We zipped past the ninth mile marker shoulder to shoulder. I had been drafting the man in the sleeveless windbreaker for the past mile after he made a weak move to pass me on Steels Corners Road. He never got more than 20 strides ahead of me, and with three-tenths of a mile to go I wouldn't let him win.
I arrived at the Shamrock 15-K with no expectations. I didn't feel trained, and I'd never raced the course or the distance. And on this day, a hard rain fell and never let up. It was the kind of miserable weather that makes you really appreciate your cheering section.
The race starts at Woodridge High School, descends into the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and then loops back. From the fourth mile to the sixth, you are running a steep uphill.
Click on the map to view the elevation.
As you can see, I didn't get the exact distance.
Before the race started, I realized I didn't strap on my watch. It was sitting in the car, but I decided to run without it. I know all you techno nerds are probably pooping your tech shorts, but unlike you I can run on feel.
I was worried that I'd look at my early splits and disregard the need to save energy for the climb up from the valley. Instead I kept an even pace with Martini until after the third mile before I let him go to regroup. I attacked the two-mile uphill stretch methodically, following the rhythm of my breath to power me upward: in-in-in, out-out.
A man and woman yo-yo'd me for about a mile, speeding past me and then slowing to a walk. Finally I got past them for good before the turn onto Steels Corners where the course flattened. Then I began to pick up the pace for the final stretch.
I heard the man's footsteps behind me when the eighth mile marker was in view. He crept upon me and stayed just off my right shoulder for about a quarter mile and then he slowly surged to my side and then finally ahead of me.
The man in the sleeveless windbreaker continued to ebb farther ahead of me for the next quarter mile and I almost decided to let him go, but then he slowed and I knew I had him beat. I would not make his mistake.
We turned off Steels Corners and I reeled him in. I settled in behind him. He seemed to falter at times and I got shoulder to shoulder with him, but then he'd recover and I'd get behind him again.
Before the final turn onto Quick Road the man made a move that I perceived was meant to break me. He surged ahead, but I did not follow and before long his pace slackened. I took the final turn with a tight arc and was back at his shoulder and we passed the ninth mile dead even.
The finish was just beyond a bend in the road. I crashed ahead. I wasn't sure I had a finishing kick worth three-tenths of a mile. I could feel myself slipping. The finish was in view. Then I heard the footsteps just off my right shoulder.
I could see the sleeveless windbreaker in my peripheral. I needed to approach the puke threshold. Go legs, go, I begged to myself. I ebbed ahead and kept the footsteps behind me. Then he spoke.
"That's all I got. It's yours," the man panted.
I let out a barking laugh and finished him off.
In the finishing chute the people ahead of me as usual were taking too long. I handed over my bib tag and slipped under the ropes so as to bend over double in case of projectile. There was none. I turned around and saw the man in the sleeveless windbreaker.
"Nice finish," I said. Not as nice as mine, I thought. We shook hands and parted. He beat me inside the school for shelter.