My 22nd running the Utica Boilermaker 15K has come and gone, and as is my tradition, I wanted to write down some of thoughts about the race. For those of you keeping track, this year was the 17th year I was gunning for under an hour. A while ago I had decided to go after Paul Humphrey’s record of 23 consecutive races under an hour, and had done so ever since 2005, despite injuries, emergency surgeries, weddings the night before, and general lack of fitness.
I knew this year was going to be the most challenging, though. Following last year’s Boilermaker (held in October due to COVID), I suffered a lasting injury in my left hip that made it all but impossible to run for several months. Once that finally started to improve, I had a little scare with plantar fasciitis. Then, to add insult to injury, everyone in the family caught COVID in May, and both injuries reared their heads again following a week of inactivity.
In the months leading up to the race, I averaged only around 15 miles per week, and my longest run was eight miles. I did no workouts, and every day was a test to see if my hip or arches would hold up. Suffice to say, my chances were looking grim. I had accepted in May that my streak was probably going to end this year, but still had to try. I waffled in my resolve to race it or just jog it, since I knew that trying to run fast off such minimal training would hurt like hell.
On race day, everything was feeling good, and so I decided to still go for it. After all, I ran 58 minutes just a few months after having my gallbladder removed and staying up until 1am at Andy’s wedding the night before. Surely if I could do that, I could harness my old man strength and bust out a decent time this year.
We were all lucky and the weather wasn’t terribly hot this year. I found some friends at the start and decided to stick with Ryan, who was also gunning for under an hour. The race started, and I immediately tucked in behind him and tried to run smooth and controlled.
The first few miles went fairly well. I was running right around 60-minute pace, but I knew that miles four and five would be crucial. The fourth mile is up the large hill in Valley View golf course, but then you can go screaming back down that hill during the fifth mile. So I bided my time up the hill, and saw the one-hour pace group pass by me. I knew better than to stick with them, though, so I let them go and was determined to catch them on the way down.
The fifth mile was where I started to realize things were not going to go my way. Usually I can open up and run a really fast mile here, but this year, I could only muster a 6:05. I dug deep and ran the flat sixth mile in a paltry 6:22. Upon seeing my 10K split of 40:40, I resolved to push as hard as I could and try to average 6:15s to nab that sub-60 time.
Those of you who have run this race, however, know that the stretch immediately after 10K is quite possible the toughest part of the course. While not as steep as the Valley View hill, the section from 10K to mile 7 is all uphill, with no shade. And this is where my hint that I wouldn’t break 60 turned into a declaration. The heat, hills, and my complete lack of fitness led me to a 7:00 split for the seventh mile, meaning I was now over a minute behind pace.
I rallied back for a 6:33 eighth mile, but since that is also completely downhill, it should have been much faster. At this point, people were passing me left and right. I tried to hang with a couple, but was in no shape to do anything more than survive at this point. A 6:50 ninth mile meant I was going to hit 60 minutes with a quarter of a mile left.
When I saw the finish banner, I somehow found a second wind I didn’t know I had, and was able to summon something that could almost be described as a kick. It didn’t help, though, as I crossed the line in 1:01:30, ninety seconds over my goal and ending my streak of running the Boilermaker in under an hour.
You might think I would be disappointed, but truthfully, I was not. I had already made peace with the idea of ending my streak, and to be completely honest, I never truly believed I could match or better Paul Humphrey’s streak. Like all things, my streak had to end some time, and this year was its time. In reality, I am damn proud of the time I ran this year. For only doing a handful of runs longer than 4 miles, and almost never running faster than 7:15 pace, I managed to average 6:33s for the 9.3 miles in Utica. Looking back, I ran intelligently and did everything I could to maximize my performance. But the fact is, I had hardly trained at all since the previous October, and 61 minutes was the best I could do that day. I’m happy I was able to run that fast.