The HASLAW Manchester Mile and 5K fell one day shy of the Fourth of July, but start to finish it sure felt like fireworks to me.
Two of my friends—Tina and Andy—were the reason I headed north this weekend. Tina has been following my spate of athletic insanity via Facebook and mentioned one too many times that she’d like to join the ranks of those who spend weekends in hot pursuit of a good finish line. Then race announcer Andy Schachat mentioned to me that a cool new 5K/1 miler combo just north of the Massachusetts border was attracting top-notch running talent and could very well see the fastest one-mile times ever recorded on U.S. soil.
Combine those two bits of information (from friends who hadn’t met each other before yesterday) and we had a perfect little Sunday plan.
I didn’t give Tina much notice; we registered on June 9th so she had just a few weeks to practice her run. I told her not to fret; she’s been losing weight and taking this boot-camp-like class called Tuff Girls, so surely her tuff-girl-ed-ness would serve as an excellent base for her first 5K (plus I promised to stay with her every step of the way). I’m not really sure why she trusted me—she’s been my friend long enough to know better 😉
I think both of us wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into when she decided, based on her “Couch to 5K” results, that her goal pace would be 16:00 per mile.
I’ll cut right to the chase: Tina did a phenomenal job. That’s a period-end-of-discussion type of statement. Twice when her breathing got too labored I suggested she walk to the next telephone pole; she sped up instead. When I mentioned that the finish line was just a half-mile ahead, she sped up so much that my Garmin briefly recorded 7:05 and then a blazing-fast 6:48.
She even took race announcer Andy by surprise when he glimpsed her kicking it toward the finish; he had taken her 16:00 seriously and had nicely queued “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang to play around 45 minutes after the race’s start. He had to do some quick re-jiggering to get the tune on before Tina stepped over her first finish line.
No 16:00s for Tina, no-sir-eee; according to my Garmin she ran 10:39s.
Her official time for her first 5K: 33:20.
The day after, I am thrilled to report that Tina is as psyched as she is sore. She is happily pondering 1). What race to do next, 2). upon which wall she should proudly display her race number, and 3). how many copies of her finish line photo she should order (it is pure perfection, capturing Tina finishing a stride before me; click here to see it).
I hope the one-milers are as thrilled about their performances as Tina and I are about hers; they kinda kicked it too. Elite runners Brian Gagnon and Julie Cully made American road-racing history by running the mile in 3:44 and 4:14 respectively—these are the fastest men’s and women’s mile times ever recorded on U.S. soil. Granted, due to the course’s 188-foot elevation drop, these are not records that US Track & Field will recognize; that honor still goes to Alan Webb (3:46.91 in 2007) and Mary Decker Slaney (4:16.71 in 1986). No matter what USATF says, it was still a completely awesome sight to see. I screamed so loud for these superfast young athletes (Brian is 23, Julie is 29) that Tina may seek medical attention to ensure her ear drums weren’t blown out (sorry again Tina… once you do a few more road races, you will appreciate spectators like me who put some verve and gusto into their hoots and hollers. Promise!)
Then there were the kids—hordes of them—as young as three even—whose scramble to catch up with the elites was as fun as it was fruitless. So proud to have their very own race numbers, kid after kid crossed the finish line doing a Rocky-style “high V” for the cameras; another generation of runners got their first taste of the sweetness of the finish. At the end, race director John Mortimer said he was so touched by the wee ones that next year he plans to waive the entry fee for all Manchester elementary school kids. How very cool.
Long after the youthful hordes had downed their Gatorades and the elites had concluded their post-race calls to Coach, the announcer asked the crowd to give it up for #60, 40-year-old Patricia Jefferson of Bedford, NH. What?!? the spectators silently thought en masse. The race is still going on?!? I am forever a sucker for the underdog, and apparently Tina is too; we both bee-lined back to the barricades to give this girl a hand. Patricia is a big girl and was clearly laboring to cross the finish line. After she finished her mile in 16:11, Tina and I congratulated her. She nearly started to cry, told us she’s lost 100 pounds this year and had been dreaming about being able to do this for a long, long time.
So then we all cried.
One other thing made it on the super-cool list: after the sound-system was broken down and packed away in his van, Andy declared he wanted to run the super-fast mile where these not-quite-in-the-record-books records were set today. He wanted to experience the descent from Derryfield to Pulaski Park and he didn’t mind me tagging along so I went too. We’re certainly no threat to Brian and Julie (let alone Alan and Mary), but we did have fun.
From elite runners like Brian and Julie to newbies like Tina and Patricia to somewhere-in-betweeners like Andy and me, somehow the 188-foot elevation drop from start to finish leveled the playing field. Post-race in Pulaski Park we were surprisingly all the same. We were all runners, and the HASLAW Manchester Mile & 5K had brought out the best in us. Andy says this is his favorite part about the running and triathlon communities–you see it race after race. Pretty cool stuff.
That’s all for now, folks. I hope you cheer loudly, live with gusto, and run with verve. Worry about your ear drums later.