For the first time since high school I have managed to capture a first place finish. It was the Norfolk Community League's Jingle Bell Run 5K. The day was sunny and with the wind, a bit on the cool side; but all around good running weather. Another bonus was that the race route was all streets I was very familiar with so there wouldn't be any surprises and I knew exactly what I was getting into ahead of time.
We lined up in the driveway of the school for the start and with a very informal command from Santa the race began. I quickly struck out from the pack and set an aggressive (for me) pace for the first mile which I knew would be downhill after one small incline. The strategy paid off. As I hit the mile marker and prepared to turn into a residential section I noted that I had done the first mile in 5:50 which is quicker than normal. A quick look behind me as I made the turn and for the first time I realized that there was no one close to me. I saw at least one guy a little ways back bu that was it. So far so good, but I also knew that we were just about to hit the two decent sized hills which comprised a good portion of the second mile.
Climbing up the hills I just kept telling myself to keep the pace, to focus on my stride, don't let up. Everything was going great. I was holding it together, and while the hills were definitely taking a toll I was still well within the time I was looking for. I even had my own personal police escort; I finally got something back from the town for all those taxes I've paid!
But it was different being out front all alone. Normally during a race I have no one I need to focus on but myself . Some races I concentrate on trying to catch up to someone ahead of me or I end up fighting off someone trying to catch me, but this time I was literally alone. Doubts kept jumping into my head. Could I hold them off? Are they just waiting to kick later and beat me? Should I run faster or stick to my current pace? This was all new, I never had to deal with these issues before. It was great to be in the lead but there was just too much pressure.
With half a mile left I turned off the long straightaway and I looked back, there was nobody close. It was then that I finally knew that no one could catch me. The race was mine. But that was no excuse to slack off so I kept up the pace and pushed it to the end. One final turn around the building and the finish line was waiting for me. For the first time there were no other runners catching their breath just past the finish line, it was just me. I didn't post the best time I have ever run, I ended up with a 19:05, but I couldn't have been happier.
This was my final race of the year and I couldn't have asked for anything better. The first place finish capped off what has been a fantastic year of running and was the perfect way to bring a close to 2009.