I headed down to the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana), my alma mater, to race the club relays 3,000m on Saturday. I ran for the University when I was there (2004 - 2007) as well as what was sort of a precursor to the current club team (i.e. non-NCAA) in 2003/2004. The club system has really evolved though, with the National Intercollegiate Running Club Association (NIRCA) acting as central organization and organizing national championships. Likewise, this Club Relays meet has grown significantly in recent years, according to Dan Kittaka (my travel companion along with Mark Wehrman), both in numbers and the depth of good competition.
This was my first time lacing up the track spikes since 2007. I've got this sweet old pair of Eldorets on which I painted the Nike signs and midsole orange, making orange and blue Illini spikes.
I hoped that some of the young guys would take the pace out a bit quicker and that I could just sit back and click off 35s. However, the pace lagged from the gun. I found myself sitting in lane 1 right behind the lead, as we started running 36 seconds and change for each lap. As the pack naturally bunched and shifted a bit, there was some jostling, contact, and repositioning. I slowly got pushed further back into the middle. Around 800m in, the eventual winner , Josh Foss (from Indiana) got a bit antsy and made a move, with U of I club alum Mike Frigo the only runner to cover it. I could see this all going down, but I still didn't have an opening. Once I got it, I covered the gap over the course of a lap or lap and a half. Too quick. Mistake #1 of the race was that I made up that gap too quickly and needlessly wasted some energy doing it. I think I ran a 65 second 400m.
I then settled in behind the two leaders, as we moved through the 1600m in (I think) about 4:42. I figured I probably couldn't outkick either of these kids, as they're young and have probably been doing more workouts than me, and would thus be sharper. So I decided to try to make a long drive for home. My mistake (#2) was going a bit too early, with 4 1/2 laps to go; I should have waited another lap. I moved to the lead and started pushing, but Foss hung on as a small gap formed back to Frigo. Around 2 laps to go, Foss took over and just blew us away with what I think was about a 63 second last 400m to run 8:34. I fought to hold off Frigo, but couldn't quite do it in the end, as he slipped by me in the last 100m to run 8:40-low. There was no way I was going to beat Foss, and probably not Frigo either; though just maybe if I had (a) not wasted energy in making up the early gap too quickly, and (b) made my big move a lap later, I could have opened enough on Frigo to hold him off. Who knows? But that's why I love racing on the track—it's so tactically interesting.
In any event, this was a nice little rust buster, and even a bit of a confidence boost as I head into three consecutive weekends of longer racing. Not bad for an old man. Up next are the Napa Valley Marathon (and RRCA National Marathon Championships), the Way Too Cool 50k (also in California), and the inaugural Paleozoic 50k (Chicago area).