There's no doubt the field was competitive. Davidson's running rock star, Anthony "Fam" Famiglietti was there, as were some faces I had seen before and knew would be running hard, like Paul Mainwaring and Bill Shires. Fam saw me before the race and asked if I'd like to run the first mile of the course with him. Why not?
We started off in the wrong direction but were set straight soon enough. Fam didn't like what he saw on the first mile -- too hilly for a serious PR effort. It didn't look bad to me though. I don't like races with downhill starts; getting the hills over with early felt like an advantage compared to running them tired at the end of the race.
I was planning on running the whole route as a preview, but Fam turned around at the mile marker, as planned. I saw that the uphill continued for another third of a mile and made a mental note to tell Fam before we started. After that, there was a nice, long downhill before the race flattened out for the finish. For me, the course laid out perfectly, a total of only 80 feet or so of climbing.
Back at the start, I decided to take a GU about 15 minutes before the race started. I wasn't sure it would help but I was pretty sure it wouldn't hurt. I've run races before where I felt a little hungry, and I didn't want to be bothered by that in this one.
About 10 minutes before the race, I made my way to the starting line, which was an absolute zoo. The race directors were doing a pretty good job of letting runners know that the fast people should be in front. The DJ instructed the 5- and 6-minute milers to go to the front of the pack, and that slower runners should fill in behind them. Were they aware that they had a 4-minute miler in the field in Fam?
I settle in about where I wanted, a couple rows back. I knew that no matter what, there would be a bunch of kids that wanted to start first, and the easiest thing was just to stay out of their way. Fam showed up about 3 minutes before the start, and I didn't have a chance to let him know that the uphill continued past the first mile marker. Oh well, I thought -- I'm sure he can handle it!
Dennis from Queen City Timing was making a real effort to get the starting line set. He pointed to a group of boys on the line and told them they should move back, pointing to Fam, and Paul, and Bill, and -- to my surprise -- me, and said that we'd beat them all. That might be true, but I bet most of these kids could keep up with most of us for the first half mile or so.
Soon, we were off, and I spent the first quarter-mile just trying to stay out of trouble. I think a runner went down about 10 feet in front of me, but he was off to the right and so didn't pose a problem for me. Then it was a matter of trying to settle into a comfortable stride as we began the gradual ascent. I was shooting for a sub-6-minute pace for the race, which would have me finishing just under 18:40.
I felt pretty confident about the pace plan, since I had run 4 X 800 on Thursday, and each interval had felt pretty good at a 5:50-5:45 pace. I followed that up with some 400s at a sub-5:30 pace, and also felt good for those.
Mile 1 arrived and I hit my "lap" button to see that I'd finished the mile in 5:59. Perfect! I only had to hang on for a short uphill stretch before I could start to cruise downhill. I passed several younger runners on the uphill stretch. Looking at my watch as I started downhill, I was still on pace! Now, take it easy, Munger, and you'll have this one in the bag. I tried to focus on good form while still taking advantage of the downhill. At Mile 2 I was still on target, even a little faster than my goal at 5:53.
I turned onto the main drag and tried to increase my effort as the course flattened out. I could do it, but I wasn't sure I'd be able to hang on until the finish. Then I looked at my watch, which said "6:03." I'd have to go faster. I picked it up. Just hang on, Dave!
The next thing I noticed was a teenager loping past me on the left. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and hardly seemed to even be trying to run fast. I've seen more enthusiasm in a kid who's just been told he has to clean up his room. That said, there was no way I could hang with this kid, so I just let him go. Looking down at my watch, I was still running a solid 5:58. I thought of my high school cross-country coach, Mr. Beckwith, bellowing "STRIDE, MUNGER, STRIDE" across the track at me. I picked up the pace.
A half-mile to go. Mopey Teen was still ahead of me as we turned into the Blakeney Mall parking lot. We had to run all the way around the Target, which was no easy task. I kept up the pace. Maybe Mopey Teen's mom had bribed him with a trip to the movies after he finished, because there was no way I was going to catch him. We passed Mile 3, and I remembered to hit the "lap" button. 5:43! I was going to crush my goal for the race. As I turned the last corner, I could see the finish line clock ticking 17:55, 17:56. Could I break 18 minutes? No, the last I saw, it read 18:02. I stopped my watch, grabbed a bottle of water from the race official, and looked to see what other goodies were available in the finish area. Another runner, close to my age, shook my hand and congratulated me on a great race. I hadn't seen him during the race, so I guess he was behind me. I was his mopey teen!
As I was strolling past the Smoothie King booth (no thanks, it's 40 degrees out!), I noticed that my watch was still running. I didn't manage to stop it until it read 19:40. Oops. I had hit "lap" instead of "stop" as I crossed the line.
At least I'd get an official time for the race: 18:03. That was a huge PR for me, beating my previous record by 57 seconds! I'll take it. That ended up being good enough for first in age group (thanks to a Master's division that took two runners out of my age group). Fam won the race in 13:40 -- a North Carolina 5K record. I was 17th overall out of 1,012 finishers. Not bad! My Blue Ridge Relay teammate Stan Austin finished in 18:56 -- very impressive considering he had run a 50K the week before!
My award packet included a very nice plaque, plus $45 in gift certificates to sporting goods stores -- so in the end I actually made money on the race. I'll take it!
Here's the obligatory finish line photo:
Here's a link to the results, and below is the GPS record of the race.