The big five-oh! It was my 50th race since I started running last Labor Day weekend and finishing 50 races was one of my main goals for the year.
The Midnight Flight 10k in Anderson, South Carolina, is the first race on the Running Journal Grand Prix schedule. It’s a biggy and was well worth the 110-mile trip down Interstate-85 in Friday afternoon Labor Day weekend traffic to get there. We arrived at the race site about 8:00 p.m. and the celebration was already in full swing. There was a blues band playing on the stage and plenty of free food as we waited for the races to begin. There was a 1-mile race at 9:00, a 5k at 10:00, and the grand finale, the 10k, at 11:00 p.m. That’s definitely late for running and actually past my bedtime but there was plenty of excitement to keep me awake until the race started.
I met up with Bob Nelson at the starting line a few minutes before the race. Bob was last year’s Running Journal Grand Prix champ in the 55-59 age group and also the RFYL Grand Prix champ and has proven time after time that he’s the fastest runner in my age group in the Charlotte area. Like all of the other fast runners I’ve met, Bob downplays all of his own running accomplishments and quietly prefers to just let his running speak for itself.
As the race began there was just a little touch of autumn in the air and it felt great cruising down a slight grade for most of the first mile. I knew this was an out-and-back course and I’d have to make up for my lack of uphill speed by going faster downhill. Just ahead of me maybe 3/4 of a mile into the race were Bob Nelson and two of the Charlotte area’s other fastest Bobs — Bob Heck and Bobby Aswell. I knew they were all pacing themselves, but since that doesn’t fit into my “fast-downhill-slow-uphill” style I apologetically blew past all three of them, knowing they’d catch me eventually but thinking it would still be a good move for me, which I think it was. They all caught me again and passed me somewhere around 3 or 4 miles. I wasn’t able to catch Bob Nelson again but was able to keep him on my radar for the rest of the race, with him finishing 50th overall and me finishing 51st about 20 seconds behind. Interestingly, right about the 5-mile point I decided to take a short walk break for about 20 seconds (it was either walk or die at that point). After about 10 seconds I heard footsteps behind me and heard somebody yell: “Don’t stop now! We’re almost finished!” as he passed me. He looked like he could be in my age group and I could see up ahead that he also passed Bob Nelson. After the race I saw him and talked to him a few minutes where the race results were being posted. He was Jerry Hutto from Aiken, South Carolina, and he finished 1st in the 55-59 age group, followed by Bob Nelson in second and me in third. I was actually elated to finish as high as third though and my time of 43:11 beat my old 10k PR by over 5 minutes!
It was my first 10k since March and I was amazed to end up with a 6:57 pace. Here are my mile splits…
Mile 1 — 6:24
Mile 2 — 6:47
Mile 3 — 7:06
Mile 4 — 6:57
Mile 5 — 6:58
Mile 6 — 7:36
I actually took two short 20-second walks in that last mile, which you can kind of see in the pace, but it did feel good at the time.
By the end of the 10k race the celebration surrounding the race had pretty much ended. The 5k race, which had well over 1,000 runners, had ended over an hour earlier and much of the crowd had gone home. The band was packing up to leave, and about all that was left was the 10k finishers who wanted to see if they placed in the official results, which were posted a little after midnight. There really wasn’t an awards ceremony. If you placed in the race you picked up your award and left with zero fanfare. The age group awards were actually hand towels emblazoned with the “Midnight Flight 09″ race logo. Again I thought a medal or trophy would have been preferable, but most of us (including me) were in it for the experience — and the Running Journal Grand Prix points!