Saturday, July 6, 2013

Typical Situation

On Thursday I continued my string of runner-up finishes at the Heritage Festival 5-mile race. As I detailed last year, I've gotten 2nd place every year starting in 2005, with one hiccup in 2011 where I placed 3rd. Last year, I wrote about how I couldn't be disappointed losing to a better runner when running a good race. That is how I felt immediately after the race on Thursday as well. I was just happy to have maintained my streak and not gotten 3rd place. But after some reflection throughout the day, I am pretty disappointed with myself.

I went into this race defeated. I've obviously been hurt now for quite some time. I was righting the ship heading into Memorial Day, but then hurt my hamstring. I've been nursing and recovering since then, and I think that it caused some agitation in my lower back. I was having trouble standing up for long periods of time, walking around the grocery store, etc. I made some adjustments to my sleep and my shoes, and spent a lot of time laying on the floor to try to loosen it up. The difference between Monday and Wednesday was incredible, so I felt a little bit better heading into the race about that.

Even more than physically defeated, I was mentally out of it from weeks out. Stephen Harrison has been running really well this year in Fredericksburg. A 2011 graduate from Mary Washington, he's well on his way to winning the Grand Prix this year and has only lost once to Tim at Sweethearts (I think he was back in 3rd there.) When I was struggling to run seven days a week this spring, he was PRing in the low 15-minutes on the track. He was in shape, and I was not. He'd been racing well, I had not. I figured that this was his year and not mine. I wasn't completely sold on him beating me though, as after the Men's Four Miler I was feeling a tad more optimistic. My hope was to recreate that success by going out slow and hoping that I'd be able to come back at him later. It would either work and I'd win, or it wouldn't work and he'd destroy me. I was playing it safe in my head before the race even started.

The day before at packet pick-up at Virginia Runner, Chris Badolato told me that Tim Young was racing. For some reason I took this as good news, because at least I knew that Tim would win. I've always said that running for 1st place is completely different than running for 2nd place (sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad), but that this wouldn't really impact my plan and it may actually help me to beat Stephen. He could either go out with Tim and blow up really hard, or he'd stay back with me and maybe I'd just out-race him. Tim told me that it wasn't the case though.

Race morning, Vic told me of another registrant who he said might beat me, Mark Hopely. He said that Mark had been runner-up at Sweethearts behind Tim. I did not recognize the name nor recognize him on the starting line, but with my current mindset, I took Vic's warning to heart. Then warming up, I saw another runner, Bryce Wilk, who had run at William & Mary while I was there. Bryce was a few years behind me in school. We'd raced a bit in school, Team Blitz vs. Tribe, and maybe a few road races after graduation too. I expected a challenge from him as well.

All this negativity in my head before the race has even started! Being out of shape is one thing, being such a head case isn't something I normally do. I didn't even consider winning! And not in the way that I didn't consider it when Tim was in a race, I just gave up. I was counting myself down to 4th at this point...

One amazing thing that happened before the race was that I saw Vic Culp wearing his chip on his left ankle. I stopped him and said that his chip was supposed to be on his right ankle, so he fixed it. Awesome.

The gun went off and someone dashed out to the front rather quickly. Stephen and Mark went out together, and I hung back around 10th at the beginning. I was behind Joey Hess for a little, and then was running with a kid with a Stafford High School jersey, Greg Bohmke. I didn't know it at the time, but Jacob Lysher was running with us too. So three Stafford graduates running together over an 11 year span. As I moved into 3rd place around the library, Greg asked me something along the lines of "What's the deal with those two guys," gesturing to Mark and Stephen. I told him "They're faster than you, and in better shape than me. So we'll let them go." Looking Greg up now, I probably shouldn't have said that. He's gone to the Naval Academy and certainly runs faster than I do in a lot of races... but he is young and is out of season. It's always hard for college kids to come back and run well on July 4th. Greg had a lot of fan support on the course, which is nice.

He and I went through the mile reasonably together in 5:34. I thought that was good; Stephen and Mark had a 13-second lead on us. I started to separate from Greg after the mile, and Stephen did the same from Mark. I ran the tangent through Normandy Village and started to make up some ground on the two of them. Going through two miles in 5:33, there was a kid who gave me water and said "Hi Mr. Jacoby!" I said "Hi!" back and then heard him yell, "I told you!" That was nice, I miss that.

Getting onto the Canal Bridge, Mark passed Stephen, who then looked back at me. For the first time, I was starting to think about winning this race. I knew that I was gaining on the pair and thought that Stephen was looking more vulnerable as he just got passed, and maybe, maybe, that I could win it. But then I crossed the bridge and looked back to see Bryce. So the thought was fleeting, because I thought he was running really smart too. I got to mile 3 at 5:28, and thought that I'd be able to pick it up from there. I got to Stephen and thought about how to pass him. I wasn't decisive enough, and he came with me. So going under the Rt. 1 bridge, I went again. This time it took and he was gone. I still had Bryce on my mind, and also thought that I could still catch Mark. I got to Kenmore and thought that the distance wasn't getting any smaller. The 4th mile was 5:33 and I was getting tired. I was starting to cramp up in my stomach and in my back, and the heat was really getting to me. This is when I was hoping to be flying, but I just wasn't.

There was a big breeze going down Kenmore into our faces, but it wasn't a cool, refreshing breeze. It just felt like hot air blowing at me. I knew this wasn't going to help me, but thought that I was in a better place than Stephen, so I'd be ok. I wanted to look back badly, and resisted all the way down Kenmore. Turning towards the last uphill on the course, I did look back quickly around the corner to barely see Stephen, far enough behind that he wasn't going to catch me. I'd given up the idea of catching Mark and just focused on maintaining my form as I went downhill to the chute. I hit the line in 27:48, a 5:40 last mile. I wanted to stop and fall to the ground after the finish, because I was so hot and so tired, but I managed to stay on my feet. Stephen finished 10 seconds back, and then Bryce was another 30 seconds back in 4th. Greg and Jacob finished 5th and 6th, respectively, fairly spread out behind us.

This was the slowest time I've run on July 4th since 2004, when I was 21 years old and got 7th place, running 29:11 (remember what I said about college kids coming back to run it?). Any time I've run in the previous 8 years would have won this year as it was so hot. When I was running the last half of the race, I never went for it. At the Four Miler, I went for it to catch those guys in front of me. Not here. I just kept waiting for them to fall apart but didn't try to take matters into my own hands. I wasn't racing, I was running a tempo run.

At first I was happy to keep up the streak and to beat Stephen. But at the awards, I talked to him and Mark and they were both coming in under 100% too. Both of them were having hamstring problems and had talked the week of the race about how they thought I was going to win. Maybe they were just playing games with each other, but either way no one was really ready to roll today. Talking to Tim afterwards, I realized who Mark actually was. We'd raced a number of times in 2011, including the Turkey Trot and the Blue & Gray half. He'd never beaten me. But I listened to Vic and counted myself out behind him.

Long story short, I ran like a wimp. I thought I was running smart, and I was just running scared. I ran even splits and never got uncomfortable at the beginning because I was scared, and then at the end when the competition was vulnerable, I just wimped out. It was stupid. I know better than this. I could have won this race, injury or not. I just didn't try. I won't make that mistake again.

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