“You know man, this is one of the biggest sporting events in Indianapolis today and everyone is at home watching old people play golf.”
– Jon Little making a pointed comment about the ratio of spectators at the race against those watching the senior open being played relatively close by.
That comment is telling in more ways than one. Unexpectedly, this race quickly became the fastest field I have ever run against, in ability if not numbers. It was like the beginning of an avalanche as I heard rumors about Kenyans coming from New York, then running into 2:11 marathon running Kenyans from Minnesota the day prior, then skimming the registration list to see a couple local, but international, runners, and finally come race day watch another and another and another top runner warm up before the countdown. This was going to be one hell of a race. Dear race directors, see what offering substantial prizes does for your race status and entry list? Do take note. Oh yeah, the race was offering $1000 to the top guys if they ran under 29:30 for 6.2 miles.
On a personal note, I had no idea what to expect from myself what with being in the throws of marathon training and all. It had been a full year since my last 10k, which would indicate I should run a faster time by far, and with some noteable workouts of late I felt I had the fitness to do just that. But then, with so much mileage in the tank and really tough workouts in the legs, there was also the chance I could be really flat and simply not have the strength to run fast and hold onto that speed late into the race. There were just too many variables to consider and so I decided to just let it all go and simply run as hard as I could and let the miles sort it out.
The soreness was out of my legs as I jogged around the start area staying loose. As the minutes ticked down the guys going for the money finished up their warm ups and started gathering at the start line. The race director commands into the mic,
“Remember, only the fastest runners up front. Right now, everyone going for the time challenge please stand at the white line. Everyone else stay back a little bit.
There was room on the line for me, but I wasn’t going for the time challenge so I awkwardly stepped backwards. Jeff Powers, who was going for the challenge, turns around and waves me up. “Get up here.” I step to the line and humbly thank him, but mutter some self-deprecating comment about not actually going for the challenge. The crowd gets quiet and the countdown begins. “15!”….”5 seconds!”….”Go!” and without hesitation the full front lines bounces forward, unlike previous races where everyone eases into the speed. This time they were going all out.
I get temporarily sucked into the front pack, but make sure to fall just behind and let them surge ahead. My running buddy Jon Little pulls just ahead of me and reminds me, “Run smart Spitz”, which is good advice since all the guys I know make light-hearted jokes about how I always “take off like a bat out of hell” from the starting line. I do. It’s a bad habit. Today, there was no point, so I fell in just behind the front pack as they instantly started to pull away. Little was just off of them and I followed closely behind, with the sound of a pack of footfalls just behind me.
We started out from the center city with the buildings towering around us, but they soon faded behind as we knocked off some distance. Heading further out of the city the line of runners stayed the same. I could see the pack out front, but they continued to move further ahead, Little was pulling me along and a small pack was right off my back. I was actually kind of glad with this setup as Little could pull me faster and the pack behind might make a move ahead and quicken the pace even more. Unfortunately, before we even hit the first mile marker, the sound of feet hitting the pavement behind me was trailing off into the distance, never to be heard again.
We passed the first mile marker and the time keeper yelled out, “5:06!”. Maybe a bit fast, but not too bad considering the group we could have gotten sucked into. They, however, went through between 4:30 and 4:48. It was real serious up ahead.
At this point Little started to pull ahead of me and I just tried to keep him somewhat close so as not to run the race alone. Nothing kills a pace quicker then having no one to run with or from, no matter how fast you think you’re going. He stayed close enough that I could get pulled along as we went through the 2 mile mark. Surprisingly, I was still feeling good at this point and when I rounded the turn I actually felt myself accelerate out of it, which was a very good sign.
We worked our way into a grouping of neighborhoods, at times vying for lane space with oncoming cars who had confusedly driven onto the urban race course. The street we were moving up is part of my very own neighborhood and I was familiar with the minor ascents and descents of the street which I used to my advantage. Surprisingly, I noticed that I was moving up on Little, which motivated me to keep pushing strong and maximize each step I could focus on. We hit one of the barely noticeable descents and I pulled up next to him at mile 3. I managed to mutter out, “Roll with me”, and he fell right behind. I was hoping he just needed a little push to get back into it as I know he has much more in him than he was running, but I felt so strong at that point that my pace quickened and he fell off my back.
This left me in a position I did NOT want to be in. The elite group was now completely out of my sight and I could only see one straggler ahead, but he was way too far ahead to be any gauge of pace or runner I could pull myself towards, and with no one pushing me from behind, I was now left alone to run the last 3 miles in no man’s land. Any speed I generated was going to be by my own impetus. I had no other choice.
We hit one of the last turns that ran just 1/2 a block from my own house before turning on a main street that ran us back into the center city, and the finish line, for a good 2 1/2 miles. This street, although straight as an arrow, is deceptively marked with quick ascents and descents that you don’t really noticed unless you are trying to keep speed at the end of a foot race.
I continued to push through mile 4 and still felt like I was making good time, but things were starting to wear down now. When the time keepers read off my mile times I struggled to do the math, but would give up after a few futile calculations of mile splits and PR needs. I just decided to just push through as I began to fatigue more and more. I started to break and fought to gain composure of my form, but when I would concentrate on my breathing my core would fail. When I straightened my core, my breathing would suffer. When I tried to go to my arms my breathing maxed. When I fought to find strength in my legs, everything else fell apart. I only struggled to get to the last mile so I could lay it on without risk of blowing up. All was not death during that mile though. Surprisingly, as I moved down the road I noticed a runner walking off the course. One of the Kenyans who came from out of town and was going for the prize money had blown up and was forced to walk out of exhaustion, no longer needing to run the race as the prize money fell out of his reach. Part of me respects the attempt to run until absolute exhaustion, but another part feels lesser about giving up once money is no longer an option. Regardless, at the least I could say I legitimately beat a Kenyan! 🙂
I went through the mile marker and the time keeper yelled out, “26:09!” This time I could do the quick calculation and realized that even if I ran a 6 minute mile, I could at least tie my PR. This lit a fire under me and I resolved to push hard through the last mile and then drive it home 200 meters out. With the surge of confidence I found the ability to push hard through the last mile and pounded out each block until 200 meters. Being a bike messenger for 2 years, I knew each street like the back of my hand and was able to start kicking it in when I knew I wasn’t too far out.
I hit the 6 mile marker and the time keeper yells out, “32:02! Even running at near max speed I managed to figure that one out. I thought to myself, “Wait. 32:02? That leaves me less than 30 seconds to make it to the finish! What the hell?” Well, if I was going to wait to kick it into my last gear, I didn’t and started pouring on my kick from that point. The finish circles a monument in the dead center of the city on a brick lined street and I kicked it in as strong as I could. I saw the clock and knew I was a couple seconds off, but managed to go full speed through the line in 32:30. 2 seconds off my PR. Now, I’m not blaming the officials for my time…not at all….but either the time keeper at mile 5 was wrong or the distance on one of those miles was either long or short, because no way did I run a 6 minute mile on that course.
That is all water under the bridge now. I would have liked to have beat my PR, but I’m satisfied that I ran strong and pushed myself the second half, even while running alone. It was a really fun race and I’m confident I actually have a lot more in me right now.
So are you curious if anyone went under 29:30? Well, the top 3 guys did, and none of them were Kenyans either.
The final results
10k (6.2 miles)
4th in age group