So long! As I woke up this morning I thought I shouldn’t have registered: I am slowly getting back into running and training, and definitely I am not ready to race. Not at all. Not with not even 20 miles a week on my legs and for no longer than a month or so. But then as I was getting ready, as the coffee was coming up — Italians say “coffee is coming up” when it is ready — I thought again and … oh well, that was the most sensible resolution I had in months: I was not going to race, but I wanted to be in a race.
I drove to Hadley a bit early; I was getting restless in my apt and needed to get out. The morning was chilly and I wondered whether it was a bad idea to race in shorts and short sleeves shirt, looking around I certainly had that feeling: most runners were wearing in long sleeves if not in jackets and pants. I started an easy warm-up, leisurely without rush: I was there to enjoy the scenery, the race, and the company of runners. (Runners are cool!) The trees are putting up their fall dresses, the bright yellow and red leaves framing the road, the grey sky naturally contrasting the New England foliage. Either was I warming up or was the air; I tossed the warm sweater in the car and wandered around jogging.
The race was supposed to start at 10am, but the organizers decided to move it up to 10:15 since people were still showing up. I ran along the dike exchanging smiles and looks with other runners; when I saw them heading back I followed suit: I didn’t bring the watch (I may have forgotten it in the locker at the gym) but that was the idea — run the race because I love running and not because I wanted to improve my PB.
We gathered behind the start line, and then it hit me: I felt happy, absolutely utterly happy; it was my element, a comfortable dress hanging weightless on my shoulder. I was participating to the excitement that comes the few minutes before the gun, when directions become clear and focus is centered towards whatever objective one has.
When the gun fired, I tucked behind some girls who were hoping to run at a 8 minutes pace. I am just coming out of some 9 months of injury and didn’t want to stress the Achilles for no reason: the slow, initial traffic could help slow me down to an easy jog. Honestly, I tried this trick several times and never succeeded to follow a much slower runner for more than a couple of minutes; I swung out of the crowd and picked up the pace a bit. I was breathing fine, total control, and thought it was a 7 minutes pace: how wrong I was! The race marshal shouted the splits as I approached the first mile marker: 6:30, 6:40 … shit! I said out loud, I should be running much more slowly! I added in my thoughts and I knew it should have been the other way around: I said what I should have thought, and thought what I should have said.
Since I wasn’t racing, I hitched a couple of rides: when I was near someone running at a nice, comfortable pace I would be sticking with them for few minutes and then let them go if they wanted to pick up the pace or changed my chauffeur if the new guy had a more suitable pace. I don’t know … I hope I didn’t annoy them much.
The course is flat and fast: an out-and-back from the Hadley Commons towards Northampton, across farmland and trees in their autumnal colors. It’s a beautiful course I am glad I had the chance this year to run, though I was a bit worried about the U-turn before heading back to the Commons: U-turns are usually a terrible annoyance in races, not only they’re utterly slow but also they may form dangerous clogs: I had this experience a few times before, but fortunately not this time — the pack I was running with was sufficiently spread out and I didn’t fear I was about to stumble on flying feet and legs.
The second mile marker was approached at around 14 minutes: I slowed down a bit evidently, but it’s nice not to worry about these details. At that point, with roughly a mile to go, I was running with this other guy, our paces were pretty similar but either I unconsciously sped up a bit or he slowed down and he ended up few meters behind me. I was hearing his breathing and feet on the ground; I hoped to help and pace him, I looked behind my shoulder a few times and resisted the temptation to encourage him, to motivate him to run faster, were I running a marathon or half-marathon I may have done but a 5k is a totally different beast and I always felt people might find these shouts a tidbit annoying and sarcastic.
Last turn to the left and the homestretch, as I was getting closer to finish line I was starting discerning the race clock and saw the first number to be a 19! Wait a minute, everybody! I can’t run a minute faster of my personal best when I am not feeling like racing! Damn, PB: 19:53! A neat sub-20 5k with just 18 miles a week of training: it tells more about my previous races than it does on today’s. I do have to train more.
The post-race festivities had live music and farm market to wander around; I burned a couple of twenties, I guess, but I had a lot of fun and ate some great food, a slice of pumpkin pie and an apple & pumpkin muffin to die for.
A side note: the Achilles didn’t complain and it wasn’t even sore after the race. I still cross my fingers every time I think about it, but I’m growing more confident I might (I might!) have left the tendinitis behind me. But let’s keep the fingers tightly cross still!
… in italiano …
Finalmente una corsa! Sono passati 9 mesi dall’ultima, la Hot Chocolate Run a Northampton: era ancora il 2010 e di lì a poche settimane avrei iniziato un lungo calvario di riabilitazione per un dannato tendine d’Achille.
La gara è andata meglio di quanto mi sarei mai aspettato, soprattutto considerando che non avevo intenzione di tirare ed ero andato con la sola intenzione di divertirmi; fatto sta che sono addirittura riuscito a migliorare il mio PB nei 5km … questo la dice lunga su quanto poco seriamente ho corso e corro i 5km: 19:53 per un passo di 6:25 al miglio.
Il tendine non mi ha fatto male durante e nemmeno dopo! Che stia vedendo la luce alla fine del tunnel? Lo spero, ma continuo ad incrociare le dita e fare tutti gli scongiuri di rito!
La cronaca della gara è su AndóCorri!