My Brush With Professional Racing

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everything was in place

By Dan Dipiro

My plan was to finish in the top four at the Bedford Rotary 12K and thereby win prize money and unequivocally secure my status as a professional distance runner.

It seemed as if all the right circumstances were in place. The good Rotarians of Bedford were offering $250 for first place, $150 for second, $75 for third, and $50 for fourth. The dozens and dozens of elite runners normally in attendance wouldn’t be there because the race was not a USATF-NE Grand Prix or New Hampshire Grand Prix event this year.

The last time this race was neither a New England nor New Hampshire Grand Prix event was 2011. I didn’t run it that year, but my 2013 time of 46:41 would’ve given me fourth place in 2011 and put me within striking distance of third place. In other words, it seemed this rare non-grand prix year might allow running-riffraff like me to finish in the money. Maybe deep in the money. It was time to strike.

before the race even starts, the dream slips away

My plan was to average something faster than my 6:16 pace of last year. I was pretty sure I could do it. But there was that remaining variable of the number of fast guys who’d show up.

With time to spare, I walked from my car to the high school intending just to check out the pre-race scene, strut my potentially-professional-runner stuff, and use the men’s room. The school’s hallways were bustling with runners. On my way to the men’s room, I saw the first guy I knew I couldn’t beat: Justin Soucy, who’d directed a small 5K I ran last fall and whose race results I’d seen before. Okay, I thought. So I’ll take second place.

There was a wait in the men’s room. It took about 5 minutes for a stall to free up, and, when it did, a small, slender man in warm-ups exited. He looked fast. I thought I’d seen him somewhere before, but wasn’t sure. Let me put a finer point on this. He didn’t look just fast. He looked…well…Kenyan.

Okay, so all signs were pointing to a Kenyan-Soucy-DiPiro finish at this point, and my dream was still intact. I even had a one-man buffer. Then I went outside and saw the buffer-eliminator Rich Smith in the parking lot, just beginning his warm-up run.

A couple years ago, I did this Manchester race that was both a 5K and a 10K. The 10K crowd started a hundred or so yards behind us 5K runners, and we ran the same route for the first couple miles. I was in second or third place at the 2-mile mark, when this really tall, slender dude cruised by me like I was in the toddlers’ race. That was Rich Smith on his way to winning the 10K.

All rightee. So I would be finishing in fourth place. I had no buffer now. But a Kenyan-Smith-Soucy-DiPiro finish would still leave DiPiro’s professional status unscathed. There was no room for anyone else up in the ether of professional distance runners who would rule this day, but I was still there.

I exchanged a few friendly words with the Kenyan dude as we warmed up near one another on Nashua Road. He predicted increasing warmth for the race (the clouds were clearing), and I predicted our both finishing in the money…. No, I didn’t say that. I just said it’d be nice if the clouds stuck around for the race. I noted to myself that he was warming up at the same mellow 8:20 or so pace at which I was warming up. That was kind of cool. But my downfall was near.

At the end of my warm-up run, a very slight, young runner-maybe 120 pounds-came running at me, striding very fast, and I could tell, at a glance, that he was out of my league.

So there it was. I was now in fifth place, out of the money, my professional-runner dream dashed.

but we must race on

I raced pretty much according to plan, except for the speed-up-at-the-end part. While watching the fast guys take off ahead of me, with the Kenyan in the lead, I came out gently and settled into my own 6:20 or so pace.

Last year-a NH Grand Prix year-I’d had runners nearby to battle with the whole way, and that had helped push me on. This year, I didn’t have that help. For the last couple miles, the guy ahead of me was too far ahead to reel in, and the woman behind me (the second-place woman, Abbey Wood) was far enough behind that I wasn’t too worried. So it was just me and my GPS watch racing along, less than optimally motivated.

I was somewhat motivated to be the fastest Bedford resident, and figured I had that title all sewn up, but it was a day of faulty guesses and underestimations of the competition. As I finished my lap around the Bedford stadium track, the announcer Andy Schachat said,

“And here’s Dan Dee…Dee Piro, our second Bedford finisher.”

What? Second?

With 7-plus miles done, I’m about to turn into the high school driveway for the stadium finish. With no one around me, I wasn’t making it hurt too much. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t sunning myself on an antique Hobie Cat or anything. But I wasn’t feeling full race pain either.

epilogue

After finishing in 8th place with a 47:23 / 6:22 pace (42 seconds slower than last year), I saw fellow Bedford runner (and New England Runner Magazine 2013 NH Masters Runner of the Year) Jason Porter standing just beyond the finish line. An old acquaintance, Jason had somehow escaped my notice before the race. He was now chatting with the Kenyan dude, who was, in fact, Kenyan, and was, in fact, Amos Sang, and had, in fact, won the race.

When I heard Amos’ name, I realized why he’d looked familiar to me earlier. Last spring, I ran in the 10K National Championships at the James Joyce Ramble in Dedham, MA. We masters runners went off three minutes ahead of the rest of the racers. Right around the three mile mark, a police motorcycle blasted by me with the leader of the non-masters race, Amos Sang, flying along behind him at a sub-5:00 pace. Amos went on to win that Ramble, and he won this year’s too.

As it turns out, I knew of the Bedford 12K second-place finisher too, Tyler Andrews, the very slight kid who’d strode by me so quickly just before the race. Coincidentally, I’d read, that same morning, on LevelRenner.com, a short article he’d written. I chatted with him for a few minutes after the race and realized he was the same Tyler who set a treadmill half-marathon world record a few months ago in Boston.

So was my professional running career sucked down into the whirling vortex, the great shroud of the sea rolling on (the sea of runners), as it rolled five thousand years ago…or at least since the ’70s running boom.

Dan finished 8th overall and ran a 47:23. Follow Dan regularly on his blog shod foot running, where he writes on his experiences training, racing, and living with Addison’s disease.

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