An Ras Mor (Irish for “The Great Race”) is a flat and fast 5K that begins and ends within shouting distance of MIT. For Cambridge-based CSU, it’s about the closest thing to a home course we have.
This year An Ras Mor was also the third of the seven USATF-NE Grand Prix races, a quirk of the racing calendar that posed a challenge for marathoners training for Boston. Add in the weather — temperatures in the low 40’s and a steady rain — and you can understand why there were a lot of grim faces in the huddle of runners massing for the start.
As I stood there shivering with the rest of the runners, I overheard comments that made it obvious that many of them wanted to be somewhere else. “I ran 18 miles on Friday,” said one. “My focus is on Boston,” said another. “I’m just doing this for the beer,” said another. (I thought: you’ve got to really like beer if you find motivation in the idea of downing a cold one at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning in March when it’s 40 degrees and you’re drenched from the steady rain.) Another person turned to me and said, “This will be my last race for a while.” He said it with such a funereal tone that I thought that I should find out what he meant, but the race was about to start so I didn’t ask any follow-up questions. Geez, I hope the guy is OK.
As for me, I was WAS pretty happy to be there. I had missed the first two Grand Prix races for indoor track, and it was good to be back on the roads. It was a little strange, though, to realize that almost everyone around me had been packing in the mileage while I had been in ultra-low mileage mode for a couple of weeks since Indoor Nationals. For them, the problem was how to manage a short little burst-of-speed 5K while recovering from their 60-, 70-, 80-or-more-mile weeks. My problem was how to even LAST 5000 meters when I hadn’t raced longer than 3000 meters in more than four months. My other problem was that ever since my final indoor race, I’d been nursing a calf injury and had done so little running in the last two weeks that I had no feel for how my body would respond to 18-20 minutes of steady effort.
But as Kevin said to me before the race, “What’s the worst that can happen?” and even though he quickly answered his own question by telling me about how he had missed a month of training last spring after racing a 10K and aggravating an injury, I decided to adopt “what’s the worst that can happen” as my motto-for-the-day.
When the gun went off, or the air horn, or whatever it was, it took me a few seconds to cross the timing mats. The start was fairly narrow and forced those of us not in the first couple of rows to walk for a bit before letting our stride out. I felt pretty good and in no hurry as we took the left hand turn onto Mass Ave. heading toward Central Square. Around me, I could see a lot of people I knew. That was nice. It didn’t feel very fast, but I was still cautious as I gradually worked my way up past some fast starters who were already starting to fade.
The first mile was into a slight headwind and felt fairly relaxed. At the 1-Mile marker, a volunteer yelled out “5:40.” I looked at my watch, which said 6:00, and decided that the mile marker was in the right place but the volunteer was yelling the wrong time. Weird.
Soon after that, we turned left off Mass Ave down a little side street, took another left onto Mt. Auburn Street, and headed back the other direction. I still felt OK, and I seemed to be in the right pack of runners as we took a right turn onto Putnam, which I knew meant we were about half way. We crossed Western Avenue and then River Street, passing the 2-mile marker in 11:56 or so. I definitely felt like I had a lot left, so I tried to speed up, targeting runners in front of me.
The last mile seemed a lot longer than it should have, which is probably exactly how it does feel when you haven’t been doing any mileage or racing anything long. I remember looking at my watch at some point and realizing I had about two minutes to run. I thought “two minutes is a long time!” It was a great relief to hit the 3-mile mark (17:43), and be able to summon a nice little kick to catch one more runner and make sure I didn’t get caught by anyone.
I crossed the finish in 18:16, with a chip time of 18:12. I was happy with that, given the lack of training. Best of all, my calf was only mildly tight after the race, so running hard didn’t seem to set me back at all.
Many of my teammates had very good runs. Kevin ran quite well, with a gun time of 16:58. Terry was not far behind, and was followed by Patrick and Yoshi who ran nice PRs in spite of the raw conditions.
After the race, we tried to organize ourselves for a cooldown, but it took us a while since everyone’s car was in a different direction. I had invited one of the Whirlaway guys to cool down with us, but he finally got impatient and headed off with someone else, saying as he departed, “It’s always so complicated with you CSU guys.” True — if it doesn’t involve a spreadsheet, then it doesn’t feel sufficiently challenging.
So no more races for a while, at least no more on the schedule. As the rest of the world gets ready for Boston, it’s time for me to just run for a while, build the mileage back up, and if spring finally cooperates, get back on the trails.