The 2018 Stockade-athon in Schenectady went very well, although it highlights aspects of my running that I haven't fully processed.
In my day-to-day living, I have a lot of raw emotion that only gets occasional releases that are carefully governed. I absolutely love competing, I love being able to simply run faster and in doing so unleash my deepest aggression. While running there are many opportunities in which the pace you run can be nice and supportive to those around you. On the other hand, pace can be wielded as a weapon with which to crush your opponents. Well you know what? While racing, more often than not my instinct is to crush kill and destroy. At some point I gave myself carte blanche to let that beast out of it's cage during races. I'm not sure there is any safer or more appropriate place to let that out. And it's a bizarre dynamic, to try to crush others by crushing ones self more. The purpose? A race is a vision. I can visualize the event, with competitors I respect, fear even, and rather than shy away, choose to show up and throw down and give it my all. Finishing on top is but one of many possible outcomes. But it's the outcome we are all pushing for. I would be gypped if the competition weren't doing everything they could to destroy me. I owe it to them to do the same.
I felt pretty good before and after the Ghostly Gallop 5k a few weeks ago. For the first time in a year or more I feel like I am able to get some decent training runs in while still feeling good for races. I would love to keep this going. I've had some great races this year, but they have been islands in a sea of aches and pains resulting in poor training. At the Stockade-athon last year, I had to run easy because of the beginning of injury setting in. The year before I woke up before the race with a nasty case of vertigo where I couldn't walk straight and was falling into walls on my way to brushing my teeth. Fortunately the vertigo was mostly gone once the race started, and it turns out that balancing is easier while running at full speed, much like while riding a bike.
The weather is cold today, too cold for barefoot. I arrive with a big bag of clothing to choose from, but at the last minute decide to err on the side of being a little chilly with sandals, shorts, gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt. I have been obsessing over the list of entrants, and am most worried about TVO and KL, two masters runners from nearby counties in Vermont and Massachussets. KL won the masters division at last year's Stockade-athon and TVO is has been a fierce competitor at many of the races I've been running lately.
My plan is to start conservatively. I always try to not get carried away with everyone running too fast at the beginning. A lead pack of runners takes off immediately out of reach. A second ball of runners forms behind them just ahead of me. With the wind in my face and TVO at my side I run a little harder than planned in order to draft along with the pack. We cruise along together for a few miles. As soon as we start settling into a steady rhythm I suddenly have a premonition of running comfortably to the end and then getting outkicked by the competition. Without much speedwork I don't expect to have any extra kick for the end of the race, so it's important that I put in the effort early on and don't wait until the end. TVO is my main concern right now, and my vicious competitive side takes over and increases the pace a little which decreases the comfort level. I think I can keep this up, but now instead of a sure thing a little bit of risk of blow-up has been introduced.
After mile 4, the ball of runners has gotten ahead of me and TVO has fallen back a bit. I'm largely on my own. The runners up ahead are all familiarly faster than me, so as much as I'd love to catch them I don't feel any shame following them to the finish. It's hard to keep as strong an effort when I'm in no-man's land. I don't know my pace since I didn't bring a watch, but I can tell my effort level isn't as much as it might be if there were more nearby runners providing immediate pressure. And it's just as well, an increased effort level could very well break me by the end.
At mile 8 or so we run around a lake where it's easy to look to my left and see if anyone is coming up behind me. I only see one green singlet behind me, a fellow Willow Street teammate. It seems like enough distance separates us that I should be able to hold onto my place, but within a few short minutes BL catches right up to me. We run together through the cemetery, then he blazes off ahead down the final stretch.
I cross the finish line and eagerly watch for other runners. AK finishes in a great time, taking the 2nd place masters spot, followed by TVO and the remaining masters runners. I am thrilled, but can't help but wonder if there are alternatives to the ruthless approach?