Sorry Carlos, and thank you

I finished fourth overall in the Casablanca Classic 8k race and earned a first-place medal in the 30 to 34 age group.

Sometimes you just have to gut it out to the very end because it ain’t over ’til it is over.

Of course, I know this. But it was definitely a lesson learned during last weekend’s Casablanca Classic in Grimsby, the final event for the 2012 Subaru Niagara Running Series. I ran the eight kilometer race, finishing fourth overall and placing first in the 30 to 34 men’s age group.

An out and back kind of race, the course starts at the Casablanca Winery Inn and takes you along Winston Road to the turn-around inside the Fifty Point Conservation Area. It was fast and flat, as promised, the volunteers were great and the food amazing.

I approached this race in a bit of an unusual way. I broke away from my routine for a few reasons, including a high volume of work and some pain management. While I hesitate to say I was injured, I was feeling some tightness in my right calf and some tenderness in my right heel. I joked about self-diagnosing myself with plantar fasciitis with the help of Google, but I was concerned enough to stop my running streak and take a few days off.

At the end of my race I was generally happy with my performance. Based on the pace I have nailed all year I set my goal time at under 30 minutes. I finished the race in 28:57.

In the end, I placed fourth overall, hit my goal and didn’t hurt myself. So why did I feel just a little disappointed? Well, I think it was because I didn’t stick to my plan, one of my strengths all year-long.

I went into the race with a plan: Run the first kilometer hard. Check. Settle into goal pace for kilometers two and three. Check. Run the rest like a five kilometer race. This is where I think I became a little too flexible.

After the first couple of kilometers I found myself among the leaders. This was uncharted territory for me: usually I’m a little further back in the pack and moving up. So I changed my strategy a bit to stay with leaders and planned to kick at the end of the race. If any of the leaders made a move, I wanted to stay with them.

Things were going great until around the four kilometer mark. The eventual third-place finisher made a move and I went with him. I had him in my sights up to six kilometers, where I planned to start making my move. The problem for me was we were hitting pretty much the same pace and I wasn’t gaining any ground. It was around this time I started feeling like I was going the hurl (note to self – do not eat a bagel 20 minutes before the start of a race), too. So I changed my plan again, and while I pulled up a bit to protect a fourth-place finish, he opened a 20 second lead.

I slowed to about 3:45 per kilometer over kilometer seven but still thought my place was safe so I geared into cruise control for the last kilometer. That’s when Carlos Vervloet gave me a scare: with about 250 meters left he almost caught me asleep at the wheel. Lucky for me I still had time and space to kick and sprinted across the finish .3 of a second ahead of him. If he had another few meters, he would have had me.

I felt bad for the kid. I’ve been a hair or two behind someone at the end of a strong finish, too. But I am thankful. When I was thinking about just getting to the finish he pushed me and it was exactly what I needed. I learned I can still dig deep, fight for a place and salvage a good run, even when I’m not feeling well. It was also a wake up call: it’s never over until it is over.

So, sorry Carlos, and thank you. Hope I didn’t splatter you with puke at the finish line.

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