Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Over the weekend a friend of mine affectionately referred to me as “a man of the people.”  Now, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot of truth to that, but I would say there is some truth to that, which is what brings me to tonight’s post.  Today, a colleague of mine walked by my office and we talked for a minute or two about fantasy football before he said to me, “when are you going to post again?”  Immediately I realized that I have been a little lackadaisical in keeping up with my commitment to one post per week.  So I responded to him that I would be posting and it would be a good one.  Perhaps I’m tainted but I did have a good post that was in my mind on Sunday evening.  I just haven’t gotten around to putting it together.  Until now…

This past Sunday I ran in the Ocean City, Maryland Jingle Bell Run 5k through the Winterfest of Lights display.  After a successful Bay Bridge Run in early November I went to the race (which has an evening start time just before dark) with high expectations.  One thing I was certain of was that I would best my time that I did in this race last year (22:45).  How much faster would be the question to be answered.

The day of the run came and my expectations were tempered a bit as I was dealing with some sour stomach issues and a slight headache.  But I had run in worse conditions so Becky and I made our way to Ocean City for one of our favorite runs of the year.  Despite a bit better weather than we had a year ago (48 degrees and no wind) when there were high winds and very chilly temperatures it appeared to me that the number of participants was down.  Always good for me.  Even though I compete with myself, when I see an opportunity to finish very high in the overall standings, the competitive juices kick in and I want to be as close to the front as possible (more on that later).

The race course is a unique one as it begins just outside of the North Side Park on 125th Street.  Within the first 100 yards we make a left and go into the park and run through the park as darkness is just beginning to engulf the horizon.  Immediately I realize there is an opportunity to finish high in the standings and the normal amount of “teenagers” takes off in front of me (I estimated about 4 or 5), with one clearly high school age who will win the race going away.  As we round the first turn in the park a gentleman who I estimated might be in my age group (40-49) passes me and settles in about 10 feet in front of me.  It is also around this time that I realize that my stomach is causing me more issues than I had anticipated.  I have an overwhelming feeling of being bloated and I have a very dry and sour taste in my mouth that seems to be coming from deep in my chest and stomach.  It is early but I reach a very real moment of truth.  I instantly want to draw back and figure even a slow time will keep me high in the finish ranks, but I also know from experience that only the top finisher in each age group receives an award.  I finished 11th overall last year, but 2nd in my age group and went home empty handed.  My competitive spirit is still firing, and I decide that I’m going to ignore my stomach and do my best to hang onto this older gentleman as long as I can.  I’m not positive he is in his 40’s, but I’m fairly sure.

After looping the park for the first time (we have to re-enter the park and run it again when we return) and exiting to the Montego Bay area shopping center we hit mile 1 and my trusty Runmeter app alerts me that I’ve done the first mile in 6:30.  That’s a good time and I’m encouraged because I did it with a stomach that was less than ideal.  Although I’m still feeling “icky” I’ve put it out of my head and focused on this mystery guy in front of me.  I’ve kept him within striking distance between 10-15 feet ahead of me.  My plan is to trail him and stay as close as I can until somewhere in the final mile.  I recall thinking as we headed down Ocean Drive toward the turnaround point that I was stalking this guy.

As we approached the turnaround point, which is roughly 1.5 miles into the race, we are able to see who is in front.  No surprise, the young track star is first, but somehow in the park or through the parking lot we have passed the other young kids and I hadn’t noticed.  As we get to within 50 feet of the turnaround cone I realize that there is one additional younger runner, then my 40’s counterpart and then me.  We are halfway through and I am running 4th.

I’m not sure if it was a mental thing of being half done or if it was the fact that we had turned around and were now running in the opposite direction of the rest of the field who were coming at us, but I trimmed the 15 feet or so distance between us down to about 4 feet and settled in on his heels.  I didn’t feel as though I was putting out much effort and decided that was good.  I was staying within range of 3rd place overall, possibly first in my age group and conserving energy for the end.  Just near the Montego Bay Shopping Center parking lot on the return trip into the park we hit mile 2 and Runmeter and Siri announce to me that I’ve slowed, but completed the second mile in 7:04.  That made sense to me because again, I felt like my effort had waned slightly.

I’m not sure why but I decided that I would pass my friend just before we re-entered the park.  I felt like it was a little early to do it, but went with it.  I regretted it almost immediately as I stayed in front of him for about five seconds and as we hit the fence line re-entering North Park he re-passed me.  Once again doubt entered my mind and I wondered if I would have enough left to overtake this guy and worse, would my stomach hold out?  As these thoughts raced through my mind I noticed that my buddy, who had just passed me, looked a little slower.  Perhaps it was the energy it took him to re-take the lead from me.  Perhaps he was just getting gassed.  Either way, I knew we were roughly 3/4 mile from the finish and I decided that it would be now.  As we made the first turn in the park I went by him and in my mind I remarked, “leave no doubt.”  I didn’t want him to think he had a chance, and if he was indeed tiring from the energy it took him to re-lap me I wanted to force him to expend that energy again.  Even though I didn’t feel the greatest I knew my wind was fine, and my body was holding out fairly well.  Capitalizing on my marathon fitness once again.

For 1/4 mile or so I could hear his footfalls behind me, but they seemed to be fading further and further behind me.  And as I made the final turn before the exit I didn’t hear his footsteps anymore.  It was here that I decided to turn on the gas and go for as fast a time as I could muster.  I knew I was having a good race, and although I wasn’t monitoring my overall time I sensed that it was good.  After exiting the park there is a final right hand turn that would afford the opportunity to see behind me and surprisingly I didn’t see him.  Maybe it was too dark.  Maybe he was so far back he hadn’t reached that point yet.  Or maybe he had closed ground and was right on my heels.  That last thought forced a final push out of me for the last 40 yards and I crossed the final 1.1 mile in a time of 6:42 and an overall time of 20:47.  Good enough for 3rd place overall and a victory in the 40-49 age group.

As it turns out, that gentleman was in my age group and finished 20 seconds behind me in 21:07.  Although I don’t know him and never met him, we did exchange pleasantries just after the finish when he came up to me and said, “hey man, good final push” and I thanked him and told him “good race.”

The lesson?  Nobody can punish you like you can.  Kind of like the message in my book.  The mind is stronger than we think it is and we can overcome just about anything if we can find a way to control it and not let it control you.

Run on…

Jingle Bell Run 1

Pre race selfie. The necklaces are glow sticks provided by race organizers, OC Tri Running Co

Jingle Bell Run 3

Pre race from race photographer

Post Race: age group winner!

Post Race: age group winner!

Picking up my award.  Wasn't feeling the greatest!

Picking up my award. Wasn’t feeling the greatest!