Just before the 1km Richard says it feels fast. He says We’re not going to keep this pace the whole way are we? and our pack of five is silent, not ignoring his query so much as evaluating it for ourselves, wondering if, already, we can rely on the feedback from our legs, our lungs, our hearts to tell us if another 20km at this pace is possible or if we’ll burn up. The top two are off the front. Dave Jackson, Matt Clout, Richard Mosley, Kris Swanson and I are building for a fight for the minor positions, with prize money going five deep and pride much deeper than that. Richard asks us if we’re going to keep the pace and four of us are silent, obeying some unwritten mandate, a set of gentleman’s rules, that say don’t fuck with the competition. Work together until the early anxiousness and energy has burned off and you must do battle, and then test each other against the terrain the way a strong chess player might test a weaker opponent against an opening gambit, but don’t speak. This is psychological warfare. We feel each other with our minds. We reveal as little as possible. To speak is both to show weakness, and to manipulate others on a human level, appealing to courtesy for us to respond. You don’t talk unless it is elemental to navigating the course. The four of us are silent until the 1km mark when Kris says 3:07.
Richard has won this race before. He isn’t the most credentialed of our pack but he is the most precocious. As a junior he won the BC cross-country championships, and he has medals on a senior National level. A sharp man. A kind man. Matt is the hungriest. He trains in isolation with enviable and inexhaustible drive. Dave is the most consistent. I have the most experience but I’m also the oldest and I am not racing these four as much as I’m racing the clock, racing Bruce Deacon from when he set the BC master’s record of 1:08:02, and only as a late consideration racing Steve Boyd from 2005, the year he set the Canadian master’s record.
We loop through Yaletown, a quick out –and-back, before heading up Pacific Boulevard toward the south entrance to Stanley Park, cutting up the east channel along Park Lane, past Lost Lagoon to Coal Harbour. From there we will circle the park, popping out where we entered and finishing with a downhill kilometer on Pacific Boulevard. At 8km Richard solicits us once again. World’s most beautiful race, he says, from the back of our pack, and I sneak a look to my right out across the harbour and see the conical yellow sulphur piles, morning sun glancing off glassy downtown architecture, boats moored on still water. It’s beautiful, but I don’t acknowledge it. I refocus my attention onto the back of Dave’s singlet, and five of us run at 19km/hr in single file arcing northwest along the seawall toward the lighthouse in English Bay.
We pass 10km in 31:33. I needed 32:14 for BC record pace. I’m right on Canadian master’s record pace. I try to relax. I try to not think about it. Our finest races come from when we don’t pay attention to our splits and we use our competitors to bring out the best in us. But I can’t help thinking ahead. I can’t help wondering if I can hold this pace. These seeds of doubt.
So I banish them. I think of one positive thought and repeat it until there is no room left for doubt. Halfway in 33:16.
At 14km our pack splinters. Kris had already dropped off and now Matt surges ahead. Dave and I try to follow him and Richard falls adrift. 15km in 47:20. Still right on Canadian record pace. At 15km I am a full minute ahead of the BC record. And I think Today's the day. I can do this today. My coach and I are targeting the Comox half-marathon in 6 weeks as our peak race of the season, but I'm feeling really good, flushed with the feeling that I am doing something special today.
And then the wheels start to come off. Like synchronized swimmers Dave and I slow together, our movements becoming more exaggerated, more obvious. We’re into the most technical part of the course and Matt has disappeared up ahead and Richard isn’t far behind. I lose time on the Canadian record. We pass 20km in 1:03:32 and I’m still nearly a minute ahead of the BC record but I’d need something Herculean to get the Canadian mark and I know it won’t be today. My legs can’t move any faster. We crest the hill with 1km remaining and Dave attacks to see if I will respond and immediately he opens up 10 meters on me. We race into the finishing chute and I cross two seconds behind Dave in 1:07:03. My best time in two years.
Rob Watson: 1:05:39
Joseph Gray: 1:05:47
Matt Clout: 1:06:29
Dave Jackson: 1:07:01
Jim Finlayson: 1:07:03
Richard Mosley: 1:07:35