(Contributed by Tony McGrath, Pamakid member since 2011)
I ran track in high school and have always loved it over cross-country. I think it’s because there’s more atmosphere at a track meet with lots of different events and more people-watching. As a Pamakids member I’ve never run 5000 meters on the track so when I heard about the Pacific Association USATF Masters track and field Championship at Chabot College in Hayward, I marked my calendar. I was getting tantalizingly close to breaking 17 in a 5K – I ran 17:03 at the Zippy 5K in April. Since then I’d been trying in vain to find a flat, fast 5K in the area. This seemed like a perfect opportunity. Little did I know, it would have its own set of challenges.
We had a nice group assembled on June 8th for this track meet. Paul Zager was trying his hand at the sprints, Justin Mikecz was doing the 800 (and jumping into the 5000 ‘for fun’) and Mike Axinn was reclaiming some former glory in the 5000. And the always game Patrick Lee was going to pull an impressive 800/1500 double. The 10,000 meters was going on when we showed up. We found a grassy knoll with some shade and bided our time watching our fellow geezers suffer in the noon-time heat. It was pretty warm! We were only a few miles from the Bay so at least there was a bit of breeze but it was still mid 80s. After watching Paul medal in the 100 and 200, it was 5K time. Justin jumped into the race after a stellar 800 at a sizzling 2:05 and offered to pace me for the first mile.
Like many runners, I often go out too fast and welcomed Justin’s steady presence to rein me in. It was a mixed gender field of about 12 runners and a very official USATF start. No feet on the line! A big guy and a speedy Masters female went out fast (like 75 first lap) and I was happy to keep things dialed back as we settled into this 12 1/2 lap race. I went through mile 1 in 5:23 – exactly where I wanted to be. An official at the finish was the lap counter, but midway through the second mile I knew something was off. My splits didn’t add up. I half-realized he was miscounting the laps. By my watch when his lap counter read 6 laps to go we actually had 7. He had us one lap short! This was distracting and I found myself wanting to believe the laps were correct.
But my watch doesn’t lie. I went through Mile 2 in 10:56 (5:33 2nd mile!) Crap, had some work to do in the third mile. With about 3 laps to go (or was it 4?) I had taken the lead but a guy was right on my heels. This was good – we could push each other. The heat started to get to me at this point. How many laps did we have to go again? I wasn’t the only one who was confused. My rival made a move with 600 to go, only it wasn’t 600, it was 1000 meters (1 kilometer). I was too uncertain to say anything but right then I knew he didn’t know we were a lap short. He opened up a lead on me and I realized he was kicking on what he thought was the last lap. I shouted at the USATF official “One more lap!” Meanwhile, I see my rival doubled over on the track. He was not jumping back in.
There was one lap to go and it was coming down to the wire. I needed a speedy last 400 to get this done. I was hurting, but I knew the pain of regret would last longer if I didn’t go for it. So I went for it. I mustered a 38 last 200 to get my sub 17 (16:56.41). I was not going to be denied because the race officials were counting one lap short. I wandered around in a daze for a few minutes and was disoriented because we finished on a different part of the track. The realization that the monkey was off my back sunk in. But there are still a few more monkeys. Sub 35 in a 10K? We’ll see!