I was in the Open division. The winner of almost every race came from the Open division. So the chances of me actually winning a race was somewhere between slim and none. Actually, my chances were much closer to none. I really didn’t stand a chance of winning an age group either. So when answering the question, I used to answer “no”, and then go to great explaining that I had certain goals for each race and that meeting or achieving those goals was my “win”. Their eyes would usually glaze over somewhere right after the “no”.
Then one Saturday, I found myself at the starting line of a small 10k that I thought I might actually win. Recovering from 2 stress fractures in my foot, I was not yet running my best. I was improving and still had hopes of running Boston. The qualifying time for the Men’s Open category was 2:50:00. Since I managed to qualify, I hated to waste it. Even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to run my best there, I thought I should be able to do okay. I digress.
The race was sponsored by the good people at Make a Wish Foundation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, they are a large charity raising money through a lot of different ventures so that they can grant a last wish to a terminally ill child. This was a first year event so I expected the turnout to be small. That’s one of the reasons I chose this race. No pressure. I did expect it to be very well organized since they had many resources at their disposal.
I showed up about an hour before race time. I am the first one there. No one is there except me. I figured I must have screwed up and went to the wrong place. As I was trying to decide what to do, a pickup truck pulls up and starts setting up a table. I ask them if they are there for the 10k. They are. Whew! So maybe this won’t be the best organized race going, but I don’t really care. This was really a test of my foot and my recovery. People start to show up and they are slowly getting their act together.
As race time draws near, it’s clear that we are not going to start on time. My car was not close to the starting line. It was a cold, March morning so I didn’t want to take off my sweats until the last possible moment. But they are running much later than even I thought. There were 25 or 30 of us kind of bouncing up and down in an effort to keep warm while they went into great detail about what it is they do. They tell us that the course is an out and back. There is a barrel in the road at the turn-around point. They remind us that this is a marathon. What?! All the runners look at each other with great concern. This is supposed to be a 10k! Finally someone points this out to the race director who responds with a “yes, a 10k marathon”.
I guess they’re new at this. All the runners got a good laugh out of this description but were quite relieved that it was in fact a 10k. Like I said earlier, I was sizing up the runners and I only saw one guy that I thought was certain to beat me. Of course I’ve been wrong before. So I tried not to get too excited. The race director asks us all to step up to the starting line. The race was to go off in 1 minute. Just then, a full-fledged press truck pulls out in front of the starting line. No kidding!! The truck was loaded up with photographers and a video crew. Really!! It was quite what you’d see for the Boston Marathon, but still!
The gun sounds and we’re off. My race strategy was that my first mile was my slowest with subsequently faster miles as I ran the race. When I say slower, I mean only a few seconds slower. This seemed to allow me to stay relaxed and get into a nice rhythm for the race. I was hoping to run 6 minute miles so my goal was to run the race right around 37 minutes. I felt like I was doing a good job of running my pace. I had the one guy I thought would give me a run for my money running next to me. For the first ½ mile, we had to run to the side of the press truck because they were moving too slow. We did share a laugh with each other that they would even have a press truck for this race.
We got to the first mile split and I checked my time. 6 minutes on the dot. Perfect. I guess it wasn’t so perfect for my new found running friend though. He said something like I can’t hold this pace or this is too fast or some such thing. At any rate, I immediately found myself running alone. Well, me and the press truck. (Was I supposed to wave to them?) I thought I might not ever win a race, but at least I’m leading for a while.
It was really cool being in the lead, even if this was a very small race. Around 2.5 miles a guy catches up to me and starts chatting. I’m wondering who this guy is. He just caught me and wants to have a conversation. Clearly I don’t stand a chance. Then he asks me if this is a race or something. I answer his question along with a few others and then he peels off. Again, I am alone in front. I have no idea how big my lead is, but I’m in front.
We get to the turn-around point barrel and I start heading back. I was amazed to find that I had a huge lead! The person in second place was 800 meters or more behind. I thought I might actually win! I was feeling good and was certain I could maintain this pace if not actually get a little quicker. I didn’t dare turn-around for fear someone would be on my shoulder. I ran assuming someone was on my shoulder. I was running 6 minute miles, which felt easy. After all, this race was like a sprint to me.
I managed to extend my lead during the second half of the race and was shocked to find that I won my very first race! Although my time was slow compared to my marathon-ready times, it wasn’t bad. Although I am certain that I ran very close to 6 minute miles. My finishing time was 35:50, which would be something like a 5:48 pace. I really don’t think I was in that kind of shape so I suspect this was really closer to 6 miles even.
I had my first win. I was hoping that I might get a ribbon or a little medal or some remembrance of my first and probably only win. After everyone finished, they made the announced the male and female winners. They said that they could give us our plaques when they held their annual awards dinner in November. Don’t worry though. We would each receive 2 complimentary tickets to the dinner.
At this point, I wasn’t too sure this was going to happen. But as November rolled around, we did in fact receive our 2 tickets. We showed up at the dinner. It was huge!! There must have been 500 people there! It turns out that this dinner was for everything they did the previous year. It was a very nice, upscale event. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres followed by a very nice dinner. As people were finishing up dinner they began with the awards.
They went through a lot of awards for many very deserving people receiving recognition for their hard work over the past year. At long last, they got to the 10k Marathon! (They were still calling it this.) They started off by running clips form the video they made during the race. It seemed to go on forever. I was so embarrassed!! The video seemed to run long to me so I can only imagine how boring it must have been to everyone else there.
Following the video, they announced the female and male winners and had both of us come up to receive our plaques. I was shocked! They made up beautiful plaques engraved with our names and of course, the 10k Marathon Winner. We then stood to have our pictures taken with everyone there who was anyone. Even though I was highly embarrassed by the extent of their recognition, I was thrilled to have such a beautiful commemoration for what did in fact turn out to be my only win.
Yes, but will you win? Maybe.