While out on an easy jog the other day, I found myself reliving some of my favorite races. Of course, my proudest personal bests were in there: my 16:00 5K and my 2:39 marathon especially, but I found myself reminiscing about one particular race that truly altered my path in life, much more than any personal best or victory.
The year was 2011. Ashlie and I had just gotten married the year before, and I was training hard in preparation for the Twisted Ankle marathon in Georgia. Like so many runners in the Rochester area, I had signed up for the famous Johnny’s Running o’ the Green five miler in March. My training had been intense leading up to the race, and I knew I could improve on my personal best of 28:46 from a few months earlier. At the same time, I was trying to find a team to join, as I wanted to find some other runners around my speed or faster to help me improve. I had reached out to the largest team in the Rochester area several times, but had received no reply.
During the race, I ran well and knew I was going to run a PR. For almost the entire distance, I was chasing an unknown runner in a white singlet who stayed frustratingly out of reach. The final mile of this race is flat and usually filled with cheering crowds, so I can almost always finish well, and that year I resolved to catch that mysterious racer in white. I distinctly remember digging deep into the well to use every ounce of strength I had, but the racer stayed ahead of me. Thanks to a 5:19 last mile, though, I ended up running a huge PR of 27:42 and finished in the top ten. After my vision had cleared and I was able to speak coherently again, I congratulated the runner I had tried to chase down the entire race, and found out that his name was Mike Insler and he ran for a team called Roadkill Racing.
My performance must have attracted some notice, because shortly thereafter, I received invitations from Josh Perks and others on the team to join them for training runs. I accepted and found that RKR comprised a few guys all looking to run fast, and that they competed in a local cross country series. Around the same time, a liaison from the “other” team that I had contacted several times also reached out to me to see if I wanted to run for them. Sorry guys, but you had your chance, and RKR came to me, instead of the other way around. Plus, I liked the fact that Roadkill Racing was a small, unheralded team; I always side with the underdog. I joined Roadkill Racing, and have been a part of that team for over ten years now, even taking over as president when Josh Perks moved out of state.
The friends and relationships I have made from being a part of this team are still salient, and I consider myself very fortunate to count my teammates as friends. Of course I don’t think that I wouldn’t have made friends if I joined another team; I would have another set of friends made up of those teammates. But most of my teammates on RKR are similar; we love running, want to do our best at races, but don’t take it too seriously and we realize that we aren’t professionals.
Truly, that race was a turning point in my life. Up until that point, I had trained mostly alone since graduating college. Joining a small, informal, but highly competitive team was the perfect impetus I needed to ramp up my training, push myself in workouts and races, find training partners, and socialize. In a larger team, I probably would have been a non-entity, not fast enough to warrant any notice. But on a team of seven guys, I was able to step up and help win some races, and that gave me a sense of purpose.
Now, almost twelve years later, Roadkill Racing has grown into a fixture on the Rochester racing scene. We have almost fifty members across all age groups, but it still feels like a small, close-knit team. And I find myself constantly reminded how glad I am that I chose to be part of this amazing team over ten years ago.