I didn’t have a precise race plan for Saturday’s Pike’s Peek 10K in Rockville, MD– or if I did, it was simply to get to the starting line without any incident. I never thought making it to a race start would become my primary goal for a competition. However in the past two months, I’ve encountered enough minor setbacks to keep me sidelined from making it to a starting line.
My plague of setbacks, which included a prolonged bout with the flu, culminated 2 weeks ago, when I managed to dislocate my shoulder 5 minutes before the start of the Cooper River Bridge Run. Fit and excited to compete, I cannot even recall how my shoulder separated as I was stepping off the athlete bus. I do remember the agony of watching the first wave of 40,000 runners depart Mt. Pleasant, as I was escorted by three firemen to emergency medical assistance. The E.R. visit, having to hitchhike back from the hospital and, later on, a speeding ticket on the I-17 made this one of the most challenging and tumultuous days I have ever lived.
I knew my streak of bad luck was going to change eventually, and it took all my mental fortitude to remain positive in the days that followed Cooper River. As I resumed training (I took my ridiculous-looking sling off the next day), I surprisingly picked up momentum and confidence that led me to believe I could come back 13 days after my mishap and race anyone…
Pike’s Peek 10K
When we were sent off to race down the Pike Saturday morning, I went for it. I tucked into the lead pack of 18 Africans and we rolled. I had made a similar decision when I raced at the Brian’s Run 10K in 2008, where I fearlessly went with the leaders and gave it little thought—sometimes less rationalization is better in racing. I ran a 4:40 first mile, my legs still warming up from a delayed start, followed by a 4:37 and a 4:34, as MarathonGuide.com teammates Julius Kogo and Nicholas Kurgat stepped on the gas in the front.
I passed 5K in around 14:20, but really wasn’t processing my splits at the time; I was competing. The lead group was thinning out, and I focused on moving up and past the race casualties. As the lone American near the front, I picked up more momentum from the cheering spectators and Montgomery County Road Runners volunteers that lined our point-to-point route.
I surged up an incline after 5K and rolled up on an athlete in a yellow adidas uniform. I recognized the familiar face of former Olympian and 2:10 marathoner Girma Tolla, who I had ironically last raced at Brian’s Run. The leaders were still in sight. However without a pack, we were more vulnerable to the gusty crosswind. Even so, my legs felt responsive and I felt I could run a stronger second half of the race. I was breaking in a new pair of Brooks T7 Racers. By 4 miles (a 4:34 split), I was reeling in Reuben Mwei and Tolla was falling behind. I was two-thirds through with my race, and knew the final third would be the real test.
I pulled even with Reuben after 5 miles (23:03, another 4:34 split) and we would go back and forth on this stretch of the Pike. I tested my legs (and his) up the last incline and could only see his tall silhouette stretched on the pavement. Looking ahead, the green jersey of Derese Deniboba floated ahead of me like an apparition.
Just after 6 miles Reuben pulled even with me, and we both sprinted home to the finish, nearly catching Derese in our own contest. I learned after crossing the line that I had finished 7th in 28:33. I finished 1 second shy of U.S. Olympic Marathoner Dan Browne’s (former) course record. It was an exciting result, and I had executed a strong negative split (running 14:13 for my second 5K).
Certainly the Pike’s Peek course, along with the ideal racing conditions, helped yield some fast 10K performances and a plethora of personal bests were set. Akin to Monday’s historic Boston Marathon, where the world witnessed the fastest marathon ever run (and Flagstaff-er Ryan Hall also set an American best), athletes took full advantage of the the conditions on the Pike. Whether or not these performances can be recognized for record purposes is perhaps debatable, yet I don’t think any athlete should be discredited for running as fast as they can on race day. Our race had a very talented field and I believe we all pushed each other hard to run as fast as we did.
I’m excited to get back out on the roads and continue competing this Spring. I will continue to work on my speed before ramping back up into marathon training. It’s a relief to be over the setbacks that I’ve experienced, but it has been a great learning experience on how to keep perspective during tough times. Stay tuned for more! –JDE