It is hard not to run a race that starts less than a mile from your house. That’s probably the main reason I ran the Doc & Mardie Brown 5K last year and again this year.
In the race last year, I was new to Maine and didn’t really know what to expect from the competition and from the course. I managed to place second overall and win the 40-49 male age group division with a time of 18:38, which was 29 seconds behind the overall winner. Having never actually won a race on a certified course before, I immediately put the thought into my head that I wanted to come back in 2018 and win this race.
The Doc & Mardie 5K course is by no means easy. In fact, it’s the hardest road 5K that I’ve ever run. The first mile includes an elevation gain of 128 feet, most of which is over a quarter mile while you climb up the hill to Colby College from North Street. How you run up this hill can make or break your race, and I was determined to conquer it. So, I ran up this hill frequently during my training, including seven times in the week prior to this year’s Doc & Mardie 5K. I made several attempts at capturing the Strava segment “course record” from fellow Strider Ron Peck, but continually failed. The only thing I could hope for was some race day magic to propel me up the hill at the pace I wanted to run.
Going into the race, I gave myself about a 50 percent chance that I could win it. My running has improved a lot over the last year, including cutting nearly 30 seconds off my 5K PR, but I knew there was no guarantee that I could beat the winning time from last year. I was also afraid that a random Colby College kid would show up and blow me away.
On the morning of the race, I jogged from my house to the YMCA to pick up my number and t-shirt and then jogged back home where I changed shoes and shirt and drank some water. Once again, the convenience of racing this close to home can’t be overstated. As I ran down the street heading back to the YMCA and the start of the race, I started feeling a little hungry, so I made a U-turn to go back home to eat a GU energy gel and drink more water.
As I chatted with some of the other Striders while standing at the starting line, I looked around and either didn’t see or didn’t recognize the guy who won last year’s race. I also didn’t see anyone else I recognized as being faster than me. I knew that winning was a real possibility now.
“On your mark. Go!”
I immediately shot out into the lead having no idea how close anyone was behind me. I looked at my watch about a quarter mile into the race and saw I was running 5:15 pace. I knew I had to slow down a bit so I wasn’t too winded by the time I reached the base of the hill. As I ran up the hill, I started getting paranoid that someone was right on my tail. I thought I was hearing heavy breathing and footsteps right behind me, but was afraid to look back.
I continued to push up the hill trying to pull away from the phantom runner trying to pass me. The hill felt much less bad than normal. I made it to the top of the steep part of the hill, but knew that the road kept climbing until close to the one-mile mark just past the Colby Art Museum. My Garmin GPS watched beeped and showed that I ran my first mile in 6 minutes flat. “Not bad,” I thought to myself. “I can do this.”
Running down Mayflower Hill, I knew my pace would increase, but I didn’t want to push it too much. I knew that the third mile included another climb that may not be as big as the hill in the first mile but still had the potential to zap a lot of energy out of me. I came through the second mile at 5:36 min/mile pace. I was right where I wanted to be.
As I approached the bottom of the hill at the Gilman Street bridge, I again thought I heard heavy breathing right behind me. After crossing the bridge, there was a car that seemed to want to drive through the construction barriers. I was relieved to see that race director Patrick Guerette was talking to the driver, but also a tad worried because the driver seemed to keep inching forward. I wasn’t sure whether I should go around the left or the right side of the car. I went to the right without incident and soon after saw my wife standing on the side of the course cheering for me.
“Are you winning?” she asked.
“Yes. How far back is the next guy?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell.”
I was relieved to know that the phantom runner chasing me really was a phantom and I was well on my way to winning the race as long as I maintained my pace to the finish.
Of course, knowing that I had a comfortable lead also killed my adrenaline rush. My breathing grew heavier and I felt hot for the first time in the race. Running up the hill on West Street felt much worse than the giant hill in the first mile. At this point, I just wanted the race to be over. I topped the hill and turned onto North Street. “Only a half mile to go,” I thought to myself. I really wanted this half mile to be finished.
As I turned into the YMCA parking lot, I saw the race clock counting up from 17:37. I pushed to the finish line realizing that I was going to win the race and run a sub-18:00 time. I had just won a race for the first time ever!
I turned around to see the next runners approach the finish and was glad to see that Ron Peck came in second overall and Julie Millard won the women’s race.
After I got home and loaded my GPS data to Strava, I found that I had finally beat the segment record going up the big hill to Colby (sorry, Ron). That capped off a great week of running for me: placing fifth in my age group at Beach to Beacon, winning the Doc & Mardie 5K, topping 70 miles for the week, and getting a segment record on Strava. The only thing left to do was to head over to the New Balance Factory Store Tent Sale and spend the gift card I won from the Doc & Mardie race.
Thanks to Patrick Guerette for organizing a great race. If you live in the area and haven’t run the Doc & Mardie Brown 5K, you really should consider it. I plan on running it again next year.