For the first time ever, I placed at a running race.
The Derby Firecracker run is an old race; this year was its 28th iteration. The field is varied, with fewer than normal bigshots (prize money is only $25, and the food is better at some of the other local races this weekend), more than the normal amount of high school cross country runners, and a whole bunch of regular joes (and janes). Lining up around the start, I recognized very few people. You know how you get used to seeing certain regulars at every race? They weren't at this one. It was sort of disconcerting, like racing in a different city. Which I technically was, I suppose; Derby and Wichita are close, but they're definitely distinct entities (for now).
Morning dawned cool and cloudy, with the sun fighting to break through a bank of clouds rolling in from the south. Wichita was probably in the clear, but Derby is as far south as Clearwater, almost, so I figured we'd be dealing with some weather. It started sprinkling on us on the drive over, and by the time everyone was lined up for the start, we had a gentle downpour. But it was a soft, pleasant rain, and it was by far preferable to the 100* temperatures we've had the past two weeks.
The gun went off about 5 minutes late, and the field began its gentle surge forward. I was running with my iPod, but more as a stopwatch than for the music (I sent my Polar in yesterday to have it serviced, so I've been running without chrono or heart rate). But (silly me) I started the music playing without prepping the stopwatch. So I crossed the start line with iPod in hand, trying to start the timer function and looking (I'm sure) like an absolute tool. I hate it when I look like one of *those* runners--you know, the ones who can't do anything without headphones in their ears.
My dad was with me for this race (I bought him the entry as a Fathers' Day gift, because the race shirt was cool), and we started together. But it didn't take me long to jackrabbit away from him, dodging in and out of slower runners and looking for open ground. For some reason, I always seem to start races right in front of one big pack but right behind the other one. It's like I'm right in between two different levels of runners. Don't care much, if it means I get to run free from elbows and the clomping of other runners' feet.
The course carried us out of High Park (ground zero for the race), up and down a couple of short, gentle hills (in Kansas, these are mountains, you know), and out onto the main roads. The course had a surprising number of ups and downs, all of them long and gentle. At one point. the ground had been dug up in preparation for a driveway, but the race directors did tell us that the sidewalk was out before the race, so we were all expecting it. Shoes got a little bit muddy is all.
Hit the first mile marker in 7:56, according to my iPod, although I figure I can add about 15 seconds to that. My race plan was to hold back a little on the first mile, then open it up for the last three. Usually, in 4 mile races, I find myself wishing it were a 5k at around the 3 mile mark. Figured if I didn't really start racing until mile 1, maybe I could stave that off. When I looked at my split, I was a little wary. But I kicked it up another gear anyway. By this time, it had stopped raining, I had just turned out of the wind, and I was running on a slight uphill. I started to feel a little bit too warm.
At mile 2, there was water. I grabbed a cup without slowing down and sloshed as much of it as I could into my mouth. More of it went on my body than in my body, but I was already wet, so it didn't matter much. I was starting to pull back other runners, one by one, and feeling really good about the pace I set. Hit the 2 mile marker in 7:18, although I didn't check it at the time.
Mile 3 took forever. It wound through a couple of subdivisions, twisting and turning through streets and past cul-de-sacs. I kept turning corners, thinking I'd surely see the mile 3 marker around the next bend. I started to suspect that the course was mismeasured, and mile 3 was extra long. About this time, a big guy--tall and stacked--and I were trading places. I passed him, he passed me. I tucked in behind him to let him block the wind (we were actually running fast enough that I could tell a difference drafting off of him!), and he moved to the side to let me pass. We had a brief conversation about how he made a much better wind block than I did (poor guy was a good foot taller than me). He was hurting, and finally dropped back for good. About the same time, I ran up on a girl who's shirt said "Obsessed: a word lazy people use to describe the dedicated." She was running at a good clip, and it took quite a bit of effort to pass her, but I did. About that time, a good song ("Perfect Situation," by Weezer) came on, and I picked up my cadence a bit and dropped her. Finally passed the 3 mile marker in 9:37. Yeah, I really think the course was mismarked.
Mile 4 hurt physically, but was a cinch in my head. I just told myself, "I can do anything for one more mile," and got 'er done. I passed two thirty-somethings in running skirts (the same kind of uber-fit-but-not-particularly-competitive women who frequent my cycling classes) and made it my goal not to let them pass me. Whenever I heard their footsteps (and chatter) coming up behind me, I picked up my pace.
The "Obsessed" girl re-passed me, but she was fading, and I saw that I could catch her if I wanted to. At this point, we were back in High Park and climbing the final hill; after cresting that ridge, it was a 200 m downhill to the finish line. I surged slightly and drew up even with her as we topped the slope. "C'mon," I said, "it's all downhill from here. You've got enough for one more surge, don't you?" And I started picking it up. She said, "I don't know. I'm spent!" but she kept pace with me, step for step. I pushed her a little more, and she responded. "I'm gonna puke!" she said. "No you're not!" I replied. "Not until you get across that line! You're a strong runner! Finish strong!" And with that we crossed the finish line, her right in front of me.
Coming through the bevy of volunteers at the finish line, I felt energized. I'd seen the clock at the finish line--33 minutes, it said. My goal for this race was 34 minutes (8:30 pace), and I'd done a step better. The "Obsessed" girl high-fived me and thanked me for the encouragement; that felt great. As I exited the finish area, I passed a table where a volunteer said, "All women, stop and see me!" She asked my age group. I said, "20 to 24." And she handed me a silver medal! My first ever medal (not including finishers' medals) at a running event!
I headed back up the road to watch for my dad coming over that final hill. About 5 minutes later, I saw him, and fell into step with him. "It's all downhill from here," I told him. "How about a little push to the end?" He started striding out, taking advantage of the downhill and matching my pace as I accelerated. He crossed in 42:21 (unofficial), feeling tired but having thoroughly enjoyed his Fathers' Day gift. We munched on watermelon, oranges, and cookies. The Derby Runners' Club makes great cookies; they're famous for them. That is apparently the highlight of the Derby Not for Wimps 10-miler.
This race was a ton of fun. Besides the fact that I placed (!), it has a friendly, local feel. There's not the super-competitive atmosphere that I've experienced at some other local races (Easter Sun Run), nor is it overly laid-back, with a bunch of children, walkers, and stroller-pushing parents (Wichita Turkey Trot). The field is good-sized without being too big. The course is interesting, challening, and unique for this area because of the moderate hilliness.
Oh, and did I mention that I got second place in my age group?!