Throwback Thursday: 2012 CVS Downtown 5K

Every Thursday we are publishing a throwback article that originally appeared in the pages of our magazine. This one comes from the October 2012 issue and it’s written by Joe Navas. Navas recounts the 2012 CVS Caremark Downtown 5k which was held in Providence. We thought this would be an appropriate article given that this race will soon be upon us. We hope it pumps you up.

Among the many jewels in the New England racing crown, the CVS Caremark Downtown 5K in Providence, Rhode Island holds the distinction of being the most furiously fast of them all. While Boston has its sirens of the first 4 miles seducing you to crash on the rocks of the Newton Hills and Falmouth tempts you with scenic views that are barely visible through the inevitable humidity and pain of a race run on Cape Cod in August, this ever-growing festival of speed arrives at a time when cooler winds often prevail and the only hill is at the beginning and end.

The race also serves as the USATF 5k Road Championship, so one can be assured that a time that might normally win a local 5k may nab you 60th or later here.  Men’s winning times over the years have virtually always been well under 14 minutes while the women bring it home in a sizzling 15:30 or better more often than not.

I intended to write two separate articles about this event: one detailing my experience as a participant in it and one as a straight race report of the day’s events. However, after the 3rd time I attempted to make my referring to myself in the 3rd person sound like something other than a self-obsessed Hollywood screen idol, I decide to say “screw it,” and just brought you, the reader, the whole damn thing in one tidy, efficient, id not somewhat odd package (according to my wife, at least).

I arrived at the race an hour before my gun was about to go off. I say “my,” because this event has a huge number of races going on under its single umbrella, ranging from 50 to 1500 meters, from pre-K to middle school.

These races begin at 8:00 and go until 10:30. By 11:00, the course is clear and the main event is set to begin.

With nearly 5,000 entrants in the 5k, one would imagine the entire area of downtown Providence near the Statehouse would be a complete mess, but with acres of sprawling lawns and tree cover and with more port-a-johns per square foot than the 10th annual International Prune and Coffee Festival, the mood was easy for all.

As I was warming up near the start, I saw the usual suspects, those I compete against week in and week out and those who find themselves on that long list of people we just watched on TV competing in London and at the US Trials before that. As this was as close as I was going to get to them until 11:15, I just tried to not get run over as they did strides. 

Two observations that I had during this pre-race time:

1. Alan Webb looks like he wants to kill someone at all times when he’s warming up. I’ve seen this before at Mayor’s Cup in 2003 and again at the New Balance Indoor Games in 2011. He never fails to frighten me. I genuinely feared that if I came to close, he might bite me, and not just a “test” bite like a Great White, I’m talking a meal before the event.

2. Ben True appears as if he is covering city blocks with each stride. If I were Robert Cheseret, Andrew Bumbalough or anyone else trying to beat this guy on the roads, I would keep horse blinders on so I couldn’t see him before the gun went off.

Speaking of guns going off, I found my way to the 3rd row of the start a mere 30 seconds before ours sounded.

The start of this race is nothing short of thrilling. The starting line is wide and the banner above you gives the feeling of being released from a cage. 100 meters out from the start and you are cascading downhill, all too aware that one false step will not only result in a nasty, full-speed scrape along the tar but a likely trampling by too many feet going to fast, luckily wearing road flats and not spikes, but still…

At the bottom of the hill, we had all spread out just enough to have a full stride, but as we made a sharp left, there were still stutter steps and jolts to the joints as everyone attempted to keep momentum while following the most efficient tangent. I reached mile 1 in a somewhat startling, but not unexpected (given the downhill start), 4:52, and I was well aware that a number of elite women were mere feet behind me, as to my left, two gentlemen on a scooter, one with a camera and microphone detailed the events as they unfolded. I wished he would tell me less about Huddle, Maloy, Spence and MacGregor and more about Koech, Ekuom and Weeks. But who, besides me, wants to hear about a bunch of old dudes who are neither as fast nor as (major, major understatement here) good-looking as these women?  Regardless, I stayed relaxed but focused, refusing to give in to any insecure voice telling me 4:52 might have been too quick. The beauty of this course, redesigned and made even flatter and faster this year, is precisely that. After the first downhill, one doesn’t see another until going back up it.  Already far up ahead, the men, led by Ben Bruce, currently residing and training in Flagstaff, AZ, went through the 1st mark in a rather conservative 4:26 with a resultant huge pack close on his heels.

Onward we all pressed and I began to pick up a few fast friends who had gone out too fast and as the 2nd mile mark approached and I was still in the thick of things with the top women, I realized that this was indeed to be a good day. I didn’t feel the need to try to go any faster, but I was somewhat surprised that I was not feeling a lack of stamina begging me to slow down.  I went through mile 2 in 4:58 and now found CMS’s Mike Quintal up with this little pack (he PR’ed.).

