For a race taking place in the dead of winter, the Quaker Oatmeal Festival does a great job of bringing out the runners for this annual 5k, both at the pointy end and among the masses. I think someone said there were 1,200 signed up to run today. Given the mild mid-30 degree temps, strong sun and proximity to New Years (resolutions), I guess I'm not that surprised. Apparently all it takes to bring out the big guns is a $400 prize purse, but I suspect that it's more about the chance to run against competition than it is the cash.
The later 9:30 start allowed for a reasonable lie in, despite the 60 minute drive down to Lafayette. Burch and I carpooled down, and after a brief $160 dollar pit stop courtesy of the local constabulary, we got to the start with plenty of time to run the course as a warm up. Bumped into Zack at packet pick-up, and he joined us for the leisurely course preview. The course was a little hillier than I was expecting, but the 90 degree turns were nice and wide, and the 180 turn looked okay, so not the fastest course out there, but fair.
Lining up at the start, Bob Sweeney asked me for my over/under prediction on how many women were going to beat me. He'd called three for himself and I called one, hoping that I could take down at least two of: Tera Moody (2:30 Chicago), Nan Kennard (2:35 on a tough Baltimore course) and Fiona Docherty (2:32 Chicago).
For once, I managed to control myself out of the gates and eased up to race pace. The first km involved a decent uphill pull followed by a nice descent. Knowing that the course was marked at the kilometers (makes sense for a 5k) rather than the miles, I was working on a goal of 3:18 pace or 16:30. Hanging a few steps behind the lead three girls, who were in a tight pack, I went through the first km in 3:15 feeling like things might be a touch hot.
Through the second and third kilometers I let the lead trio of ladies gap me by a few meters, and found myself slowing to a fair degree with the hills. Fiona had set out the zippier of the three, and was setting the pace, but from the looks of her form she wouldn't be holding it. Tera and Nan looked very smooth. My second and third kms, which were net uphill, came in at 3:25 and 3:33. Seeing the 3:33 on the 3rd split, and feeling decently in control, I decided I needed to up my game and embrace some pain if I was going to dip under 17.
With the exception of one mini-grunter, the last two kilometers were flat to downhill, so I was confident that the sub-17 was going to happen. I went by the last guy within reach on the final uphill and then set my sights on trying to run down Fiona who had now dropped a good five to ten meters off Nan and Tera. The fourth km came in at 3:19, and soon after I watched Nan put a strong race-winning move on Tera through the last two turns into the home stretch. As for me, I never could reel in Fiona, but finished feeling strong with a 3:18 last km, which was good for a time of 16:51 (5:25) and seventh overall (in the men's race).
As it turns out, the trail and ultra crowd were out in full force. John Tribbia was a few ticks behind me, and then in the ultra-guys-running-the-roads race, Bob S beat out Aaron, who out-kicked Ryan who in turn beat Scott Jurek, with George somewhere in the middle. With Joe Grant on course taking pics, there was a highly unusual concentration of ultrarunnners on hand.
Post-race we headed out as a pack for seven to eight additional miles at an easy warm-down pace. Having won the race within the race, I didn't feel the need to prove myself in the extracurricular rope climb contest - or, for that matter, in the proposed pull-up contest. A fun morning.
As far as where a 16:51 at 5,000 feet leaves me in regards to a marathon time at sea level, I am still highly unsure. I'm hoping for a stronger performance next weekend at the 10 miler in Littleton, as I plan to take two or three very light days beforehand (compared to 75 miles M-F this week). If I can run 5:40s or better there then I think I'll have the chops to hold 5:50s over 26.2 miles on rested legs at sea level in February ... or go down trying.