At the two kilometre mark I thought, “I could win parkrun.” The time would not be would class but I knew the time did not matter. To win you only have to beat everyone else competing.
Parkrun is a Saturday morning, world-wide, five kilometre run, timed and organised mostly by volunteers. This was the second time I’d run the Diamond Creek course. Social fitness is key to the initiative, though front runners striving to do their best creates an incentive to win.
At the shout of the starter’s “GO!” I sprinted away from the hundred other runners. My habit is to get away and find rhythm. This sprint also often leads to high quality runners following me. This is before they realise my settled pace is below theirs and I’m overtaken. In this event it was not until the first kilometre mark that I noticed a presence nearby, and to my surprise I was not immediately overtaken.
If the start sprint had lulled my follower into thinking the time would be grand, then I thought I could win by managing the race itself rather than the time. To this I recalled Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In Pumping Iron, Schwarzenegger competes for the title of Mr. Olympia. Aside from the physical competition Schwarzenegger intimidates his opponents with comments to express a pre-conclusion to the result, and they’re usually funny. With this memory I yelled to a volunteer directing a detour, “Hey, why don’t we go that way? It’s quicker?” The volunteer continued pointing, smiled, and said “No”. Behind me I heard laughter.
That vocal was to express my ease at the pace and jest at the distance. If my follower thought I was taking it easy I wanted him to overtake. He didn’t.
We came to a hairpin and I saw two others had joined us. At three kilometres we came to a rise. Here the youngest follower overtook and the others followed. I expected them to pull away but instead, on level ground again and without changing my gait, I came back alongside them.
“I think I was up here,” I said and retook the lead – more Schwarzenegger tactics. My original follower laughed.
In the final kilometre the lead changed three times. Some dips broke one runner’s stride, and the other could not match an increase in pace. I knew the course had a false finish, with two sport ovals near the end. The temptation is to surge upon seeing the first oval. I held my body until the second came into sight. It is important not to up pace too early.
With my first follower by my side it was fifty metres from the finish that we came a final dip. Here I kicked out, knowing it was an awkward place to start the end of the race. This sprint allowed me to be first at a handrail and turn onto a wooden bridge. Two seconds after my steps rattled the planks there was a similar clatter behind me. This margin didn’t change for the final fifteen metres.
Taking deep breaths across the finish line we congratulated each other and the two that followed. Later that day the race times were released. The second and third place getters had made personal bests, and so had I. By ignoring the clock we had pushed each other beyond previous levels.