One of the Gay Games’ principles is ‘personal best’. Though I wanted to do well in my events, I knew a PR was unrealistic for me this time. I had registered for 400m, 800m and 1,500m. Spread over five days, it was not too hard on my body though we had a trial heat before the 400m final next day. University of Akron has a nice track and was the home of Gay Games 9 Track and Field competition. The weather was unexpectedly cool for this time of the year in Akron, and it rained on and off. On Tuesday, I felt pretty good in the 400m trial. Because most of us were going into the final (11 competitors in my age group), I relaxed in the last 100m or so and finished in 62 seconds. My PR in this event is 57.5 seconds from two years ago, but my goal this time was to clear 60 seconds. Next day, I warmed up thoroughly and got myself ready for the first final. I knew John from Los Angeles who is a sprinter. He ran the trial in 60 seconds, so I knew he would be someone to beat. There were four guys from Stuttgart, Germany in a nice blue uniform. At start, I did not even bother with block start and off I went. I was lane 4 and John lane 3. It all went nicely and my legs were turning, but after 250m or so, John passed me so effortlessly. I tried to keep up with him, but the gap got wider and wider every stride I sprinted. Total defeat. John 56.4. Me 60.2. After the race, I ran a couple of 4x200m relays with my teammates. I was hesitant to run a relay, because that’s how I pulled my hamstring in the last Gay Games in Cologne, Germany. But the excitement of being in the competition propelled me to say yes to my regret later… It was not serious, but I did feel a twitch in my right hamstring and I felt stupid. 800m the next day and 1,500m on Friday seemed questionable.
My hamstring must have felt tighter than it actually was. I was worried making it worse by racing 800m and 1500m, then ending up not able to run a marathon to qualify for Boston. I tried to walk it off by going to the track on foot that morning (~30-minute walk). It was still not warm, so I spent extra time warming up. Olaf from Germany looked very strong in the practice leading up to the race day, though he kept saying he had an ankle problem. I had run 800m in July this year, and I ran it 2:23.5. My 800m goal this year was to run in 2:20, so I thought it would be good to have someone who pushed me. I did not know who else might be running in the same time, so my focus was on Olaf and my hamstring. Though I saw him run well in the practice, I had not seen him race. So, I did not know if he was a frontrunner or a kicker. Soon after the gun went off, I found out he was a kicker. With 2:20 in mind, I wanted to pace myself at 35 seconds every 200m. The first 200m was too fast, and I slowed down. So did Olaf. Next 200m was on pace with me leading. Wondering when he would take off, I tried to keep my own pace. Soon after 300m to go, Olaf did pass me and was going fast. I did not follow him immediately. Now, in a hindsight, I should have followed him. By then, I forgot about my hamstring and I should have been able to stay close to him. Instead, I let him take a 50m lead (so it seemed) by the time I was getting into 600m. Then, I noticed Olaf looking back and he kept doing that, which instantly made me think he was worried. I took that as a signal and sprinted the last 200m. It totally proved me wrong about my hamstring, and I passed him 20m or so left in the race. My time was 2:23.11. Olaf 2:24.37. If I kept up with him earlier in the last lap, my time might have been better. But I was happy about winning the race, and I did not even think I should let this be a lesson for the next day’s 1,500m.
The last day of the competition turned out to be a beautiful day. Sunny but not humid as we all had heard about. I walked to the track again but was late so started the warm up immediately. Warmer temperature might have helped, and I was feeling better about the prospect of this race from yesterday’s 800m where my hamstring held up. It’s almost twice as long but at a slower pace. My competition was Stuart Kollmorgen from Melbourne, Australia, who ran 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase earlier in the week. I didn’t know if he was more of a 5,000m runner or a 1,500m runner. My plan was to pace it at 80 seconds to make it 5:00. My PR in this event is 4:44.5 from 2012, so 5:00 would be almost 15 seconds slower. I figured if my 800m was 10 seconds slower than my PR in the same year, it would take more than 10 seconds and 5:00 seemed a good number. So 40 seconds every 200m. I lead the race in my pace and until about 450m to go, then Stuart passed me and I let him go. If I learned anything from the day before’s race, I would have stayed with him. The gap got bigger as he ran toward the finish line. At 200m to go, I sprinted to close the gap and sprinted hard. I pulled Stuart in closer and closer but needed another 5m or so to catch him. Stuart finished 4:55.66. Me 4:56.03. Above picture is from the finish line.
Lesson is definitely learned. I need to stay strong when my competitor moves ahead and follow. While it was good to know I still had the speed at the end, but I assume that speed could be used more efficiently earlier in the race. This is one of those things you learn from running a few races. Otherwise, without a competitor, I need to rely on my pacing and it is more difficult to compete against invisible competitor with my watch. This is going to be my focus next year. Until then, some rest and training for Boston!