This may be my first and last race report ever, so enjoy. This past weekend I went home to Upstate NY to visit family (I didn't get to go for Father's Day last week), get my car inspected (I'm still a NYer), and defend my title in the Vestal XX. This was the 38th running of the race, making it the longest lasting and most historic (and by far the hilliest) race in my hometown.
Last year I ran the race completely alone. 12.4 silent miles up and down the Catskill foothills. I couldn't see anyone behind me for well over half a mile. I finished in 1:13:28, a full 3:32 ahead of the next finisher. In the past my time wouldn't have even warranted a top 10 finish, so I was partially embarrased by claiming the slowest victory in the history of the race.
The champions in the past have almost always gone on to repeat 2, 3, 4, even 5 times. Since this race fit conveniently in my calendar, I wanted to do the same. Not to mention, I wanted to try to post a better time.
Saturday morning I woke up early and drove across the former Valley of Opportunity (like the former race champions, the most talented people in Binghamton have moved on in the past 20 years). I scoped out my competition and there was one tall, fit-looking guy I had not seen before. Other than that, I saw the usual suspects including Fred Bostrom, a man who has run 37-straight Vestal XXs and 26 straight Boston Marathons. Now THAT is something to live up to.
When the gun went off I immediately went to the front to set the pace. Last year nobody went with me, but this year that tall dude latched onto my side. In fact, I was a little concerned at how comfortable he seemed. 3/4 of a mile into the race I introduced myself in an effort to figure out this guy's story. He responded that his name was Shaun Horan and I immediately made connections between that name and numerous race results in the past few months. He had just run a 16:20 5K the week before, and typically dominated the weekly track races in town. I knew he wasn't going anywhere, so at least I wouldn't be lonely again. He stopped just before the mile mark to tie his shoe, and I made a point to not take advantage of that. It was far too early in the race, he would easily catch up to me, and I wanted him to trust me. We went through the first mile in 5:58.
Mile after mile we climbed the hills towards the Pennsylvania border. Despite the ups and downs, we maintained a relatively consistent pace. These hills are tricky in a race like this; they feel easy early in the race, but if you push too hard you're bound to feel them 8 miles later. I started to try to control Shaun's pace. He had not run the course before, so I assumed that he would not try to push those early miles if I kept my cool. We just ran stride-for-stride until we reached the half-way mark. We went through in 37-something, but I wasn't worried. The second half of the race was downhill, and as Shaun was about to find out, much faster.
This is where I decided to make a move. Shortly after the 10K there is a steep 1/4 mile hill to Route 26. I took off up the hill hoping to put a gap on him and keep up the pace on the downhill. There was also a hard left turn at the top of the hill so I could see where he was. I surged and started to hear his breathing become fainter and fainter. As I rounded the corner I only had 4-5 seconds on him. I tried to remember my old coaches' advice and I kept up the hard pace for another two miles. Still, he wouldn't fall any further behind. We had dropped from consistent 6 minute miles to miles of 5:35 and 5:30, granted not a blistering pace, but a reasonable one considering the course ahead. After two miles of this, I conceeded that Shaun was not going to let me go. I began to slow back down to 6 minute miles to allow him to catch up. I planned to conserve my energy for a late charge.
As we passed the 9, 10, and even 11 mile posts he never made a move. He stayed 2-3 strides behind me and let me set the pace. Mile 11-12 is almost completely downhill, and where you lose all the elevation you gained over 11 miles. I started to pick it up here, and finally he mounted a surge. We went through that mile in 5:14. Considering the slope that's not an especially fast time, but there was still a half mile to go and I wanted to make sure I had a few more gears to use. Every step we seemed to get faster until, with about 300 yards to the finish I began to kick. I worried that he would stay a step behind me and come around me at the finish so I made sure to save one more gear. I made the last turn to sprint the final 75 yards not knowing where he was, but thankfully not able to hear him. I crossed the line in 1:12:55 (5:52 pace) and Shaun followed up 11 seconds later.
And, while the subject of shameless self-promotion is on the blog, my hometown newspaper wrote an article about the race. For a few hours I was the lead story in the "Breaking News" section of their website. I'm not sure if that says more about me or about Binghamton...
Splits to come...