Walnut Creek, CA, November 26, 2009 -- Walnut Creek Turkey Trot 10k
It's tough to take a race seriously when the race mascot is wearing a Turkey costume. Which is how it should be for a turkey trot.
As the runners lined up, I deliberately avoided the type-As in the front row. I looked around, locating a non-threatening spot in the third row next to a spry older woman -- kind of a Kathryn Hepburn in On Golden Pond-type.
I gave her my best holiday-cheer smile and said good morning.
She eyed my compression socks, gave me a steely-eyed stare and shifted into the starting stance used by elite 5000 meter runners.
What's this about?
I tried to ignore her, standing nonchalantly as if I might walk the first 100 meters. I was only running this race as training for next week's California International Marathon, I lied to myself.
Daydreaming, I belatedly heard the announcer say: ".... 3, 2, 1, Go!"
I sprang forward. No one else moved, except to get out of my way. I nearly took out the first two rows.
"So that's how I'll be counting down when we start the race. "3, 2, 1, Go. Got it?" the announcer said again.
My adversary grinned, crouching a little lower even. "Damn it. She's in my head," I realized.
And now she knew I wasn't here for an easy jog. I had lost the element of surprise. I couldn't even lie to myself any longer. But I had been running 60 miles per week, hopping up hills on one leg, plyometricizing, speed training and weight training. So, game on, Ms. Hepburn.
And we were off. She was surprisingly fast for an AARP member. I was quickly in the red zone trying to hold onto her heels through the first 200 yards. I had hoped to run the 10k in about 40 minutes at a 6:30 pace, but she had me sprinting too hard, too early.
At the first corner I tried to take the inside lane. She deliberately cut me off. She was trying to put me away early with a scalding 6:00 minute per mile pace through the first half mile. But I was not going away easy, holiday cheer be damned.
I thought I noticed her slowing a touch at the three-quarter mile mark and I began to look for a weakness.
And there it was. She didn't like running in the ditch between the street and the sidewalk. I could see her looking for room on the curb, so I moved alongside, running at the edge of the sidewalk, pinning her in the gutter. She would have to speed up or slow down to claim some sidewalk.
She slowed. I made my move.
Just as the sidewalk turned into a narrow trail, I nimbly cut between a couple guys who were fading and blocking the path. I opened a gap on her. Without looking back, I strode out at a blistering 6:20 pace for the next two miles. When I looked back, she was gone. Beat the ones you can, I say.
Surprised by how good I was feeling, ( I had never averaged better than 6:50s for a 10k in any previous race) I began to worry about that I had gone out too quickly. And indeed, I started to slow a little right about the time a dude running barefoot and topless came through.
This guy was the anti-compression sock racer -- almost naked, except for a pair of 1980's green short-shorts. Looking for a new challenge, I was determined to prove the superiority of the compression gear. I ducked in behind him and kept pace as we picked off runners every quarter mile through mile 4.
But that's when the early effort to drop Kathryn Hepburn caught up with me. I watched helplessly as Short-Shorts padded off with his naked feet. No wonder Ostriches run so fast.
I slowed just enough to leave something in the tank for the last mile. But this was an unnecessary strategy, because the race slowed all on its own at mile 5. At that point -- the point at which the course narrows dramatically -- the fast 10k runners caught a few hundred 5k walkers enjoying a leisurely Thanksgiving stroll.
Bedlam ensued. The unsuspecting 5k crowd with their baby strollers, dogs and iPods were stampeded. Being somewhat nimble I managed to avoid solid contact with the walkers for a few hundred yards, until I found myself on the heels of a big guy running flat-out for the finish. Lacking lateral quickness, he was yelling "on your left", bowling over anyone and everything in his path.
It was surreal. One second I'm running a 10k -- the next I'm the cop in a movie chase scene on a busy sidewalk in New York City. The big guy ahead of me was bouncing off people, crashing into dogs and strollers, forcing me to dodge and hurdle through the chaos as I chased him through the crowd. As we finally broke into the open, I half expected the guy to run down a dead-end alley and attempt to scale a chain-link fence.
But no, we were still racing a 10k, so after bouncing off the last person in his path, the big guy hit the afterburners and opened a gap, beating me to the line by a second.
So much for holiday cheer and goodwill to men. But hey, I finished 3rd in the 40-49 age group in 40 minutes and 45 seconds, 2:20 faster than my previous PR, which was so cool that I didn't even mind that there wasn't a prize for 3rd place -- again. And next year, I'll know to avoid lining up next to the the little old lady in the third row.
Next up. CIM. Boston Qualifying Time, here I come.