This past weekend we traveled to Grand Rapids for our showdown at the Great Lakes Challenge. This meet showcases a lot of ranked NAIA schools from this area of the States. We were ranked the highest at 6th, Aquinas was 7th, Olivet Nazarene was 9th, and Cornerstone was 13th; plus there were other teams like Cedarville, Indiana Wesleyan, and Indiana Tech that have had good teams in the past, that could mix it up with the top guys.
Last year this was also a big race with a lot of ranked teams running; we finished behind all those teams I just listed except Indiana Wesleyan, and Embry-Riddle, 7th place. This year Embry-Riddle went to a different meet but they are ranked 3rd in the Nation. This year we did not want that to happen again and knew we had a target on our backs since we were the highest ranked team in the race.
It rained a lot in Michigan the days leading up to the race so again, the course was muddy. But, this plays in our favor because we are blue collar racers and are used to running in wet, muddy conditions. Although it did rain a lot, when we ran the course on Friday night, the course was in good shape. It was even in better shape Saturday when we raced, just a few puddles and a few slick spots.
The race got out fast. I got boxed in at the start but somehow spotted a nice gap to my right and shot right up to the front of the race. I went from starting in a box on the left side of the start line to darting all the way to the right of the line. It defiantly was a good move, because from the gun, a few guys went out very hard. This was exactly what I wanted to do, get myself in the front of the race at the beginning and run with the top guys. At the mile I was in 7th place at 4:50. 4:50 is the fastest I have ever gone out in a race and I was amazed at how comfortable and relaxed I still was. There were two Olivet guys ahead of me so I stayed right on their shoulder for as long as I could.
During the seconds mile I was still within the second pack. Two guys were out front pretty far and seemed to be running away from the rest of the race. One of the guys, who eventually won, was from Cornerstone and the other guy was from Spring Arbor. I was glad that those two teams did not matter as much as Aquinas or Olivet. I kept contact with the Olivet guys as much as possible. At the two mile mark, my time was 10:03.
Soon after the two mile, 3 Aquinas guys came up on me and started to pass me. Luckily Corey was riding along with them. I kept right on them as long as possible but I got a few seconds backs back from them. At the 5k mark, it was 3 AQ guys and me and Corey all within a second from each other. This was becoming a race between two teams, Shawnee State vs. Aquinas; the race began to get very fast. My 5k time was 15:52.
Soon after 5k, Corey about tripped and fell. It was almost disaster but he kept on his feet. His hand even touched the ground. He regrouped and continued with the AQ guys. During mile four I fell about 3 seconds behind Corey and the 3 guys from AQ but I kept telling myself to stay focused and to work myself back up there to give Corey some help. I never fell more than 3 seconds behind them, but I couldn't seem to get up there with them. The race was moving so fast at this point, it was hard to make any move or put in any surge. I began hearing people cheer for Linkous, so the race was still close with Aquinas and us but AQ had the apparent edge with 3 ahead of our 2.
With a mile to go, it was still anyone's race. Linkous came by me with about 800 left and told me to go with him. I stuck with him and we started rolling. The two Olivet guys that were ahead of me earlier were still ahead of us but coming back. There were also other guys dropping off that had passed me earlier in the race. Coming around the last corner with 400 to go, it was Linkous, me, and the 3 AQ guys and Corey within 3 seconds of each other. One of the AQ guys started fading. Linkous and I passed him with no problem and kept our eyes up with the other 2. We passed one of the Olivet guys but the other one finished really well. Linkous finished really well and passed another kid from Sienna Heights, and even edged out Corey by less than .1 seconds. The other AQ guys finished hard and were ahead of us.
So, this is how it was, the first two Aquinas guys went 3rd and 5th. Linkous and Corey went 6th and 7th, and I finished 9th. The third AQ guy was 11th. The fourth AQ guy finished 15th, less than a second ahead of Galen at 16th. Our five man was Shane at 20th and AQ's 5 man was 23rd. It was so close and if you add it all up, the point total was Shawnee State 58....... Aquinas 57. One point was all it was, and it was not in our favor. It is a bad feeling to lose by one point but the race was so close and fair that I was happy about it.
It was also a nice PR for me. 25:36 was my final time, Corey and Linkous ran 25:33. Out of our 15 guys that ran, 8 of us PR'd, so it was a great day overall. Getting beat by a team that is ranked only one spot lower than us is not too bad. It should be that close anyways, but it would have been nice for us to be one point ahead. Overall, the meet was awesome. The top 15 finishers received bags, so that was nice. They also provided pizza for everyone. This meet is one of the best ran meets around and I can't wait for a nice showdown next year!
Now, we only have 4 more weeks left to the season. A week off, week of Conference, another week off, and the week of Nationals. Now, it is time to being everything together. The meets we have won and lost this whole season can be thrown away, because the two most important meets are coming up, Nationals being the most important.