from one of my Greater Boston friends, a local resident, to join the fun, and the discovery that both my neighbor and his son planned on tackling those mean streets. Said neighbor was embarking on only his second race, having pulled off the impressive feat of dropping sixty pounds in nine months, and said neighbor’s son is none other than the famed Intrepid Young Hiking Partner. These things are always more fun in gangs.

As races go, this one had some quirks, most notably that the course crossed a commuter rail line a quarter-mile from the start, which forced us to hang around till the expected train passed through – notably late. So much for timing your warm-up. And that start, when it came, was a little confused, with one-too-many commands confusing us Type-A Obsessive Compulsive folks toeing the line. I’d have to say it was the first mass-false-start I’ve ever seen at a road race, and yes, I and about fifty of my closest friends probably got a second’s jump on the actual command to Go! And another second’s jump before they managed to get the gun to fire. These things happen and matter little. What did matter is that the course was advertised as wheel-measured accurate, and my post-race checking proved it to be spot-on. That, combined with a cold, crisp, and sunny (if a bit breezy) morning, made for an ideal day to assault a forty-nine-month hunger pang.

As is often the case in local races, by a quarter-mile in we’d already pretty much fallen into our finishing order. GBTC Long Tall John ran away with it, we let some other guy come in second, followed by yours truly, Kristen who’d take the women’s title, and another GBTC teammate Kris, incognito in black but solid in performance. With no mile markers, chasing a time was challenging, especially after breaking from Kris, and later Kristen before the two-mile mark (and there was a Kyle hanging around briefly as well, so while this may have been a 5K, I was surrounded by 3Ks, which was OK) (groan). In the battle of the Ks, Kris would outkick Kristen, giving Greater Boston a pleasing one-three-four finish. And both of those guys would give me a serious shortness complex in the post-race snapshots.

The homestretch was insidiously mildly inclined with a sprinkling of headwind tossed in for spice, and featured a slight bend in an otherwise straight shot such that the finish wasn’t visible until it was too late to make up any lost time. In other words, it wasn’t even worth glancing at the watch. Just go, go, go some more, and hope, and… crossing the line the show clock read three seconds under that club record! It was done!

Officially, they actually pegged me at five seconds under that record, a full fifteen off my previous best. I might quibble about whether I deserved those last couple of seconds based on the confused start, but it mattered not, it was done. Ironic too, since when I wrote of the last time I set that PR, way back in ’08, I closed that piece with a suggestion to “lighten up, and go slice 15 seconds off your 5K.” If I’d only known it would take so long!

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