As I pulled into the high school parking lot I saw Jeff Goupil and the rest of the crew started rolling in pretty soon after that. The Rotary Club does a nice job organizing the event and we picked up our packets and shirts before meeting up with the rest of the crew outside. This race was the first time I’ve seen and used the new “B-Tag”, which is a race bib that has the chip right inside it, so no chip for the shoe, ankle, or anything like that. That was pretty cool and I didn’t hear about any issues with the timing so it sounds like the technology is pretty solid. The CMS crew + Mark Miller headed out for a few miles over the last part of the course to warm up, and I couldn’t help noticing how light and springy guys like Fyffe and Miller look on their feet, just bounding along looking effortless. After the warm up, guys went their separate ways for the last 10-15 minutes before the start to do their own thing; change into racing shoes, last minute warm up, water some bushes, get psyched up!
The starting line at a Grand Prix race is a pretty intimidating place. There are dozens and dozens of very fit guys with their game faces on. There are pockets of color as teams stand together ready to storm into battle as a group. Guys have their little methods for shaking out nervous energy in the moments before the gun, shaking out legs, touching toes, jumping up and down. Luckily, the starter was merciful and didn’t waste much time before giving the commands. As usual, most of the pre-race thoughts went out the window once the race started. It didn’t go out quite as hard as I thought it might. After a few hundred yards, things seemed pretty sensible. Fyffe, Koech and Miller were up front, then a bunch of us were shifting around settling into pace. There were probably 20-25 guys ahead of me for the first quarter to half a mile and I kind of realized that it felt a bit slow so I started inching up along the outside of the traffic. The pace was probably fine, I was just excited and nervous about having so many guys in front of me.
The first mile cuts into a little neighborhood and by the time we got there, things were thinning out a little bit. Andy McCarron and I were basically side by side and there were a few Adidas NE guys right with us. There may have been a few others around or ahead of us, and there were several CMS guys right on our tail as well. Somewhere in here, Matt Ely and Ben Schmeckpeper zipped by us after starting conservatively. Matt kept pushing right up to the lead pack and Ben kind of stayed with us I think. By this time people were pretty much settled into their paces so there wasn’t as much shifting going on. Andy and I were clipping along pretty good right behind a wall of three Adidas guys (Michael Bunker, Nick Wheeler and Nathan Krah I think). I signaled to Andy that we should stay with these guys, because I was assuming they had a few more guys behind us and the team would need us to cover these guys if they went anywhere and he agreed. I was feeling pretty good, and somewhere around 2 miles or so I though the pace slowing a hair, or maybe I was just over excited. I pulled up alongside Wheeler and told him I’d take a mile in front, and he said OK. In that moment he and I basically agreed to work together for a while. He tucked in behind me and I think we started to pull away from the other few guys just a little bit. I had missed the first mile marker, but I think we hit 2 miles in right around 10 minutes, maybe 10:05. I didn’t split my watch at the mile markers, but I peeked down just out of curiosity. I contemplated not wearing it at all, but I knew I’d be curious about it after the race. I took us through 3 miles in around 15:12 and Nick hopped back in front shortly after that for a turn in the front of our little chase pack. We could still see the leaders, which was a 4 man pack of Justin, Mark, Matt and Joseph.
Somewhere between 3-4 miles the course starts to roll a bit more, with some climbs and also some drops. I’d call it a very fair course because you got a nice little decline for every climb. Up ahead I could see Justin pull away from the others to take control of the race, and about this time Joseph Koech also started to fall back a bit from the BAA guys. Back in the chase pack, Nick was beating me up a little bit on the climbs, keeping the pace steady as he went up them. He’d pull ahead a little bit going up, then coming back down I’d come back even with him and sometimes pull in front again. We were definitely racing each other, but it was great because we were pushing each other to run harder. We were on top of each other for the majority of the race. In fact, Nick actually clipped my heels twice during the race, that’s how close we were. During the most substantial climb on the course, Nick motioned up to Koech and said something about reeling him in. We were both thinking aggressively but that really got me excited because I’d never even considered running with guys like Joseph. The idea of catching him in a GP race seemed crazy to me, even if he was having a tough day. As we were gaining on him, I also realized what my CMS responsibility was for the rest of the race. I needed to “cover” the BAA guys between me and Fyffe. In order to do that, I needed to keep the gap between me and them smaller than the gap that Fyffe had on them. That way, our combined time would neutralize their combined time. I knew Ben Schmeckpeper was close behind me, but I hadn’t noticed any other BAA guys that close to the front so I was hoping that our 3-5 guys would take care of theirs.
