Every weekday afternoon for the last two weeks, I drove past a sandwich board in the center of Concord advertising a local 10K road race scheduled for Sunday, September 14. And every time I saw that sign, my first thought was “Oh, that would be fun…” and my second thought was, “…too bad ‘Lone Gull’ is that day.” ‘Lone Gull’ meant, of course, the Lone Gull 10K in Gloucester, which served as this year’s USATF-NE 10K championship.
Had I ignored Lone Gull and dropped in on the Concord race, I would have likely finished in the top five. At Lone Gull I was 160th, and was fortunate to get that.
With the race scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m., I was up by 5:30, plenty of time to have some toast and tea, and make sure I had seven layers of warm clothes for what I figured would be a fairly chilly morning. The plan was to drive to Terry’s house in Needham to car-pool, with a goal of being on the road before 7:00. We’d pick up Tyler and Mariana at a predetermined rendezvous off the highway in Wakefield, and then book it to Good Harbor Beach. As I drove to Needham, I noted that the outside temperature was only 50 F.
We encountered little traffic, and Terry successfully navigated the rotaries of Gloucester, arriving at Good Harbor Beach a little before 8:00. We were in luck, as the lines for the bathrooms were still short. After a few minutes we were in another line, this time to pick up numbers. For some reason, the line for pre-registered runners on club teams — which meant pretty much everybody — was much longer and slower than the line for those registering at the race. Finally, we had our team packet, including numbers and headed back to Terry’s car.
I should mention that it was a treat to have Tyler there for the race. I’m usually so wrapped up in my own problems and my middle-of-the-pack perspective that I don’t concern myself with the who’s going to win, and how the race for the top spots is going to play out. While this was a training effort for Tyler (targeting his goal half-marathon pace), he still had a reasonable chance of finishing in the top five. So while Terry and I were chatting up other geezers and bemoaning our collective infirmity, Tyler was plotting his strategy and chances against what looked like a very fast field. It occurred to me that Tyler must think old runners only ever talk about their injuries and medical procedures. And then it occurred to me that it’s true. That’s pretty much all we talk about.
Anyway, we warmed up — me in my seven layers, including hat and gloves, and Terry in slightly less arctic attire — and then we switched into racing shoes and made our way across the dunes to the start.
As this was only my second race back after a frustrating five months of on-again, off-again training, I approached the race with modest expectations. “Tempo run” was my mantra, and I figured that would be between 6:15 and 6:20 per mile. I also knew the race would be fairly quick at the start. The first mile of Lone Gull is slightly downhill, and with so many fast folk in the race, the pace would not lag. I didn’t hear the signal to start the race, but when the crowd started shuffling forward, I started my watch. I was probably 8-10 rows back from the front, so it took me a few seconds to cross the timing mats and after another 10-15 seconds of jostling, I found myself actually running.
For the first mile or so, I seemed to be on the tail end of a pack of runners that I knew. I could see my teammates, Patrick, Terry, and Kevin, up ahead and pulling away. At some point another teammate, Matt, passed by a few runners to my right. There were lots of other familiar faces — I guess I should say familiar backs — from other clubs.
I felt good. Not strained. First mile in 6:04.
Somewhere in the second mile, I realized that I was running on my own. I no longer recognized anyone around me, and those familiar backs had eased away into the distance. I settled into a comfortable tempo-ish pace and focused on running the tangents. People passed me, but I ignored them. Second mile in 12:23.
While I was lost in my own world, there were interesting races taking place far ahead of me. Tyler was following his own pre-race plan to a “T” running a 4:50 first mile, but unfortunately this left him five seconds behind the front pack of five runners who were working together while he was on his own. I had confidently predicted that the race would go out crazy fast and that he’d be around to pick through the wreckage, but instead the front runners were running very evenly and efficiently. Tyler would eventually catch the fifth runner, but would struggle in the last two kilometers to open a gap running into a stiff headwind along the ocean. The guy he caught would sit on him and outkick him in the final 200 meters, leaving Tyler to finish sixth in 30:55.
Meanwhile, Patrick and Terry were battling with a big group running at about 5:50 pace. Patrick would end up running 36:10, a PR by a minute and a half, with Terry about ten seconds back. Those stalwart efforts earned them 109th and 113th places, respectively. Next, Kevin finished in 36:35, and a minute later Matt crossed the line in 37:35, just sneaking into the top 150.
After I passed 3 miles in 18:33 and 5K in 19:16, I knew that the second half of the race would go well. While I felt far from racing fit, a few weeks of track workouts had re-introduced me to the upper ends of my aerobic capacity, and I was feeling quite comfortable. So after passing mile 4 in 24:53, I started to bear down a little and go after the runners in front of me.
Atlantic Avenue is a long, exposed stretch of road that runs along the ocean. The last two miles of Lone Gull always seem longer than that, and you find yourself wondering why it’s taking so long to arrive at the final two mile markers. In that sense, I was happy I had something left to push with. I hit Mile 5 in 30:58 (6:05), and Mile 6 (at the top of the last hill) in 37:07 (6:09). I had less than I thought I would for the final, downhill 0.2 miles, but managed to catch one more person there to finish in 37:27 (37:24 chip time).
Having finished, I walked back to the 6M mark, where Tyler had been cheering. We waited for a while for Mariana to finish, but she managed to sneak past us without our seeing her. In her first race since high school (six years ago), she had run massive negative splits (24-something for the first 5k, and 21-something for the second 5k) to finish in 46:30.
After a cooldown, and passing on the long line for breakfast, we headed out. Tyler was already planning his afternoon workout. The rest of us had non-running things to attend to. I took stock of how I felt and pronounced it good. Best of all, no unusual pain, just a normal amount of muscular soreness and a heightened interest in racing again soon.