Participant first, Race Director second

My 2015 race plans are still shaping up, but I kicked things off this past weekend with my first race of the season.

It’s a race I was excited to run. It has a ton of history as the oldest continuously held running event in Minnesota. It’s also a time handicapped start, meaning the fastest runners start last. The goal is for everyone to finish around the same time. Your goal as a runner is to pass as many people ahead of you.

It’s the Fred Kurz 10 Miler, named in honor of Fred Kurz, who was a standout runner who was killed at the age of 20. Kurz was also a charter member of a local running organization that later became the Minnesota Distance Running Association (MDRA), where I currently serve as a board member.

The set up is a lot like my triathlon racing. I’m a descent swimmer (getting better!), but still not in the front of the pack. I’m a stronger cyclist. And then I close with the run, my strongest discipline. So, I’m always playing catch up. The two scenarios are the same.

But I was most excited for the experience, not necessarily trying to PR. In fact, I’ve been limited the past 2 months with running (getting over a slight knee issue), so a 60-minute time probably wasn’t in the cards.

So, the goal was to take in the opportunity to race and mingle with fellow Minnesota runners. Even more, I wanted to observe how the race was managed. Next year, I’ll be taking over this storied race as race director. But before taking the reigns, the current race director and I agreed it would be a good experience to race it first.

****

The morning was picture perfect. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A chilly start, but it quickly warmed up.

The race officially began at 8:00am. But, with the handicapped start, I didn’t start my race until about 9:30am. It felt a bit like being the last swim wave in a triathlon. You get to the race early, the same time as everyone else. Get checked in. Then wait and hour or more. I remember at the Philadelphia Triathlon I would always have the very last swim wave, which meant I waited about 65-70 minutes between transition closing and when I hit the water.

I didn’t mind the wait though. I chatted with a few other runners, the current race director, and a few of the volunteers. Last weekend I volunteered at one of the other MDRA-sponsored races, the Ron Daws 25k. It’s a wonderful change to see a race from a volunteer’s perspective. It’s a totally different experience. It makes me appreciate them even more (and serves as a good reminder to thank them when I pass them on the course).

I went through my normal warm up. My knee felt a little sore, but quickly loosened up. I didn’t have any issues with it the rest of the race.

I started with five other runners. Two of them bolted out ahead of me at the start. I never saw one of them again, his advantage grew and grew over the 10 miles. The other built a 200 meter lead in the first mile and stayed that way the entire race.

Then there was my race companion for the first six miles. We ran stride for stride for about 40 minutes. No words, just the steady tap of our four feet hitting the group, sometimes in unison.

Because my runs were no more than about 7-8 miles the past couple weeks, and at a moderate effort, I didn’t push things too hard. Sure I wanted a solid run, but in my head this was a training run.

After a half mile, the race course turns onto an unpaved, gravel trail. From there it’s a simple out and back. A mile in I check my watch; 6:05 for the first mile. Not bad at all. And I felt really comfortable.

The next four miles continued like the first one. I ran side by side with this other guy, clipping along at about 6:15-6:20 pace. There were times when I felt like I was holding back. I wanted to run harder. But in my head I had to remind myself of what my goal was for the race. Not every race is an “A” race. You can’t bury yourself each and every race. This was a stepping stone for triathlon season.

So, the race turned into a one-on-one battle with this other runner. We hit the turn-around. I surged slightly ahead of him to round the cone first. Then we came back together.

In my head I started to think about when I’d make my move. There was a water stop between miles 6 and 7, and that’s when I did it. There was a very gradual downhill, we both grabbed water, and then I surged. I felt the gap between us slowly grow. With each stride came a bit more daylight. With more daylight came more energy to surge more.

More quads started to fatigue. I knew they would. Not having run like this for months I knew it was only a matter of time. I dropped the other runner, and with my legs starting to burn, it became a mental game.

I passed a handful of more runners. My pace slowed by mile 9. The last half mile I could feel some serious tightness in my quads and calves. If I surged too much they’d surely cramp. So, instead of finishing in a sprint, it was more of a leisurely 6:45 tempo effort.

I finished in 1:05:08, or 6:30 pace. Well off my usual 10 miler pace, but a solid first run of the year, all things considering. It was good for 13th place overall.

The best part of the race came afterwards. I was introduced to Margaret, Fred’s sister. She lives in Boston but was in town for the weekend. What a special opportunity. We talked and she told me about her brother, about what a great athlete he was (not just runner, but also cyclist). Her eyes began to well the more she talked about him. I just listened.

And it was then that I remembered why I wanted to be race director for this race. It wasn’t because of the unique handicap start or really anything to do with the race. It’s because of the history.

Now I’m apart of that history.

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