This year, I was hoping for a time similar to--if not a bit faster than--Wilber-Duck's 4:26 from last week. I tried to do my homework on the competition end, too. Earlier in the day, I told Rojo, Cornell's distance coach, not to tell anyone about the race, so I would have a chance in hell of winning. To my dismay, I quickly found out that there was plenty of competition from a bunch of 23-year-olds in the area and a few kids still in college looking to break 4:20. Oy vay.
The men's and women's races went off at the same time. My race was pretty quick from the start, with a group of about six guys running together for the first quarter. That thinned out a bit as we moved onto the half, which felt like it was three-quarters, but wasn't. The organizers had marked the course with cones at every 400 meters, but for whatever reason, that second cone seemed so far away from the first. Not a good sign.
I was on a few guys' shoulders, sort of in a second-third position for most of the first half. By the time we approached the quarter, I was somehow in the lead. I hadn't felt the pace slacken that much, but I could see based on the shadows behind me that I had a few steps on second place at that point.
My lead was short-lived, however. With about 300 meters to go, Quinn Thomas, who graduated from Dartmouth the same year I graduated from Cornell and has very similar PR's to me, passed me and put a few strides between us. I hit that inevitable crossroads at that point, where I had to decide if I was going to pack it in for a comfortable second (second place gets a bag of Gimme Coffee beans; not bad!) or try to muster some sort of second effort, even if it meant driving home nauseous. You know what I'm talking about.
With 150 to go, I pulled even with Quinn, then, very slowly, went by. Like that second cone, the finish line seemed so far away, and I was about 50% sure that I would be re-passed before the line. With 20 meters to go, my legs started to wobble, which as many of you know is the most horrifying, terrible feeling in the world, taking step by step in a world of pain. The best way I can describe it is that it's like trying to sprint after taking over someone else's body and being underwater for four and a half minutes.
Thankfully, for the sake of blog glory, I did manage to win in the end. After I came to my senses, I could hear the announcer announcing the first female finisher, though I couldn't see who it was. Someone told me that I had run 4:19, which is the fastest I've run in a long time (four or five years?), also setting a new course record for Ithaca Festival Mile in the process. Natalie had won as well, with a time that was a full ten seconds faster than her Wilber-Duck race (5:29 down to 5:19). She is invariably awesome at these sorts of things.
I credit the deep competition with the faster time. There was no opportunity for a sluggish pace in the middle, as much as I do love me some sluggish pace now and then.
As Natalie and I picked up our first-place coffee mugs (the promise that there would be pottery for the winners somehow didn't sway Steve to join us for this one), I thought about how validating this race was. It's a small-time community race without prize money, but it's in Ithaca, and there's a parade after it for goodness sakes. On a personal level, I've run the event every year but one, and to register this level of improvement is really, really nice--regardless of what happens with the 5k.
The rest of the night involved watching the Section IV State Qualifier Meet at IHS, dinner at Viva Tac, dessert at Purity, and catching up with about fifteen people along the way. As for the sub-15, 5k? We're working on it.