I ran the New Haven 20K today. First of all, congrats to Keith, Joe, and John for exceptional days yesterday in tough conditions in Louisville. Well done. Back to the sufferfest.
I awoke feeling OK, but still with some residual soreness/pain in my quads. I had put in a big, solid training week including some mile repeats mid week and a long run on Saturday. I always treat the NH 20K as a training race and train right through it. Sure, I'll never run a truly fast time, but that's not the purpose here.
I've done this race just about every year since the mid 90's. It a spectacular venue, with many bands along the course that winds all through New Haven. There are 5000+ runners and it's a national championship with a solid prize purse which means you have a bunch of 5'6" 110 lb guys running sub 5 minute pace.
It was a beautiful day today - sunny and in the upper 70's. I think it was a bit warmer than many anticipated or even thought. I saw a lot of athletes caked with salt. As i registered, I ran into many familiar faces: My sister Laura and her friend Maria were there, Baker, the McDougals, Megan S., Mike B., Mike K. and his son (who beat him good - I have limited time before my son is spanking me in races), Margaret C., The Monroe Crew (Paul M. and gang), Dave B., ... One of the coolest things about this race is all the familiar faces.
My plan was to run steady, just under 6 min/mi pace. I lined up near the front and awaited the gun and then, bang! As soon as I started, I felt a sharp, pulling pain in my left quadriceps. I shifted my focus and concentrated on my breathing, on my my arm motion, on running from the hips. I hit mile 1 in 5:43 which was fine considering you always go out a bit quick in these things and my wind felt fine. My legs felt dead though and the left leg was getting worse. I ignored it through the next three miles and stayed on 5:50 pace. Just after going through mile 4 though, the pain became more severe to the point where I began to think that this might not be a smart deal. Soon afterwards, I stopped! I walked up onto the sidewalk, turned around and started walking back. I was pissed and I was hobbling. I wasn't even concerned about my leg as I walked back but more pissed that this was happening. I watched a bunch of athletes run by, many asking if I was OK. Alan M. came by and yelled out "can I do anything?" How cool is that that someone in the middle of their own race was willing to stop and help me if necessary! I yelled "no worries, I'll be fine." and walked a bit more. Than I thought, just slow down a bit and see how it does. Run to the 10K mark and re-evaluate. So I turned and rejoined the race course. I surged to catch Alan, figuring I'd try to run with him. Alan runs a very consistent pace, so I thought if I could lock in with him and maintain this for a couple of miles, maybe the left quad would loosen up. Alan was great, telling me not to do anything stupid. Thing is, I know myself quite well. I knew that this was not really muscular but more neurological, related to my low back. And I figured that my low back was just a bit tweaked from the volume and intensity of the week and that the pace earlier on aggravated it. I also knew that it was going to hurt, but that it wasn't going to get worse or do long term damage.
I ran along with Alan, and the pace felt to comfortable although the pain in the left quad was anything but. We ran through the 10K and began picking people off one by one. Alan mentioned a few times that I should go on ahead, but he was instrumental in getting me going again and know wants a dnf. In fact, I know I wouldn't have turned and continued on if it weren't for him, so again, thanks a bunch Alan. Just after the 10 mile mark, I saw George Buchanan up ahead. By this point, the left leg was just numb, so I upped the pace a bit to go after George. I caught him at the 11 mile mark and he turned to see me quickly and picked up his pace significantly, that bastard! He's such a competitor and solid runner and put 15 feet into me quickly, but then stayed there. I managed to bridge back up to him just before the 12 mile mark which he didn't like because he immediately surged. I covered the surge and then he went again. The guy attacked me 5 times in the last mile with tough surges, and the 5th, I thought I might be done. I also know I have a pretty good kick, gimp leg or not, and was waiting until the last 50 meters to go. When he went, George went also. The two of us sprinted for the line as though we were going for gold in the Olympic 1500. I managed to get him at the line, and we both stayed there, hunched over, trying to regain some breath and composure.
Lisa's college track coach, Mr. Barber, is always at the finish line of this race and he's got the best hand shake in the business. Every year, I always tell Lisa that I'm going to get the best of him and be prepared for that big hand shake. As I'm hunched over, ready to hurl, I feel a tap on my shoulder. As I turn, almost instantly my hand is grasped by Mr. Barber's vice grips and he's shaking as though my arm is attached to my torso by a string of spaghetti. The bastard got me again!
I hung out after the race for a bit and had a few beers, catching up with many friends. Even though it was a painful, slower race than anticipated, it was still a good day. I'll rest a day or two and bounce back quickly I'm sure.