Last year I had pre-registered for the Old Fashioned 10 Miler, one of the staple winter races 'round these parts, only to have it cancelled at the last minute. I felt somewhat guiltily lucky, as I was not in good shape at the time, but I would have shown up anyway to "take my medicine", so to speak.
Cut to this year: off-season training is going well, and I'm in much better shape. Running conditions have been tough the last couple of weeks, and I'm excited to get in a fast run at the OFTM as a stepping-stone toward my half marathon at New Bedford. Only a pretty big weather system rolls in Saturday afternoon, and snow falls late into the night. Email Saturday morning claims the race is on, and there is nothing else by 9pm, when I last check email.
I get up moderately early this morning to shovel out my parking space and then return inside for a slice of bread with peanut-butter (the spartan breakfast I prefer prior to an 11am race), then got my kit together and headed out. I-95 is clear, but most other roads still have a layer of packed snow on them, and I'm already revising hopes of breaking 60 minutes.
The parking lot is almost totally empty, and I head in to the race HQ with trepidation, already beginning to think I should have checked email this morning. Yup; I find the volunteers in a huddle, as the RD relates that his exploratory drive of the 10 mile course showed it was infeasible to run, and they will be substituting a double-loop of the 5k course in its place. Mike Gilio gives me the heads-up that the race is in fact delayed 2 hours as well--d'oh!
I judiciously cadge a 1/4 bagel from the post-race supplies, and consider my options. I definitely want to get a long run in today, and the best thing to do seems to be to do a 7 mile "warm-up" ahead of the race, then run the 10k as a simulation of the 2nd half of a Half. Even with an hour run ahead of me, I've got some time to kill, so I walk the 1.5 miles around the block, then go back to my car for a bit.
My warm-up turns out to be quite nice--the back roads are all snow-covered and traction is poor, but there's virtually no traffic and all is calm and quiet. I focus on good form and try not to slip around too much.
I get back in time to join the pack of runners queuing up on the road. There must be 400-500 people here, the crazy fools. The two races are going off together, so there is quite a mill. Once I find my way to the front, I hear the RD explaining that the course is "actually closer to 5 miles". Good to know!
The gun goes off and immediately all thoughts of running this as a workout or some kind of simulation go careening out of my head, and I am racing. Conditions are TOUGH; I can feel snow spilling out from behind me as I try to claw the ground for purchase through the soles of my shoes (a pair of virtually treadless Nike Frees).
One guy immediately takes command of the race, and no it is not me. I'm third off the front, with another dude not far off my shoulder behind me. We hit the first turn and enjoy a brief respite of clear pavement--it is like putting on rocket boots.
Soon we are back on snow, and then we hit the 1st mile: 5:52, and it is SO NOT AEROBIC. I'm thinking currapp this is hard! A monster strength workout, for certain. We cut the turn onto Baker Street, and the guy in front of me is floating maybe 15 yards ahead. Did I hear him say he was running the 5K? I am pretty sure he said that. I focus on looking for lines of clear pavement and making the most of them (there aren't many).
Getting back onto Fox Hill, we cross our own trail, and the pack has torn the surface up, creating pockets of ankle-deep loose snow along with occasional pockets of opportunity. I can feel the #4 runner still not far behind me. We continue the loop, and soon the guy ahead of me is turning off to finish. The leader is not visible--he might also have been running the 5K, but since he was absolutely killing it I suspect he's running the longer distance.
Now we are picking up runners still on their first loop, and then fun begins. The road is filled with slightly-unstable formations of slow-moving runners and walkers, creating a moving maze to navigate. As the 4-mile mark comes in sight, I realize that my friend from the start is still tailing me. This does not make me unhappy--actually, it's awesome. How often do you get a good head-to-head race, no complacency allowed?
What follows has elements of both strategy and luck. I try to pick lines through the field that will be hard to follow, and lines that will let me monopolize pavement where it shows up. But the available routes are mostly determined by the shifting currents of the crowd. With Fox Hill quickly coming to a close, I see my opponent is still right on my shoulder. "To the finish!" he says. AYE, to the finish! We press on bobbing and weaving for all we're worth, and soon are kicking--if you can call it that--down toward the chute. I finish ahead by about 4 seconds.
It turns out his name is Russ, and we go do a cool-down, along with his neighbor. So ends the highly improvisational 19th running of the Old Fashioned 10 Miler. Props to Jim Morris and his volunteers for pulling off a successful race out of such implausible conditions. Meanwhile, I feel like I'm going to be well prepared for when the going gets tough in the last 5 miles of New Bedford--it won't be any worse than this race was.
Final Results: 5.(2?) miles in 31:52, for 2nd overall.
Total mileage today: 15.