The USATF New England Grand Prix Series got underway Sunday, as a thousand runners descended on the neighborhood between Central Square and MIT in Cambridge for the 9:30 a.m. start of the An Ras Mor 5k.
In 2015, An Ras Mor (The Great Race) had not been part of the USATF-NE championship series, but had instead been the first race in the New England Runner Pub Series. As a humble pub race, it had still attracted over 600 runners, and the times weren’t too shabby, either. David Wilson had won in 15:29, dipping below 5:00 mile pace, and 33 other runners had run 6:00 pace or better. As a New England Championship for 2016, however, the race was a lot faster and a lot deeper. Louis Serafini won in 14:44, one of 31 runners who bettered Wilson’s time from the previous year. And 6:00 pace? That would get have gotten you only 220th on Sunday.
While the fast times were no doubt the result of a much faster field, they were perhaps aided by near-perfect conditions for early March, with temperatures in the mid-30s and little wind. It was a stark contrast to 2015, which, in spite of being two weeks later on the calendar, had been bitterly cold and windy, making it nearly impossible to get or stay warm. By contrast, the weather on Sunday was downright pleasant, and encouraged extended post-race yakking with teammates and a leisurely cool-down out to the river and back.
I was very proud of my CSU teammates, who showed up in force and ran races that demonstrated the benefits of all the long runs and track workouts done over the winter. Top CSU finisher was Patrick, who PR’d in 16:14, a time that would have placed him 4th in 2015 but earned him 63rd in 2016. Patrick, in the midst of preparation for a marathon, had allowed himself the luxury of a couple of easy days, and felt fresh for the race. Or, as he described it on our cool-down run, had woken up that morning free of the perpetual fatigue and soreness in his feet and legs that accompanies his hundred-mile weeks.
Amory also PR’d, while winning the master’s women’s division, no mean accomplishment on the highly competitive USATF-NE circuit. Her official time of 17:40 was 45 seconds faster than in 2015.
The ageless (well, actually he’s 67) Gordon ran 19:43 to place third in the 60+ age group. Gordon and the other seniors are among those superb age-group runners who are “hidden in plain sight” at these championship events. Buried deep in the pack, they nevertheless submit performances that rise so far above the ordinary that it’s a shame they are nearly invisible among all the younger runners. Top runner among the sixty-plus set was Vermont’s Bill Dixon who, at age 68, ran 18:53. My handy age-grading calculator tells me that’s the “equivalent” of an open athlete running 14:07, or 37 seconds faster than the winner. Mercy!
One of the really enjoyable things about these early season races is the social aspect. Specifically, the race is a chance to reconnect with other runners you haven’t seen since the fall and see who has made it through the winter relatively unscathed and who is a hurting puppy. Actually, most of us (in my age group anyway) are hurting puppies in one way or another, but sharing our complaints isn’t as negative as it sounds. The reason is that if we’ve actually made it to the race at all, things aren’t so bad, certainly not as bad as they could be. Most of us are slower than we want to be, but at least we’re here, at the start of the season, and the running will only get easier as spring takes hold, right?
My own race definitely fell into the “happy to be here at all” category. Not having toed a starting line for several months, I mistimed everything about the morning, and ended up with absolutely no time to spare for my warm-up and pre-race routine. I managed to forget gear, arrive late to the race, park illegally (paying off the ticket will make the race entry fee a little higher for me), and leave myself too little time for the dynamic drills that I perform with all the fervor of a religious rite before every race and workout. It’s a wonder I didn’t miss the start, but I made it. Unfortunately, I also ended up far back in the crowd, and spent the first fifteen seconds of the race walking to the start line. After that, it took another quarter mile or so to break from a slow jog and start running, but whatever. I was happy to be there, and the rest of the race went fine. In the end, I was only seven seconds slower than my time from 2015, and maybe all of that and more could be blamed on the slow start.
The one thing that did not tempt me was the beer. It was obviously popular, as the lines for the free drinks were long at post-race headquarters. But I just didn’t see how standing in that line and quaffing my complementary beverage at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning was going to increase my satisfaction at having survived this first test of the new racing season. No, not matter how sunny and spring-like it felt, and no matter how many optimistic feelings had been stirred, I knew I’d be better off heading home and returning, unimpaired (or unaided, depending on your point of view), to the chores and routines of a normal Sunday. The two tickets for free suds attached to my number remained there, where they belonged.
The day and the season were young. I had to pace myself.