Note: this race generated some controversy. There is a letsrun thread about it, and the local news had a video interview and finish video. You can watch those after reading, if you don't already know what happened.
Thursday night, we were in downtown Minneapolis to watch the USATF road mile championship, which runs right down Nicollet Mall, and finishes about six blocks from our building (right about where it starts to get sketchy) Bobby was in town for the race, and even though he didn't have his best race, we still had a good time afterward hanging out in the Elite room at the hotel and then going down the street for some local brewsky. As was customary, there were elite types around the hotel and stuff, and I got the feeling I always get - they sort-of recognize me, but definitely don't know who I am.
Friday morning we left on the beautiful drive to Fargo. Most people I talked to hate this three and a half hour drive through flat countryside, but it's got nothing on I-70 west of Salina. Still, western Minnesota reminds me of Kansas quite a bit. We got there in the afternoon and were treated to the least pandemonious race expo ever to pick up stuff and get the keys for our swanky dorm accommodations. I wanted to explore Fargo a little more, but it was a better idea to just sit around and watch Netflix, followed by the Oxy meet online.
The forecast predicted showers to come through overnight and through the morning, but the storm could only manage a quick dump for about 5 minutes at 6:00 a.m. I had done my research before the race, and knew that Team USA Minnesota runner and multi-US champ Andrew Carlson was going to be in the race, so I had altered my race plan to -
hang on as long as possible and try to run fast, while securing second place.
We lined up and were off. The pace felt brisk, and the leaders were quickly established as Carlson, a Kenyan, and myself. We came through the first mile in 4:46, and the second in 9:31. This was fast for me, but I was just going with the flow, hanging behind the other two, waiting to see what would happen. At three miles, the Kenyan dropped off, and I tailed by a few steps. Soon thereafter Carlson said "Do you want to do some work?" He had no doubt figured out my plan to just run behind him as long as possible, and would rather I come up front and man up. I decided to try instead of looking like a jerk. I got in front a little bit, but I knew if I dropped the pace anymore I was guaranteed to blow up later. We held pace over the next several miles, in which my plan shifted to
run on his shoulder until 10k.
When that happened and I was still in one piece it changed to
and then, just be ready when the hammer gets dropped and put in a valiant effort before inevitable defeat. We turned back toward the finish, and the wind had picked up considerably. I felt as if I was maintaining the same effort, but our pace had slowed a fair amount. We stayed together through 12, at which point, I decided to put in a half-hearted surge. By now I was hurting, and trying to figure out the best strategy to win, even though unlikely. I got the feeling that my best shot was for a short sprint at the finish if I could hang on long enough. That seems to be a better equalizer than other finishing surges, as it's pretty hard to tell who is going to have sprint legs at the very end. At the 13 mile mark, he threw in a big one and got a good lead
This is when things started getting crazy.
We rounded a turn and headed into the Fargodome right after this. When we turned the corner, there were people in various stages of distress and gait weaving around in front of us. I glanced at the clock and started to lift my knees to sprint. They went up surprisingly high and surprisingly easily. My arms didn't stiffen and start flailing. I was moving pretty good. I might catch up.
The rest of the day I couldn't figure out how to feel about the end of the race. I kept playing it over again in my mind, trying to figure out what happened. It wasn't until that evening that I saw the actual video of the race that showed the ladies creating such an obstacle. It's hard to tell, but I'm pretty confident that if they hadn't been there, I wouldn't have caught up in time. My restructuring of the finish lead me to the conclusion that even though he had slowed into the finish and didn't know I was bearing down, if the crowd of people was not present, he would have felt me coming, or heard me coming (I was probably grunting a lot), and would have been able to at least put in a few quick strides at the end to hold me off.
So of course, who do we blame?
I've thought about this as much as anyone, and as much as I'd like to blame the race organizers, I really have to blame the inattentive runners themselves. Those women were walking in a 10k in over an hour and a half. When you're moving at over 15-minute-mile pace, you've got plenty of time to listen to race volunteers and read signs telling you where to go. The race can't control stupidity. However, I'm sure in the future they will be much more serious about keeping different races separate coming in to the finish.
Luckily, the prize money difference between first and second wasn't huge, so nobody got screwed out of a lot of money, though I think it might be a nice gesture to offer the difference as a consolation for that incident.
The first thing I wanted everyone to know (so, of course, I tweeted it) was that I am very aware that I am not as good a runner as Carlson, nor am I now good enough to get on Team Minnesota. I had a great race when he had a bad race, and terrible circumstances secured a victory for me. I ran really hard and I'm at least proud of that.