Nearing four months ago I signed up for a new race in the state of Missouri named the Missouri Race Series (MRS). This event was a monthly circuit that took runners through Lee’s Summit, Jefferson City, Joplin, and ends in Columbia, Missouri. Each course is unique, but each one is guaranteed to be on the road. The event comes in three flavors: 5K, 10K, and 10 Mile.
Needless to say, I chose the 5K…and in turn the road that was least traveled. Though I was injured in Jefferson City, I still completed the course, only to learn two days later that I had taken first in my age group. This is key in the MRS since each race counts points towards an overall point total. This point total determines the overall champion for each age division of each distance between each gender. Meaning, if I do well in the races throughout the series, I could be in the running for the overall grand prize for my age group.
That’s where the Joplin race came into actual importance. It turns out that through two races (Lee’s Summit and Jefferson City) I had made my way into the top three of my age group for the overall prize. Meaning, if I did well in Joplin I could solidify my points and grab the lead heading into Columbia in June.
I actually had to run with the idea of competition in my head.
Historically, I’m not a competitive runner. Similar to some out there I was very, very competitive in my head growing up. However, the competition arching across my neurons was never transmitting into my muscles and nerves. The physical implication of competition never was in line with my mental desires of victory. At age 28, I am hoping that somewhere through the past years it has started to balance out.
Joplin’s race turned out to be surprising for two key reasons:
Knowing these things in advance I toured the course the night before the actual race. Doing so allowed me to know the course, the proper turns, where the hills are, and so I wouldn’t be distracted by the ‘pretty things’ around the course.
I had no idea how important this small detail would be…
Shivering while trying to warm up the morning of the race, I noted a small group of runners. At most there were 120 runners out to run (only around 20 of them were running the 5K it turned out). The course was a simple down-and-back. Start at the top of the hill, turn left, go down the hill, across the straight, flat area, cross the bridge, and turn around and come back.
I’m a terrible runner, I always start in the back of a race pack because I don’t like leading, and I enjoy the game of trying to pass people. Per usual I started in the very end of the pack prior to start. At the sound of the horn, while I was starting to shuffle into a makeshift jog, I noticed the super-fast people do something I thought to be strange…they turned right.
Before me I saw an entire running field of 5K, 10K, and 10 Mile runners turn the wrong direction* at the beginning of the race and took off on the wrong section of road. I, being a good sheep, followed suit assuming that I had messed up reading the map (a strange sensation for a geography teacher). Sixty seconds into the race, one of the runners near me said, “This isn’t right. We’re going the wrong way.” Hearing this reaffirmed my faith in my cartography abilities, so I turned and started running in the opposite direction of the entire field.
For 1/4 of a mile I led the entire field going the correct direction. Enjoying the silence of the front was memorable; almost as much as those two insane 10 Mile runners that came sprinting…SPRINTING past me after that 1/4 mile (while talking and laughing to each other, I was sucking air).
The rest of the race was beautiful, calm, with perfect weather. If you remove the 90 seconds wasted going the wrong way on the course, I did…ironically…finish with a 27:30 PR. Even more humorously…
I won my age division.
This is humorous for two reasons:
Reality being what it is though; it did move me up in the standings. Because of how the standings function; as long as I complete the June 18th race in Columbia, Missouri, I will win the Male 20-29 5K Missouri Race Series Championship.
Truly, we live in strange times.
What I learned: Always, always, always know your course. Never rely on the front runners to show you the correct path. Personally, I suggest checking out the course the night before the race so that you are familiar with the area that you are going to be covering the next day.
*In the past three races I have ran through an abandoned prison, nearly struck by lightning, and watched an entire pack go the wrong direction on a course. God is currently laughing…