Meanwhile, the men, who up until this point had been running a somewhat tactical race, began to pick it up.  Still, the lead pack numbered 10+.  Local speedsters (and members of Level Legion, I might add) Tim Ritchie, Eric Ashe, and Peter Gilmore were still within sight of the pack at this point, their BAA yellow giving area running fans someone to root for.

Webb had fallen off the back a bit and had ceased to pose any threat, but Cheseret, Bumbalough and at least 6 others were all right there as the race approached the penultimate straightaway before making the turn up the hill we’d all so enjoyed coming down. As seen in the video post-race (What? You think I was anywhere near this to see it first hand?), they began to climb the hill, it was Bumbalough in front with True giving chase the entire length of the incline, with Korir, Braun, and Cheseret still too close to give in.

As the final straightaway leveled out, it was still Bumbalough in front, with True running out of real estate if he was going to try to take this thing. But as the final 20 meters approached, it appeared as if Bumbalough had simply given up too much in the sprint up the hill, as True closed the gap and passed him on the inside to win by a foot for his second straight victory here.

 Now back to slow, old guys and fast young women…For the last two years, my nemesis, who I also count as a very good friend, has been Joseph Koech. For the uninitiated, Joseph burst onto the New England scene 3 years ago and, already 40, was winning Grand Prix races outright (i.e. the 2009 Lone Gull 10k in 30:20 over the likes of Dan Vassallo, Justine Fyffe, Casey Moulton, and many other extremely talented local runners).  Luckily for me, Koech is slowing down a little bit, but still not enough for me to catch him 80% of the time. The thing is his body still vividly remembers that he once could go out at 4:30 or better and keep it up seemingly all day. However, it has been his pattern of late to slow considerably towards the end of race, and I observe and state this with the utmost respect. At the end of every race, no matter how big or small, Joseph is doubled over, unable to stand, talk, or breathe for quite a while.  Lately, my races against him have seen me employ the following strategy: run as fast as I can, hope that Joseph comes into view sometime before the final 1/4 mile, then try to run even faster. Occasionally this works out for me. So, this day, as I come up on the last 1/3 of a mile, what do I see?  A 6’2” spec in the distance that is the slowing gait of one Mr. Koech. He’s about to make the turn up the hill and he’s got well over 150 meters on me, but I’ve got no other option than to try to get to that finish before him and I know that there exists the distinct possibility that I just may, and besides, what else am I going to do?

As I’m pondering my small lot in life and Quintal is right there likely pondering if he’s in the midst of the best 5k he’s ever run, someone with a much bigger stake in this than either of us is sizing up her competition and preparing to make a move that will leave us and those female competitors that remain in  the dust. We make the final turn up the hill and Huddle… just…goes. It’s as if gravity tapped her on the shoulder to remind her it was there and she just elbowed it squarely in the nose while giving it the bird.

 She flew up that thing.

 I gave chase, inspired by her strength and thinking that if I could get close enough, I could just jump on her back until we got up to Joseph and then I’d just jump off as we crossed the line. She seemed to be made of titanium and whatever it is NASA uses in the space shuttle’s booster rocket, so I was pretty sure she wouldn’t even notice.  Ultimately, I decided it might be more fair to everyone if I just tried to catch Joseph on my own, which I did (I mean, I tried).

He just had too much on me and I finished as 2nd Master 4 seconds behind him, consoled slightly by the fact that I made up a tremendous amount of ground.  Per usual, there he was leaning on a barrier past the finish. I patted his rapidly heaving back and said congratulations, a scene that I’ve repeated so many times I feel as if I’m in a terrible play I can’t quit.

In the final tally, Huddle won the Women’s Championship with Neely Spence coming in 4 seconds behind her. Ben True took the Men’s title by a mere tenth of a second over Andrew Bumbalough.

The women’s Masters side saw impressive victories by a pair of Whirlaway runners who each carry impressive resumes as former Olympian Maria Servin beat none other than (duh) former Olympian Joan Samuelson by nearly 2 minutes and in the 40+ former US 5000 meter champ Chrissy Anderson beat her nearest competitor by a similar margin.

For my group the results, by Yankee Timing, show yours truly in 3rd by a mere second, behind venerable NY Masters runner Scott Weeks with Koech taking the victory. Thing is, I beat Weeks to the finish by at least 6 feet. Luckily, with our proximity to the lead women, there’s more photographic evidence of the finish than the Warren Commission had film.

Confusing matters, the times as posted are chip times and not gun times, which, as stated clearly in the USATF rulebook are to be used as the final word in all USATF sanctioned races. So, as of this writing, Weeks is listed as having arrived to the line in 2nd, though it went down differently.  In the end, it’s a pride issue more than anything, as Weeks and I shared not only a small space at the finish but also the inability to catch the amazing Koech.

Of course, I’d be lying if I didn’t note that the $100 difference in prize money has significance as well.  $100 buys a lot of burritos, which taste especially good when enjoyed with friends on a cool, sunny day in downtown Providence.

Joe Navas is senior columnist and a fast master renner.

To read more article from the October 2012 issue, click here.


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