"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Best Race

Diane's blog asked the question of "What were you doing in 1986?" It reminded me of the only race I've ever run where I can still remember the date: July 12, 1986.

There was (and I think still is) a series of road races in White Bear Lake, MN which were pretty competitive for a while. Dan (now "Digger") Carlson and Denny Fee, among others, often were up front. That year, I signed up for the series and my main competition was John Triviski and Scott Purrington. Triviski was an up-and-coming 22-year old, who had just joined Club Sota and was hoping to run well in the Twin Cities Marathon. Purrington, the son of local legend Norm Purrington, was always close to Triviski and me in races and probably had the most natural talent of the three of us.

In the first races of the year, I had a bad 5K in bad weather and a 10K that I described as "just sat on Triviski for 4 miles, then kicked it in. Nothing special. 33:41." The races late in the season were longer and favored the other runners and a cross-country 5K where anything might happen. If I were to win the series, I had to win the next race: the Mahtomedi Mile.

I had three weeks to prepare specifically for the race, knowing that Triviski was still running very long runs and high mileage. Every other day, I went to the track and ran intervals until I couldn't stand, usually saying to myself "Triviski could do 10 quarters at this pace. He couldn't do 12. Let's try 13." One day I ran 1200 meters in 3:12, then followed with 800 meters in 2:07.

All I did was run all-out and sleep.

The plan for the race was based on the other runners. They knew I was more experienced, but they were probably better runners, and being younger, they had run 1 mile races more recently than I had. They'd watch to see what I did and follow. I decided that, rather than run a fast even pace, I'd go out maniacally fast and burn out the competition, then pull back and coast for a while, then outsprint whoever was with me at the end. I had trained to run the race like a quarter horse.

The day of the race, it was a typical warm July morning, cloudless, a little muggy. The track at Mahdomedi High School was filled with people I knew, those who were running other heats of the race and their families, including my brother Don, who went on to run a 5:12 at age 40 that day. There was a surprise; Triviski's little brother, Mike, was going to be in the race and he had a reputation for being very speedy - and he was just out of high school, so he'd run mile races recently.

The gun went off and I took off to the lead, making sure I could feel other runners with me - no point going out fast if no one follows. We hit 400 meters in 61 seconds. None of us were THAT fast! I slowed to what seemed a crawl, waiting for someone to pass, so I could sit on them. No one did. I had to win from the front, so I paced myself carefully, waiting to kick just before the last lap (everyone typically does it at the start of the last lap, so I wanted to get a head start). We were running a very slow (4:45-4:50) mile pace.

600 meters from the end, Scott tried to pass me. That was odd. I didn't expect it would be him. He'd run a smart race and not followed the leaders; he was still fresh. I tried not to let him pass, then made sure he passed on the curve, so he'd have to run further. I sped up to try to repass him. The crowd roared. He wouldn't let me by. Then I shot by him like I was fired out of a cannon. The crowd got even louder. I could see from our shadows that he was with me.

I couldn't hear Scott's footsteps through the noise, but the crowd convinced me he was right there, so I sped up even more. The crowd went wild. I had to hold him off until the last turn, as he wouldn't pass there and I could ease up.

Wrong! The crowd was on their feet, some jumping up and down! I sped up again. And again. There was a clock 200 meters from the end, which showed that we'd sped way up, but had run a slow race overall. I wasn't going to lose this race! I sped up yet again, wondering where all these extra gears were coming from.

Coming out of the last turn, I knew this is where he'd try to make his move. Then it happened. The world went slow and quiet. I wasn't in my body, but was being propelled by some ouside force. I can still recall the feel of my feet on every step, hear the sound of my breaths. I ran for the tape as if the fate of the world depended on it.

I finished and wheeled around. There was no one there.

I had left Scott long ago in the blur of crowd noise. I finished in 4:32. Triviski 4:37. Purrington 4:41. My brother had timed my last 109 meters as I'd asked him to - 11.2 seconds! He told me the crowd was making so much noise because they thought I was going for the course record, which I missed by a few seconds (it was dropped to a more substantial 4:16 the next year).

I broke Scott that day. He believed he couldn't beat me in a race and never did. Triviski was a tougher sell; we raced side-by-side all that year, me beating him each time.


Londell said...

nice story--- but thinking back that far makes me feel old

keith said...

that was one fine story!

i look forward to hearing more about the birthday run!

Lisa said...

possible run on the SHT in August. Hmm - my backyard ;->

Honestly, my best race may have just happened ;->

1986 - I don't even think I was running then. Spent my time taking inner city kids out into the wilds of Minnesota/Wisconsin instead, between getting married and finishing up my (first) degree.

Runningdoctor said...

Interesting post, as always.

I would love to read the story of how Steve Quick got into ultra-running. I bet your were the typical track type, looking at ultra-runners, like bikers look at recumbents: goofy, laid-back types who seem to share something few people understand.

How did you get into running really far?

Diane said...

Very good story; And you saved me the trouble of having to ask you about the race!