The siren sounded to start the race and we all started running, nice and easily at first. There was none of the chaos of last Sunday's Jones 10-miler. EJ and I, and the rest of the 250 odd runners including several Angry Chickens, headed on down the road at a fairly comfortable (to start) pace. My plan was to take the first 5k at about 6:40 pace and then gradually ratchet up the effort from there. I had managed to convince EJ that if he stick with my pacing plan--which for me was more about the workout than the finish time--he'd get the sub 2 hour finish he was looking for.
We talked to a guy named Tom who works at Marathon sports--he had won a 10k where EJ had finished 2nd last year. It was a nice day for a run and we were rolling along without much effort. Our first 5k wound up a little slower than we planned, more like 6:45 pace, but there was plenty of time to fix that.
Running a long race with EJ is an uplifting experience. He makes a point to thank every volunteer and every cop directing traffic. He cheers for the people on the side of the road who are supposed to be cheering for us, or taunts them into cheering louder. This is contagious too--at one intersection around 3 or 4 miles into the race I waved and yelled "thank you!" to a cop on the other side of the road and EJ said, "Oh, thanks Mikey, I almost missed that one."
Maybe EJ loves whole running scene so much because he found running later in life. Or maybe I should say running found him. Sometimes it seems as if the sport of running sought out EJ because it needed him, and he took to it like a fish to water. At any rate, we're all better off that running found him.
Our 2nd 5k was a bit faster than planned, around 6:20 pace, and so it went for the next hour or so--I should have known trying to do a progression run on that roller coaster of a course was hopeless. We continued to turn up the effort and I tried not to worry too much about pace, which yo-yo'd with the hills--the trend was in the right direction. At one point we lost our buddy Tom.
We rolled along for a while and the miles peeled away--grinding the uphills and trying to roll like water on the downhills--catching someone once in a while but mostly having the road to ourselves. There were some snow flurries but the ground was dry and it wasn't too cold.
After about 15 miles my left hamstring was noticeably barking at me and I began to rethink my strategy of dropping the hammer and running the last 5k of the race with my hair on fire to try and get in under 2 hours. I was okay to keep banging out the 6:20-6:30's we were doing, but I felt like trying to do much more than that was going to put me into a level of effort I really didn't need a week after Jones and 2 weeks before New Bedford. But I could tell EJ was feeling pretty good and wanted to roll. We could see Reno Stirrat up ahead of us, along with a guy in a black CMS singlet.
Finally, I said to EJ, "If you're feeling it, go ahead."
EJ was feeling it.
He practically left a vapor trail as he took off up the road. Before I knew it he'd caught Reno and the CMS runner and was moving on to the next targets. It was a weird feeling to see him pulling away so fast because I could have sworn I hadn't really slowed down at all (and my splits would later show that I hadn't.) But in the 10k race pace that EJ was now dropping made the 6:20's we had been running look like walking.
By the time I made it through the town of Clinton and turned onto that last bitch of hill, EJ was no longer in sight. I crested the hill and began to turn my legs over again and and wound up finishing strong and feeling good. I finished in 2:01:17 and I was just fine with that--I accomplished what I wanted.
EJ had finished in 1:59:39.
I had run almost a 2 minute negative split and EJ had crushed that. His last 3+ miles went 5:52, 5:56, 6:20 (up the bitch of a hill) then back down to 5:50 pace for the last 3/4 mile. It was one of the most impressive finishes I've witnessed up close. Part of me wonders if I should have gone with EJ and tried to let him pull me to a sub 2 hour finish but make no mistake; I wasn't beating EJ today no matter what I did. He was a beast (you might say AoW.) And it was fun to watch.