The SUB 17 race plan was set for Tuesday’s city league meet against Start, Devilbiss, and St. John’s High Schools. This was the last meet before “Championship Season” started, so we were going to see if we could set some personal records (PR’s) as a team at this last regular season meet.
The plan was for Brad to lead us out pretty hard the first mile, and we were supposed to “relax and follow” through the mile. After the mile, Brad would take off to shoot for his own PR, and the rest of us planned to stay in a pack for the second mile. The meet was at Secor Metropark, which had a relatively flat course but numerous turns to make it challenging. It was also a weekday meet, so it was going to be another challenge of being in school all day then leaving school to race. It was always harder to run after being in school all day, rather than waking up on a Saturday and only having to worry about my race.
There was nothing special about the day or meet in general, just the final league weekday meet before we began preparing for the City League Championship and beyond. The only real thing that sticks out in my mind about that meet was my concern about dying off in the race and imploding from going out too fast.
Sub 5? Seriously???
After the warm-up and strapping on our spikes, we got to the line ready to rip it out, but it’s hard to get fired up at a league meet of four teams on a weekday with little to no fanfare. What did fire me up, though, was hearing the gun go off and chasing after one of the top runners in the state because you were supposed to “relax” and just follow him. All seven of us were right up front with a few other runners, but we definitely outnumbered the other three schools. The first mile was pretty wide open and flat, so it was possible to go pretty fast like on a road or track, but it was still grass which definitely slowed the pace. There are a few pieces of this race that still stick out to me, and the first mile was one of them because I remember not being able to relax. The feeling that I was using too much energy for the first mile was taking center stage in my mental drama of this race, and Acts II and III were looking to be a tragedy.
To confirm my suspicions, we passed through the first mile just a few clicks under 5 minutes, and I usually would be around 5:10 give or take five seconds. It may not seem like much of a difference, but in the first mile of a 5K cross country race, it can make or break the rest of the race. I was already feeling taxed as Brad just eased away from us with no problem, or we all just started to slow while he maintained. I sure hoped he was getting faster and pulling away, but that was wishful thinking. After hearing that blazing mile split, I glanced around to see who was left, and it was comforting to see the rest of my teammates were looking as gassed as I felt.
Acts II and III: Clinging to Life
The next two miles were a blur because I was doing everything I could not to fall off the pack. I would like to say that I hung one for another mile or more, but that was not the case. I was able to hold onto the pack for about another 400 meters after the mile, but I did not think that I could have sustained this effort for another two miles. That’s all it takes in distance running; any self-doubt will crush even the greatest planned race.
Luckily, others fell off the pack before me, and some of my teammates soon dropped off just ahead of me. I was able to keep my focus on those around me and race with some of my other teammates, plus a few from other schools that were hanging on for dear life like myself. The finish was clear across a big open field in the park, and it looked like the finish line was in the next zip code as I raced furiously down the stretch of the grassy field to cross the line!
One thing I definitely have never forgotten from that race was thinking that was the hardest that I have ever run, and there was no way that I could go any faster. This lends so much to how I approach coaching my own athletes. The limitations we believe are there are just our self-doubts once again driving that mental bus. That wasn’t the fastest that I could go!!! It was a ridiculous thought for me to actually think that I could never go any faster in my very first year of cross country racing. Replacing these self-doubt roadblocks took many years of racing with a lot of terrible performances on the course, track, and roads. If this was going to be the fastest that I could ever run, then I sure hoped I broke 17 minutes.
Slowly staggering my way back to team camp and collapsing in a heap by my gym bag, I still had no clue what I ran. As each runner came back to camp and dropped next to their bag, it began to look like a worn-torn battlefield strewn with dead soldiers. But we slowly began to stir and sit up asking each other what we ran because none of us had any idea who ran what time. Finally, our coaches came over with the last few of the team’s finishers and rattled off our times. We did it! Our entire varsity broke 17 minutes, and that was me! I held on for 7th man and clocked a 16:57!!! I was beyond ecstatic feeling that I was now a sub 17 runner, which is the threshold for high school boys from good to great. On top of that, Brad also ran a PR in what would be his fastest high school time and school record of 15:42.
What a way to end the regular season for the team! We all had run a sub 17 and most of us ran a PR in the process. Now it was time to prepare for the Toledo City League Championships in less than two weeks.