The 99th race of my nearly-two-year running career turned out to be a battle of epic proportions between me and Steve Staley, if only in our own minds. I’ve said this before but it’s something that always amazes me about races. There’s only one overall winner and the great majority of us will never be the overall winner in a race, especially if we’re in our late fifties before we even get started, but underneath that upper echelon of runners are many more levels of competition, whether it’s a runner just competing against the clock, or maybe someone just trying to complete their first race, or in the case of me and Steve, two guys in the same age group (55-59) who are kind of on the competitive side.
Steve is the patriarch of Charlotte’s First Family of Running. He and wife Kari have been at the top of their respective age groups for years, and their three kids, every one a top runner for their age, are following in their parents’ footsteps. In today’s race, all five family members placed in the top 3 in their age group. For many years the majority of Steve’s races were run with him pushing a jogging stroller. As you can see from the photo here, he beat me to the finish line in the 2009 China Grove Main Street Challenge while pushing SpongeBob SquarePants and his then 6-year-old daughter Kasidi, who by the way finished 3rd today in the 5k in the 11-and-under age group.
At the beginning of the race I looked around and didn’t see Steve anywhere. Usually he’s up near the front but as I scanned the crowd of more than 350 runners I didn’t spot him. I started the race with my friend Michele Hoheiser, who has been the #1 female in a couple races this year and was just a step behind me in Morganton a few weeks ago. Michele runs almost as fast as she talks and with her native Long Island accent she is in the running to be the Snooki of the local road racing scene.
Although this race is fairly flat, it starts on a steep uphill climb and I decided to go out fairly slowly in the beginning. Once we got to the top of the hill I turned it up some, trying to build speed gradually to reach my heart rate range. I felt pretty good but there was a lot of traffic and I found myself surrounded by runners that I wanted to pass. I finally found an opening and slipped through. I didn’t see Steve Staley up ahead so I figured he was not too far behind. I saw Derek Widenhouse in front of me. I had finished just ahead of Derek in the 2009 Spencer Mountain 10-Miler, but since then he’s been living right and lately I only see him from behind. He’s coming into the 55-59 age group next month and we’ll have our work cut out for us to try and catch him.
One good thing about trying to find Steve Staley in a race is that he has this distinctive throat-clearing thing that he does every so often. I don’t think I heard him in the first mile but then in the second mile I could hear him behind me in the distance. I try not to look in back of me too often, but I found a spot where I felt comfortable turning around to take a look and Steve was maybe 3 to 5 seconds behind me. According to my Garmin, my first mile was 6:48 and the second mile was 6:52. That’s a good pace for me if I can stay there but the gradual uphill slope in the last mile slowed me down and I ran the third mile in 7:23. Steve caught me maybe a quarter of a mile from the finish. I “good-jobbed” him as he passed by but I felt like I still had a little bit left in the tank. I knew he was running faster than me at that point but I decided to at least try and stay right behind him for as long as I could. I thought I’d stay back just a little bit so maybe I could surprise him but he took a quick look over his shoulder and saw me, so I went for Plan B, which was to get right next to him and run at the same speed. We were both huffing and puffing and it was probably too early to give it everything we had. I slowed down some, hoping that he would maybe stick with me and we could make a mad dash for the finish line once it was in sight, but he was in no mood to slow down so I got back with him. We rounded the last corner, which was maybe 200 yards from the finish line, and it was on.
As you can see in the photo, we were in the middle of some traffic as we approached the finish. If you don’t know me, I’m the one (#256) who looks about 20 years older than I should, and Steve’s the one (#268) who looks about 20 years younger than he should. The 2nd place female was on my right (green shoes and blue shirt) and a young guy (#11) was right in front of me. At this point we were flying past these runners. I was almost boxed in by #11 but managed to squeeze between him and Steve as we approached the finish line. I’m pretty sure I’ve never run as fast as I did in the last hundred yards of this race. We were neck and neck the whole way and when the dust settled, I hit the finish mat just a fraction of a second before Steve, with probably less than a tenth of a second in our times. My Garmin said that the final stretch was at a pace of 4:22. Wow.
For me, it was one of my most memorable races ever. For the people watching, it was mostly just two guys running pretty fast to the finish line. Funny how that works.
4 – 1-10 Website (Information, results, registration, photo links, etc.)
9 – 1-10 Awards (Quality of medals, trophies, etc.) (1 to 10) (Nice trophies!)
6 – 1-10 Awards Presentation (PA system, winning times, etc.) (1 to 10)
6 – 1-10 Food for Race Participants (1 to 10)
6 – 1-10 T-Shirts (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
4 – 4/6 Part of Race Series (Grand Prix, etc.) (6=Yes and 4=No)
0 – 0/5 Professional Photography (5=Yes and 0=No)
6 – 4/6 Chip Timing (6=Yes and 4=No)
7 – 3/7 Certified Course (by USA Track & Field) (7=Yes and 3=No)
8 – 1-10 Course (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
8 – 1-10 Parking (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
7 – 1-10 Entertainment (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
10 – 0-10 Age Groups (10 if 5-year groups; 0 if 10-year groups)
5 – 0/5 Indoor Shelter from Elements (0 if none; 5 if provided)
4 – 1-10 Bathroom Facilities (Indoor restrooms but no Porta Potties)
0 – 0-10 Other
TOTAL – 90
Age Group: 1 of 10
Overall: 36 of 359