Well, the "Big Bunny Fun Run" certainly lived up to its name. There was a guy dressed up in a 'Big Bunny' costume, we ran of course, and the event turned out to be a lot of fun.
My 15 year old son and I were going to be running and my wife was doing the 2.5k walk w/ a friend. We arrived about an hour early, and in order to rectify one of the mistakes I made in my first race, we immediately picked up a course map and looked it over. The course started off w/ a long straight away, made a left turn and then after another turn, another good straightaway followed leading up to a major street (that would be blocked off during the race) We also noticed that although the course was more or less a loop, the final portion came back to that main street and followed the exact same path back to the finish. I decided that it would be a good idea to run our warm up out to this main street, marking the mileage at a few points so when we were heading for home, we would know our exact position in relation to the finish. (and as it turned out, having this info played a role in the finish of the race)
The initial straight away was about 0.17 miles, and the total distance to the main street was almost exactly a half mile. We jogged to this point and then returned for a nice mile warm up. After some stretching and a few strides (where I didn't feel all that great) I was ready to go.
One thing I noticed before the start was that Mr. Superman (the 45 year old 15:50 guy) was surprisingly absent. Well, if that was the case - this thing might be wide open. As the name suggests, it's a "Fun Run" w/ an Easter theme - lots of 'running families', several HS kids, parents who are avid runners, etc. (i.e. - no college guys). With the perennial winner not here this year, no one had any idea what sort of time you'd need to win this thing.
My son, Michael is currently running track where as a sophomore he has twice run 5:00-flat miles (one was literally computer timed at 5:00.05 - damn that's close!) His friend Jesse (the top sophomore X-country runner in his HS, but a bit out of shape at the moment) would be another one to watch. At the starting line, I began to look over the rest of the competition. A couple guys certainly looked the part - one guy had these super tight racing shorts and this wacko open back type top. You better be pretty damn good if you're gonna race in that, I figured - so I penciled him in as one to watch out for. (he turned out to be a poser BTW) A few other guys looked pretty good as well. Should be interesting.
Another thing I found interesting about this race - as the announcers always say, "slower runners please start more towards the back", but typically no one ever goes along. In this race, a couple guys who I know run low to mid 18's lined up a good 6-8 feet from the starting line BEFORE anyone came in in front of them. Wow - low 18 guys voluntarily starting in the 3rd row? Pretty cool. I got up in front w/ my son to the left of me, and his friend Jesse to the right. The horn sounded and we were off.
First thing I noticed was that the crappy feeling I had during the strides was nowhere to be found. Second thing I noticed was that although I felt totally comfortable and relaxed, I was in front. I took a quick peak back to see Jesse right behind me. As we made the turn after the long straightaway (about 300 yards in) I took a look down at my pace thus far: 4:44, gonna need to reign that in. About 1/3 of a mile in, my son Michael joined us, and it was me, Jesse and Michael 1-2-3. Jesse didn't have a watch, so I told him I'd call out our splits. After about 3/4 of a mile I asked them to take a look back to see if anyone else was close. "There's two guys back there" came the reply. A short time later I called out the mile-1 split (course was not marked), 5:25 - and at this point I clearly remember saying to myself, "damn, I feel fantastic".
About a quarter mile later, Jesse began falling off and I thought Michael did as well as I felt like I was alone. Just me and the truck in front it seemed. Where this presented a problem (if you can call it that) was that it was difficult to maintain pace. I'd look down at the watch to see a pace of 5:40 and say, "damn pick it up - don't lose focus" - and then I'd promptly take it back to about 5:32 w/ no problem. I found it hard to press-press-press w/ no one in front of me.
As I got close to the 2-mile mark, we had a few zig-zag turns which allowed me to more easily take a look behind. Somebody else was closing in on me and now in 2nd place. I went through mile #2 in 5:39. I still felt OK, but no longer "fantastic". This guy continued to gain ground, and with slightly less than a mile to go, he was right behind me. I figured he might pass, but he didn't. I soon realized the guy was just drafting.
As we headed for home I could feel a 3rd person now in the mix, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was Michael. I called out, "good job Michael, stay with it".