Nick and I caught Joseph before the top of a hill somewhere before mile 5. We had passed mile 4 in something under 21 minutes (maybe about 20:40?), which was great considering the main hill is in the 4th mile. He was still pushing the hills and I was still pushing the downhills. On the flat sections we were both pushing as much as we could. Around this time I realized that we were pretty much holding steady with BAA up ahead. They didn’t seem to be getting any smaller up on the horizon, and only slipped out of sight at the turns on the course. When we hit 5 miles in under 26 minutes I think I started to realize that I was in unchartered waters. I think it was about 25:50 and I was beginning to feel it in my legs. I also noticed somewhere in here that it was feeling a little warm. Not hot, but just nice and sunny. I threw a little water over my head and hung on to Wheeler as we kept pushing along. As we came up towards mile 6 we turned right onto the main road that would take us back to the school. We had warmed up out on this road so I had a bit of an idea about how the last mile would be. It winds a little and rolls a little, probably a little bit of an uphill mile, which isn’t really what I wanted, but we were getting down to the final stretch. Shortly before turning onto this road Nick pulled ahead of me for the last time. I would spend the rest of the race trying to keep him as close as possible. It varied from 2 yards to about 15, but I never got in front of him again. We passed 6 miles in 31:08 and I remember thinking to myself, “Well, I know I’m in 32 minute 10K shape now!” so that made me feel good, but I wasn’t really too excited about having another 1.4 miles to go. I tried to remind myself that I couldn’t let Miller and Ely stretch out their 30 second gap on me, and I focused on running the tangents as short as I could. I missed the mile 7 split that was right as we turned left back into the high school. I was hoping to muster an attack on Wheeler as we approached the track but he was also finishing strong. We had to run about 300 meters backwards on the beautiful new track (with a great football field of field turf) and as we came around the last turn with about 100 meters to go I was trying to kick with everything I had, running with my eyes closed and trying to reel Nick in, but it wasn’t happening. I crossed the line 5th in 38:43 and doubled over to suck some air into my aching lungs. I looked over and Nick was in the same position. After a few seconds we both stood upright, smiled at each other and shook hands. We both had a great time slugging it out and pushing each other. Nick is a great runner, along with his brother Curtis and it is great to have guys like that representing Maine at these New England championship races. I came into the race hoping for a top 10 finish, and to finish 5th in a Grand Prix race makes me feel really good about my training and my fitness.
I made my way out of the finish chute as Andy was coming in, finishing up a great race! I started walking back up towards the far end of the track to encourage the CMS guys that were all barreling in towards the finish now. The next CMS shirt I saw coming was Kevin Gorman, who was kicking home for a huge race! I’d call his the performance of the day, to be honest. After a minute or two, our whole team was gathered back up, catching breath and congratulating each other. It was great! I get so excited when I see guys have great races, and I love hearing about it in their own words. As we started to look around at the uniforms, we did some rough math in our heads and started thinking that we had probably done enough to win the team title, unless we had missed anybody from the other top teams who maybe weren’t in their team colors. A few minutes later we were all changed into trainers for a fun little cool down. Guys were chatting about the race and sharing stories. I commented to Justin that it amazes me how we can all be so energized and giddy just 10 minutes after finishing a hard race effort. Like he said, that’s how you know you’re in great shape.
The post race spread was high quality, with a bunch of fresh fruit, bagels, as well as chicken tenders, fries and lasagna. Really good stuff and a bunch of drinks. The awards weren’t the smoothest I’ve seen, and honestly took about an hour to complete and we couldn’t really hear the lady with the microphone. Small criticism of an otherwise great event!
Days like this make me really glad that I’m part of CMS and get to do these USATF NE Grand Prix races with such an awesome group of guys! I can’t wait until the next one! Depending on when my son decides to pop out and greet the world it might be Rhody 5K, otherwise it will be 6 weeks later in Stowe for the 8 miler.