Race report by Gavin Finlay
Running of the Bulls 8k (USATF North Carolina 8k State Championship)
Durham, NC – 4 June 2016
Our USA Corespondent Gavin (far right) in action
Rebellion against the facts never helps. And the fact was: this race was going to be muggy and the potential to be mugged by the steamy conditions were high. So, rebelling against this was futile. Best embrace it, turbo hydrate and hope not to disintegrate and court disaster with an ambulance ride to the ER for an IV drip. Such were my anxieties facing into this race. Not something we have to worry about in temperate Ireland, here in North Carolina races always start very early to avoid the brutal heat. But on Saturday, for the Running of the Bulls 8k, temperatures were already hitting mid 70s (25C ) by the 7:15am start and, worst of all, the humidity was high.
I was drenched in sweat after my 2.5 mile cycle to the start. Even after doing the unconscionable, and cycling in my racing short shorts! Not a good look, to be honest. No real need to warm up so. A few hip and glute stretches, several strides and away we go.
As this was doubling up as the state 8k championship there were a few local gazelles up front and I was looking forward to mixing it with them at the business end of the race. Well, at least try. One of the contenders, an African living in Raleigh, had just arrived straight from his graveyard shift at a gas station. There’s grit for you. Something particular to US road races is the singing of the national anthem before EVERY race. While I respectfully noted this nonsense, I concentrated on my pre-race ritual. Good tune though.
As the gun fires, I look around vigilantly for any bulls chasing us. Pamplona this is not. Durham, the Bull City so called. After the Colman’s Mustard bull and its connection to Durham, England. The bull then became the symbol of the world famous tobacco brand born here. Excellent name for a race.
The lead group of four cantered into a gentle first mile (5:30), nobody eager to push it. I tuck in, happy with the sensible pace in this heat. We make our way towards Duke East campus and head down Buchanan past beautiful early twentieth century homes, an area I regularly train in. I enjoy the sight of those police motorbikes leading the way – a familiar image from American movies of course. We clock a slicker second mile in 5:20 and I’m feeling confident I can hold on with the leaders. For now.
The pace quickens as we race down leafy Watts and Trinity Avenue back towards downtown. I’m still in this. For now. I avail of some water here, unheard of back home in an 8k race, but vital here. There was an almighty, dragging hill up Washington Street past the old Ball Park where we would finish in two miles time. Despite the encouraging cheers for friends and the crowds, I began to loose touch with the top three. I remained calm and remembered, don’t rebel against the facts. Crossing Main Street the route brought us by the railroad before looping back to Main and the push for home. I kept the leaders within sight but at this point had accepted fourth place as long as there was silence behind me. The last mile was mostly downhill and blistering (5:12 / mile). I careened down Washington Street again, flowing against the masses who were climbing up. The race had a terrific finish in the “Ball Park” with a lap of the field. A real novelty for this Irishman. (This is the stadium featured in the 1989 film “Bull Durham”) If it wasn’t for my heat-induced delirium I might have attempted a classic baseball slide to make base.
Crossed the line in 27:10. I really can’t complain considering the adverse conditions out there. I’m still getting used to finishing races before 8am here. Not to mention the free beer that is often on offer post-race. Brilliant race and not a bull in sight.
USATF NC 8k State Championship: 3rd