Amid the chaos of announcers and runners crammed in front of the results postings I stood transfixed. My eyes blurring with emotion I wasn’t certain of what I was reading.
As far as summer evenings go, Burlington was boasting sunny but coolish conditions courtesy of the much-maligned polar vortex that had been gripping the environs for the last day or two. Aside from a slight fluttering breeze the weather was perfect for racing.
We arrived early to the race site and were now whiling away our time alternating beneath the shade of an overarching willow, its boughs reaching downward tenderly, and strolling languidly along the boardwalk. I needed this gentle calm away from the melee that was already engulfing race headquarters.
My partner would be running in the 10k event and prior to that I would be stepping to the line for the start of the 5k.
I have never been completely comfortable at this distance. It is not a matter of finishing but rather of finishing well for me. And the internal pressures I feel in this short distance are stifling. This was only my second race in this discipline. While most runners cut their teeth on the 5k, my first race was the Half Marathon. The 30k and marathon followed within months. But the 5k remained an elusive chimera. Its seemingly meagre distance belied the gruesome punishment that comprises its essence.
This night I resolved would be different. I would be studied and deliberate. My pace controlled, measured, yet still aggressive as I ran within myself. Mentally I visualized the race. Its turns. Its nuances. The head winds would come first. The slight incline shortly thereafter. If I could keep energy in the tank my experience at the longer distances would turn things in my favour in the second half. I could catch other runners whose efforts would begin to falter. As well, the downhill segments always favour me over other runners. I’m not certain why. But they invariably do.
With 10 minutes to spare I take up position 3rd row centre behind the start. Respectful of the elite runners but ahead of most.
The confines are tight. And my mind begins to reel. I need air. I need space!
At long last the gun fires. I am released from my hold. As runners jockey for position, many find their way passed me. But I refuse to be baited. I would remain within myself. Fervently believing, my time would come soon enough.
After the frenzy of the first kilometre, I find myself in a position very similar to the one I held in the Grimsby 10k a few short weeks ago. I am at the back of a long strung out field of runners that lead the race. My identity solidified. I am at one and the same time an elite form of middle-aged weekend warrior and a below average sub-elite racer.
As I had visualized, the winds and hills were now staunchly in my camp 3 kilometres into the race. I was starting to eat away at the lead the runners ahead of me had imposed early on.
The first two runners I passed were young men, fit, strong, lean, and fast. Oh how it does my heart and soul wonders to successfully abandon them in my wake.
The next two runners were also male, my age this time, and very much aware of my presence. The cheers of onlookers alert them to my arrival. They glance over at me and bid to counter my attack. But on this eve I prove too powerful. And soon they too are left behind.
With 700 metres left I can see the runner ahead of me but he is too far for me to catch. I settle in. My position secure. I will pass no more. But neither shall I be passed.
The final 300 metre straightaway is lined with photographers. I sprint by in a flurry. Arms reaching skyward, I cross the finish.
The skies gently darken around me as I remain steadfast in front of the results postings. Runners jostle to see their standings and in a haze I turn away. My partner will be finishing his 10k shortly and I want to be there when he crosses the line. I see him not too far away. He’s fast. He’s very fast. And with a 4 minute negative split he eclipses his own personal best by 2 minutes. I am so proud of him! We hug and exchange congratulations as we wander by the awards area. He turns to me and eagerly asks me how I did. With a beaming smile and a leap of excitement, I hurry forward as my name is announced.
And in 3rd place, men’s 40-44 year old, from Toronto, ROD LOWE!