Now, w/ this guy immediately behind me for a few minutes I was able to pick up a few things: #1 - his breathing was better than mine - not good. #2 - he was drafting pretty well, so I took that to mean he probably had a fair amount of experience - not good. #3 - he didn't look like one of those wispy rail-thin distance runners (i.e - this guy looked like an athlete who probably had some solid finishing speed) - not good, and #4 - he was likely younger than me - again, not good.
At this point, I kept looking for that marker of the main street to know when we had exactly a half mile left - I'd just bide my time until then. When we got to the 1/2 mile to go point I decided to pick up the pace to see if I could separate myself from him. No luck, he picked it up and stayed right w/ me. As I suspected from his better breathing pattern - he was probably a better endurance guy than me. This wasn't going to work.
On to plan-B. Slow down. Sure this would hurt my finishing time, but at this point I was more concerned w/ racing and trying to win than worry about my time. I figured that he was probably flat out better than me, and my only shot was to slow down, lull the guy into a false sense of security, conserve my strength, and simply out kick him at the end. I had to think that younger or not, good athlete or not, he was not faster than me. Of course the potential problem w/ this plan was that faster or not - I simply might not have enough left in the tank to hold him off.
I could see the final turn approaching - after that it's about 300-320 yards to the finish. I was still in front, but he was right there. I hadn't checked my time or pace in almost a mile.
As we rounded the corner, my plan was to hug the inside of the turn forcing him out wide and dropping the hammer at the same time. I figured the change of direction plus the huge increase in pace would get me some separation and hopefully demoralize him to the point to where he might not even bother giving chase.
I executed what I wanted perfectly - as I later discovered looking at the Garmin data I almost immediately dropped my pace from 5:30 to 4:10! Great plan - but unfortunately, executed at the wrong time. After about 60 yards or so I just didn't have enough to maintain it and I could feel myself slowing, and what was a substantial separation for a brief moment began to close. He had clearly started a solid kick, and although he couldn't match the speed, his staying power was much better than mine. About 180 yards to go and he pulled right alongside me. By this time I had regrouped enough to send off surge #2 to go back in front.
It was obvious to me now that I had made a tactical error. I would have been better off simply maintaining pace - having HIM make the move (after all, I was leading) and if he had waited until there were 150 yards left or less - he would have been toast. But as they say, the genie was out of the bottle now.
This second surge wasn't as fast and didn't last as long. With 70-80 yards or so to go he was right alongside me again. I tried a 3rd surge that again briefly put me out in front, but by now I was running out of gas. With about 20 yards to go he took the lead for the first time all race - but unfortunately for me, those were the 20 yards that mattered - he edged me by 1-second.
At the end of the chute w/ us both gasping for breath I congratulated him on the win. The first words out of his mouth were, "thank you - you pulled me along. I couldn't have done that w/o you". Next thing he said was, "I'm sorry - I drafted you the whole way, that was unfair - I should have taken the lead for some of the time" I said, "hey, don't sweat it, you ran a good race and did what you needed to do to win".
I discovered later that Calvin was a triathlete, so as I suspected a good all around athlete, and clearly he had much more endurance than I did. He was just the better guy today, perhaps next year I'll be in better shape and we'll be able to do it again. Somewhere along the way I realized I had forgotten to stop my watch, so I had no idea what my time was at that moment.
Michael wound up coming in next in 3rd place overall!! He ran a great race, especially considering he had just run a 1-mile race the day before. As we discovered later, he absolutely buried the other kids in the 13-15 age group w/ a time of 17:25!
When the awards were announced I finally got my time - 17:14 and first master. (the winner was 17:13)
I'll probably post some more thoughts on this race later (geez, this is long enough, no?) Overall a lot of fun and a good race. Sure, I'd like to have won, but when one guy is so close to you in ability, it's tough to go wire to wire - and I still think I would have had I been a little more experienced and executed my kick at the right time (should have waited until the last 100 or so yards - the more time you give the guy w/ better endurance to beat you, the more likely it is he will beat you) But live and learn I guess. I was much happier w/ my race and effort this time - I think just a little lack of experience did me in.
I probably could have shaved a few seconds off my time had the race not turned tactical over the last 1/2 mile - but hey, it's a race after all. If you need to take a hit on time to execute the tactic that you think will give you the best chance to win, that's what racing's all about I guess. Bottom line - it was fun, and we had a really good time.