By Greg Putnam
The Syracuse Festival of Races hosted the National Masters 5k Road championships on October third. They have hosted for a number of years, but for some reason it has never been on my calendar as a race to run. Last year my teammates and I ran in the National Masters 5k Cross Country championship in spectacular Saratoga Springs, where we won the overall title. The Syracuse race was two weeks earlier or so and it just seemed like too much travel to do both. But this year Saratoga didn’t host, so we were on to Syracuse.
We met at the house of teammate Joe Shairs at 7am for our 5-hour drive. I booked our hotel room at the race headquarters, the Maplewood Inn, which had a $99 deal for a room rate because all of the race events were happening there. Teammate Tim Van Orden would be catching up with us on Saturday in Syracuse, to complete our four man team. So we headed out with Jim Pawlicki at the wheel, his favorite Slipknot station crooning in the background. My hopes of a Chopin Polonaise-a-palooza were instantly dashed by the thrashing of the not so dulcet tones of Wait and Bleed. Perhaps a harbinger of things to come on race day: every now and then Joe would give an update as to who would be lining up against us from the Atlanta Track Club (the South’s version of the BAA—fast guys and always loaded with talent) as they would be our main opponent. There were other great runners there too, outliers without a team: Kevin Castille, who would go on to thrash everyone on race day, John Gardiner, and Mark Andrews, the James Joyce Masters 10k road champ.
On the Mass. Turnpike we managed to wax philosophical about running as a Master: the training and the workouts we were doing and how to avoid the pitfall of looking at running logs from years past and trying to complete the same intervals. Those days are gone boys, gone. But we were also buoyed by a quote we had read from an old Frank Shorter interview with Track and Field News where he states that you have to make a decision during the race—are you going for it, are you deciding to run hard and really hurt or is the answer “Not today.” I think we tacitly made “the decision” by the time we hit the New York border. But there was another looming decision as to who was going to crack first and have to use one of the vile interstate bathrooms. I mean we are all over 40, and it was only a matter of time before the levee broke.
At our age we start paying more attention to all those drug commercials they play during the football game, and I find myself always answering “Yes” to their symptoms queries:
- Do you fall asleep several times during the day?
- Do you wake up several times a night?
- Do you have trouble going to the bathroom?
- Do you have trouble stopping going to the bathroom?
- Do you have a problem with searing gas pain?
- Do you want to know more about a reverse mortgage?
- Do you want to save $$ at Ocean State Job Lot?
- Do you forget what you started writing about?
After a brief rest stop and jerky fill up we headed back on the road—but someone left the trunk not secured completely so we had to make another quick stop, where this time I really slammed that bad boy, even though I swear it wasn’t my fault. There was a real rift in the team and things were tense in the car after the trunk incident, and not even the placid tones of Tool could calm the edge in the car. Joe and Jim had their own version of CarTalk going on in the front, while I corrected my students’ essays on the poetry of William Cullen Bryant and the wisdom of Chief Seattle.
We arrived at the hotel at 1:30pm, and were delighted that it was fully prepared for the Masters race with a welcome room replete with our race packets and numbers, light comestibles and numerous septua and octogenarians stretching and warming up for the race that was about 20 hours away—never too early to get those old joints loose. Joe and Jim did a quick 5 mile easy run, while I stayed in the room, went through their bags, and tried on all their clothes unbeknownst to them.
That night we ate at the Maplewood Inn Restaurant—bumping into Francis Burdett with his full senior team and Bill Newsham from GBTC. We recommended the coq au vin with penne pasta. The local band began to set up instruments and much to our surprise we found out that you could hear them all the way up to our room on the third floor. Light sleeper, Joe could sing along with them till 11pm. I slept well with no diabetic highs or lows to get me up during the night, so I woke up rested and ready. Only Joe Shairs was awake through the night adjusting the temperature of the very comfortable room.
Race morning was cloudy and almost cool with just a hint of humidity as the start loomed. Joe and Jim and I met up with Tim and reconnoitered the first mile. The race was expertly put on as the organizers knew what they were doing. The out-and-back route was clearly marked with K’s and miles along the way. When we passed the 4k tag on the way back to the start we knew that a personal decision would be made there with only one kilometer to go. Back at the car for a final check of my blood sugar numbers, and any extra fuel I might need, the team and I had a brief chat with Ethan Nedeau from the Greater Springfield Harriers; we discussed the merits of plain raw beets versus powdered. For my money, if I can’t taste the dirt, it ain’t worth it. We pledged to trade recipes after the race.
The race: It is funny that for all miles and miles of running we Masters have done, the racing and the workouts and the sacrifices; the idea that we are in tune with what our bodies are doing; the pain negotiations we go through and the decisions we make during a race. Yet for all that, NOT ONE of us ran negative splits in the race! Too much excitement? Too much on the line—national championship titles, records, and money to be won? Was it the frenetic jostling and elbowing over the first bunched up mile? Was it the turnaround during the race where you could see your competition ahead of you and judge how much you had to give to get up to them? I think each runner could answer that on his or her own. All I know is that before the race the atmosphere was genial and welcoming, and after the race four American age group records were broken. 44 yr. old Kevin Castille ran 14:46 for first place over all the Masters, while on the distaff side, 42 yr. old Janet McDevitt ran 17:21 for first place.
The CMS team raced hard and mustered a 2nd place to the vaunted Atlanta Squad. (Their first finisher ran 15:41!)
After a warm down with the team, we decided that it would be best to get back to the hotel, clean up and hit the road before the awards ceremony. I like to think that I had people who really missed me, so I wanted to be home before dark. In the car we talked about the next big goals individually and for the team, including the B.A.A Half, the Mayor’s Cup, the N.E. X-C Champs, and the Club National Race in Tallahassee. The ride home was without incident, unless you call two grown men getting weepy listening to Fake Plastic Trees an incident. I only call it a desperately creepy duet. I had to remind them that we were a Band of Brothers—we few, we happy few, and so on. Alas, my comments were drowned out by the haunting refrain: “It wears him out.” After thinking about it, I guess the line was true actually, we were worn out and with good reason.