Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Last and Lost World's Fastest 10K

Well, that didn't quite go as planned.

That was one of many thoughts I had upon realizing that I'd taken a wrong turn near the end of the World's Fastest Downhill 10K in El Paso last weekend. 

What's strange is that, other than my navigational snafu, everything was coming up aces for once.  The weather was ridiculously perfect, hovering in the upper 50s and zero wind.  With Char's help, I'd managed a decent breakfast of a green smoothie, scone, and some vegan preworkout drink.  I'd slept amazingly well, and was feeling more or less ready to set a personal record on my last El Paso road race.

The Downhill 10K is a special race for me. It was the first race I ran last year when I came home from my 6 month "vacation" in the desert. It was also one of the first races I ran after moving to El Paso that taught me that I had the potential to become much faster. I can easily track the development of my fitness over the last 5 years through my results on the Downhill 10K.

At the start line there's always a crowd in the front that really shouldn't be there. The gun was fired and after weaving around the group of less than olympic hopefuls, I saw that there were only 4 runners in front of me.

I don't really compete at a level that lends itself to placing very high in most events. My key to success is finding races with a small enough field that I can break into the top of my age group. And today was a perfect day for me to shine.

I jumped onto the tail of runner #4 and held on for the first mile. At the first marker I checked my watch to see that we were running a sub-6 minute pace. My legs were churning as fast as I dared move them, but I was still steadily gaining on the two runners closest to me. I passed the first one at the 2 mile marker, ignoring the water station and staying as close to the center line as I dared.

For a while I contemplated settling for 4th place. That would leave me with the top medal in my age group, for once, and I was confident that I could hold off anyone behind me at this point. There was also the nagging fear that I would once again implode in the last mile of the race if I pushed it any harder. But at some point, I decided that if I didn't at least try for the podium finish, I would regret the wasted opportunity later. At the 4 mile marker I was ready to make my move on runner #3.

We crossed under the highway construction and I kicked around runner #3, settling into a slightly more painful pace to try and increase the distance between us. I knew that if I could grow a large enough gap he wouldn't be able to out-kick me in the end. It was hard not to look back to see how close he was. I had to keep reminding myself to just run my own race, and not his. (Thanks to Selene Yeager for the words of wisdom)

Just when everything seemed to be going just fine, I made a decision that destroyed the race and most of the runners behind me. Let me preface by saying that I was running my heart out and there wasn't much blood reserved for congnizant functions like logical reasoning and decision making. Mostly, I was just trying not to throw up or implode.

I could no longer see runners #1 and #2. I knew that #1 had a police truck escorting him, and that #2 had a motorcycle escort. I looked into the distance and saw a motorcycle heading to the left from the first intersection. It was moving slowly, at what I guessed was the runner's pace. So, when I got to the first intersection, and there was no one directing runners to go straight, I turned left. The police on the motorcycle at the intersection (that was preventing cars from entering the roadway) watched me go. And as I ran along, motorcycle cops were riding alongside, keeping our lane clear of traffic. No one stopped me (or the 20 or so runners that had also turned) so I kept going, struggling to keep my pace along the final mile. It wasn't until I reached a little street called Trade Center that I realized my fatal error.

Trade Center is the cross street about 100 meters passed the finish line. And there was no finish line. I was a block west of where I should have been.

And that's when the motorcycle cop finally stopped alongside me to inform me that I was supposed to go straight and turn at the second intersection. A mile ago. Thanks, dude.

So, I kept running, turning right onto Trade Center, then another right onto Northwestern and the back end of the finish line. I ran alongside the finish chute, turned and crossed over the finish line.

The strange looks from the race volunteers were priceless.

All I could do was shrug my shoulders and return their look of bewilderment. The race director began screaming into his cell phone about the motorcycle that wasn't directing traffic at the fateful intersection like it had the last 7 years. I staggered to a nearby concrete wall to rest, sucking down a bottle of water as I watched almost two dozen runners that had also taken the wrong turn finish awkwardly, backwards.

What the 10K route should have looked like.
 
What I ended up running.
It was almost 5 minutes before runners began finishing the right way. 

I'd managed to hold on to my third place finish and set a personal record even while running an extra .2 miles.  The last mile had not been totally downhill, which also hurt my total time and those that had followed me.  At first I felt guilty about taking the wrong turn.  I really thought it was my fault and felt horrible for leading so many on a longer and slightly more strenuous route.

Then I thought about all the motorcycle cops that watched me do it; the same cops that have been monitoring this same run route for the last 7 years. 

Way to go, guys.

And I remembered another time I'd run this same race and watched a group of runners try to make the same wrong turn (luckily, they had people directing traffic that time and were able to keep them from making it too far).

Where was the race support this time? 

Oh well, no point in whining about it.  My fastest 10K ever, and a nice plastic trophy to show for it.


Also, the weirdest blisters on the outsides of both my feet.  For what it's worth, this must be what it takes to stand on the podium.