Well, the hits just keep on coming. In a year I had all but written off six months ago, I continue to ride the victory wave. In yesterday’s GNC Live Well Liberty Mile I had what it took to top the masters field and claim the inaugural USATF 1-Mile Road Championship in 4:28.00, capping a great couple a days on and off the streets of Pittsburgh. I feel like I have been playing with “house money” all summer – I never expected any of this coming in to the year, but I’m certainly not complaining. With only an event or two remaining hopefully I can keep this thing going….
After some dark skies and occasional heavy rain showers throughout the day, the skies cleared and the wind died down by race time. Not too hot, not too breezy. The previous point to point course had to be changed to satisfy USATF championship criteria, so the new course went up one major avenue in downtown Pittsburg (Penn) and back on a parallel one (Liberty). A couple of right hand turns (gasp!) got you turned around – not the fastest way to run a road mile but they did a good job of making the turns as mild as possible. The outbound leg was a little uphill, but that of course made second half of the race a little downhill – if you had to have it one way or the other this was definitely the best formula.
I knew a handful of my competitors going into the race, but I am much more familiar with the track crowd than the road crowd so there were a lot of unfamiliar faces as well. I figured I had as good a shot as anyone to win the thing, so I approached the race like it was mine to lose. If the only thing on the line was the crown and purse for winning the race breaking the tape would have been my primary concern – but of course things can’t just be that easy. Enter the “x-factor” – age-grading! There was decent prize money for the age-graded winner as well, so not only was I trying to win the race, but I was also trying to do it as fast as possible in order to increase my chances at a possible “clean sweep”. I thought going in that on a perfect day maybe I could run as low as 4:20, which would give me a very tough-to-beat age graded percentage. You never know what some ‘wild-card’ 63-year old guy is going to run, so you have to set the bar really high to compete. Since the first half was uphill I figured maybe 66.5/66.5 going out (2:13), 2:08-2:10 coming back in would be a good plan. At the gun several guys went out with me, even though I had conceded that I quite likely would be leading through the first 1200 meters. I let Birger Ohlsson take us through the quarter-mile, think I caught 67 on the race clock. Not bad. At that point I took the lead and tried to keep applying pressure. I felt really good approaching the turn around point – very smooth, very strong. I was surprised then to catch 2:15, 2:16 as I went past the half-mile clock. So much for 4:20! I still felt good, I could tell I had a 5 meter lead or so, and I was about to roll down the hill so things could have been worse. I don’t remember my 3/4 mile time, but I felt really fast and like I still had gas in the tank. The last quarter-mile had 200 and 100 meter to go signs, so although part of me wanted to hammer the end, the wiser half was telling me to be patient and to be prepared for a late challenge. The challenge never came – if I had eyes in the back of my head (or a NASCAR-like spotter) I probably should have went for it and tried for a quicker time. As it turned out I broke the tape in strong fashion, 4:28 the final time.
I obviously won the race and won my age group. Ended up sixth in the age graded competition, behind a handful of guys in the 50 and 60 year age groups who ran great races. The 2-3 seconds that I think I should have come up with probably would have put me near the top, but I would probably have played it the same way if I had to do it over again. The last thing I wanted to do was have my race dictated by age-graded money at the expense of losing the race – I came to try to win the national title and I got that done. What made it even more special was that instead cramming a race into a hurried day or two by myself, this time I had the whole (extended) gang with me, along with some other family friends who happened to be in town. We had a blast in Pittsburgh leading up to the race and later that evening celebrating, so the win was icing on the cake.
Thanks to all the folks at the Liberty Mile and Bring Back The Mile for hosting us, taking care of the little things, and for putting on a great race (and post-race party). Hanging out with the staff and elite pro milers afterwards was a fun way to blow off some steam and get to know some of the other younger (and faster) guys. Special thanks to Ryan Hogan for the invitation to the race – won’t forget this one anytime soon!