“On your mark! Get set! You there! Get behind the line!” Oops I guess this isn’t tennis where anywhere on the line is in bounds. “Go!”
35 runners make their way across the grassy field on the first of two laps around Delaware Park in Buffalo. This race includes only the 40-49 age group. A few days ago I tried running at a fast pace for a mile and had all kinds of problems, so I’ve already decided not to push too hard at the start of this race. If I’m going to hold it together for 3.1 miles, my best shot is to ease into it. It also helps that TVO ran the 50-59 race a few hours ago and warned me that the course looks simple and flat, but is hillier and rougher than it looks.
A few familiar fast runners take off ahead while I settle into a group of 5 runners. There is a stiff headwind, so I just try to relax and let the group pull me along for the first lap. I had plenty of time during the drive to Buffalo to scrutinize the competition, and I’m pretty sure I’m right in the pack of runners I need to stick with. Someone from the sidelines yells “go Tim” to the guy right in front of me. Sure enough, Tim is one of the dudes I need to watch out for. We both ran a one mile race this year, and he was one second faster.
The course winds its way awkwardly past soccer fields, baseball diamonds, trees, and park benches. Two sacks of dried concrete sit in the center of the marked course. Because I’m in a tight group, avoidance is not an option so I leap over the sacks.
As I run, my eyes are nearly blinded by the sunlight reflecting off the giant metal spikes on all my competitors’ shoes surrounding me. The flags marking the course occasionally take us off the grass and onto a bike path surfaced with black quartz. The black rocks look like indian warheads, terrifying in bare feet, but during a warmup run I learned that it feels surprisingly soft as the loose stone presses into the sandy trail. When we run on this ugly surface I feel compelled to run extra fast rather than expose any weakness. It’s a little to soon, but once I start running a little faster I keep it up and chase down the next small group of runners.
By the second lap I’m gaining confidence that I can hold onto this pace. Meanwhile some of the runners ahead are blowing up, I can only imagine that they are making the same discoveries that TVO warned me about. Rather than stay too comfortable I keep scooting ahead catching several runners, with one competitor staying nearby. Nearing the end of the second lap I stay in front of him, but in the last two hundred feet he gives a strong kick and puts some good distance between us. Me, I am super psyched to have held it together for this race and don’t try to outkick him and end up finishing the race in the same second as him, albeit several feet behind.
It was another fun race, I think it was my first race this year where I felt reasonably good before, during, and after. I'm hopeful that this is the beginning of some decent training and a good running year next year!