That's the only way I can describe how I felt at around mile 9 of this race. I found myself running the race of my life and had no idea how I was doing it.
You see, against my better judgment, I attended my friends Steve and Mack's birthday bash on Saturday night with the intention of having only one beverage, giving my congratulations and meandering home at a decent hour to get some decent rest for the race. After all, I had spent Thursday and Friday night in the Old Port as well and didn't need a third straight night of pale ales, Five Guys and questionable decisions to affect my race any further. But after donning a three-piece suit (most of which I purchased at Goodwill) and jamming with my roommate and his fiancee (also headed to the party), I knew it wouldn't be a one-and-done night. Fast-forward to 1:30AM and I was wagering drinks on St. Patty's day that I would still nab a top-5 spot on Sunday, not a very safe bet on my end (or at least I thought).
Less than five hours later I scraped myself out of bed and met Pete and Erica for the trip down. Luckily, Pete had the back of his Volvo folded down so one person at a time could lay down. Dibs. I got horizontal for the first hour of the trek and drove the last two to New Bedford. Erica was a source of constant conversation, per usual.
The lead-up to the race was fairly hectic and because of a couple of necessary bathroom breaks I was only able to get in about 13 minutes of warmup, with no strides or plyos or anything -- I guess it's a good thing the race was not a 5k or something would have snapped out of the gate. I was able to make it to the front of the starting line with a few minutes to spare and found a spot next to Sheri, Pete, Al and my boy DV. Dan dropped an obligatory #bilas and then we were off.
Mile one was into the wind but downhill and fairly quick. I immediately saw defending champ Matt Pelletier head to the front, and I also kept an eye on Kevin Johnson of WMDP and Brian Harvey of BAA, both of whom I assumed would be in the mix for the W. About a half-mile in there was a group of about a dozen guys that started to separate from the masses and I made a point to move up before any more of a gap was made, voicing my intentions to DV before I accelerated.
Things started to slow down during an uphill and into-the-wind mile two, and while I was chomping at the bit to go faster, I knew there were guys in that group much faster than myself, so I decided to hold back and draft. When we hit two in 5:2x and Peter Gilmore from BAA made a crack about taking the wind the entire way, I announced to no one in particular that I'd take the third mile.
When I initially took the lead I realized that I had become a little too excited and gapped the group by close to 10 meters, something I didn't want to do (what was the point of me taking the lead if I wasn't breaking the wind for anyone?) I just decided to settle into a pace and if folks wanted to draft, they'd have to come to me. I glanced back a couple of minutes later and found to my surprise that the pack had started to stretch out, with Sean Duncan of WMDP on my left shoulder. When we finally reached the third mile mark I was very happy to relinquish the lead. With my quads feeling the burn more than I would have liked, I started to think I had screwed myself with the previous night's events... maybe dancing on that chair wasn't a great idea after all.
Kevin, Sean and Matt all took off ahead of me, with Jason Ayr and Brian in hot pursuit. By four miles in I had fallen to a sixth place and the clear leaders (Sean, Kevin and Matt) were starting to really move. I knew they were flying when I lost 10+ seconds on them while still clocking a 4:57 fifth mile. Mile six was just as quick (with wind and gravity aiding the progress) and it helped me to keep Jason and Brian within shouting distance. At about seven miles I had finally caught up to Brian, which was a huge surprise. The miles kept clipping along, and by the Mile 9 marker I realized I had just averaged sub-5 for the last five miles.
This blew my mind... I mean, I wasn't even slowing down yet. Nothing I had done in my training the past couple of months had been even close to this. I decided not to let it slow my roll and I moved up slowly but deliberately until I pulled up next to Jason. I was feeling pretty good and the cheers from the spectators (they probably enjoyed my American Flag bandana) gave me at least a small boost. I noticed Sean had fallen off the leaders and convinced myself that I should at least try to catch him even though he was still a ways up. If the course was winding and wooded I would have never known he was coming back and probably wouldn't have pushed, but since I could see him, I knew I had a shot.
After nine, the pace slowed considerably as the course turned into the wind. I saw my pace increase from sub-5 to 5:10, and then 5:17 for the 11th mile. I started doing math in my head and then stopped... I needed to compete against the competition and not the clock. I dug a little deeper and was able to pull up next to Sean just after the 12-mile marker. He responded with a small surge of his own but I was able to counter and pull ahead. Then came that nasty little hill, and I was doing all I could to focus on Matt (who had fallen back and I could finally see again) instead of turning around to see where Sean was. I turned around anyways and saw that I needed to really push into the finish to hold onto 3rd. The downhill and turn to the finish had me digging pretty hard, and all the while I was waiting for a finish sprint from Sean that never materialized.
When I crossed the line and glanced at the clock I couldn't believe it... 1:07:14. My pie-in-the-sky goal for this race was 1:07:30, and I really didn't think I could achieve that. I would have been very happy with sub-1:08. It is a huge, huge confidence booster for Boston. I may actually get that PR I've been waiting two-plus years to achieve.
Huge props to the Dirigo R.C. team for putting together a great collective effort. Lots of love to DV for working through injury during the race, and I tip my hat to him for making a smart decision about Boston, something I'm sure was tough for him to do (but the right thing at this point). It was great to meet Matt, Sean and Kevin after the race, and after witnessing the flood of light blue jerseys ahead of me, I developed a whole new level of respect for the Western Mass Distance Project. Can't wait to get a run in with those guys sometime soon.
After a short cooldown, a small but pleasant awards ceremony in which I was able to nab $325 for Girls On The Run of Maine, an interview with the ever-present Level Renner crew and a cup of decent post-race chowder, I called dibs on the back of the Volvo again and headed home.
The real takeaway of the day: there's nothing like drinking your St. Patty's Day Guinness for free.