"You can't hide five grand."
That's the bit of sage wisdom that was bestowed upon me by Pat Tarpy as I sat in the parking lot of a nondescript elementary school three hours from home and watched some of the fastest folks in the country walk by carrying bib numbers.
You see, 2013 was the inaugural run for the Westfield 5k, and along with boasting its course as 'flat and fast' as seemingly all races do, it also boasted something most races around here do not -- $29,000 in prize money. No matter who you are or how far away you reside, that kind of cash makes you pause. $5k to the winner? $500 for fifth? First year? The gears were starting to turn, and even though I saw an ad in the well-distributed Level Renner for the race (which should have been a giant red flag), I stupidly began thinking "Hey, it's the first year, and maybe people won't show up." So in late January, when planning out my march to Boston, I signed up for this inaugural 5k with the hope of getting some speed in my legs and some cash in my pocket (or in GOTR's pockets, rather).
Fastforward more than two months and I'm pulling into the lot where the registration is with Sheri, Al and Zolla. Not only do we see many of New England's fastest guys and girls milling about, but we also see Pat and his wife Kim Smith, Alistair Cragg, Amy Hastings, and a number of Africans that clearly didn't look like they were in town for a weekend of heavy drinking at Paddy's Irish Pub. I laughed a little at my innocence (perhaps ignorance is the more appropriate noun there) and went about scouting the course on the warm up with the rest of the Maine contingent, all of whom were also a little crestfallen from the strong showing of elites.
I had scouted the course map a little before I arrived but during the warm up the potential for fast times really started to sink in. After cresting a small hill within the first quarter mile of the race, the course never went uphill again, instead dropping ever so gradually the first two miles and then more precipitously the last mile (although not so much as to cause a person to put on the brakes at any point). The one turn in the race comes in that same first quarter mile, and the wind (at least on this day) was fairly brisk and at our backs. Throw in perfect temps and a faster field than anything I've ever been a part of and... well, this happened:
Mile one: 4:33
Mile two: 4:34
Mile three: 4:43?, 29
That's a PR of 44 seconds. In a 5k. It still doesn't feel real.
Here's how it went down:
When the gun went off and the masses hit the little hill, I found myself stuck behind the women's leaders. I darted to the right and then surged to catch up. About a minute and a half into the race I was running with the WMDP guys and I decided to try to close the gap between us and the lead pack. I never did completely close the gap but I did start reeling in guys that couldn't keep pace with the leaders. When I went through the first mile and saw the split, I figured the hurt would come but I'd just roll with it until I ran out of gas. The more surprising split was the second mile split... I couldn't believe that I hadn't slowed down. Soon after that, however, I held on for dear life and basically died slowly on downhill mile. The finish had a crosswind but the crowds were lively; furthermore, seeing the finish clock read 13:xx as I was closing in was a pretty motivating image, so I sprinted in as best I could.
I have to say 14:18 is beyond my wildest expectations for a 5k at this point, even on a course such as Westfield's. Finish time aside, I'm still very happy about the race due to the folks I beat or almost beat. To be within 7 seconds of Brian Harvey (a guy who has broken 8 in a 3k rather recently) is pretty fantastic, especially in the midst of marathon training. Zolla ran 14:42, a huge PR for him as well, and Sheri and Al both PR'ed too. Throw in some good times on the cooldown and at Paddy's with Jason Ayr and the Messer brothers (just Respecting The Process, of course) and who cares that I drove six hours and didn't collect any cash.
A PR like the one I had today is almost worth five grand.