Kevin Collins calls himself a “serial racer” now.
If his chronically ailing left Achille’s tendon allows him to get in a few good training weeks, he’ll call up a race director at the last minute and jump into the fray.
That’s what he did this week for the Gazette Stockade-athon. As a four-time champion, the only suitable response was, “How wide do you want the red carpet?”
A member of the masters rank as of March, Collins returned to the site of some of his most memorable racing moments and was a solid fifth in 49:06, although he lost the masters title to Mark Andrews of Rochester (48:41), one of the best masters runners in the country.
“I felt great today,” Collins said. “I felt phenomenal. I knew it when I was warming up. I did a few striders, and I knew it was going to be a very good day.”
Collins posted splits of 15:47 for the 5k and 32:07 at 10k, “and I thought, ‘Now this is going to be a very good race.’ ” he said.
“I honestly thought I had Mark. I had a lot of control of the pace, I could hear his breath. I was taking the wind, but I felt like I was strong enough to take it. I wanted to keep the pressure on Mark as much as I could to let him know I’m in it to win it. I was really anxious to face off with him today. I knew what he did over the summer.”
Collins, a professional running trainer for the Greater Syracuse YMCA who has over 250 trainees, faced the same uncertainty about his Achille’s in 2005.
All he did was show up in Schenectady and win his fourth Stockade-athon title.
The tendon is even worse now, so he has to pick his spots judiciously.
He has run three strong half marathons this season, and this week the signs were there that he’d be able to race the way he wants to, free of pain in the tendon.
“A lot is based on my foot,” Collins said. “My left Achille’s is just worsening and worsening, and there’s times it’s so bad, it’s difficult walking.
“I will not jeopardize this foot for racing. The thing that’s the most problematic is I cannot train this intensely. That’s the nature of it for anybody over 40. I can’t train nearly as hard, I can’t do as many sprints, I can’t do any hill training at all. If I can warm up for about 30 minutes, I can get it warm enough, and if I wear a heel lift, it’s manageable. But I choose my races.”
Collins couldn’t keep up with Andrews on the State Street hill. Rather than blame it on his foot, which wasn’t bothering him, Collins said a lack of hill training prevented him from staying in the hunt.
“I don’t have any racing goals,” Collins said. “I’m glad I got to race Mark while the furnace is still hot. Maybe I’ll be on crutches next year, who knows?
“You know what it feels like at 40? The intensity is there, it feels like you’re going as fast as you did when you were younger. It’s all the same sensations, and one of the great things you realize is that, just because you’re slowing down, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out there. You almost have to do it just to feel normal again, to keep a sense of normalcy to your life. When you’re a runner, you’re a runner. This was probably one of the most enjoyable Stockade-athons I’ve had, just because of that.”
Despite a meniscus injury, three-time winner Mark Mindel made it to the race and finished in 1:40:09, keeping his streak alive of being the only person to have finished all 36 Stockade-athons.
“That was the worst,” he said. “I think I’ve run slower, but that was the worst I’ve ever felt.
“I’m running in the Stockade, right? We’re going 11-minute miles, and this guy says, ‘Is this the first one you’ve ever done?’ I said,
‘Uhhhh, I’ve run a few of ’em.’ ”
Ed Whitlock of Milton, Ontario, finished in 1:06:58 to crush the single-age world record for 80-year-olds. . . .
Derrick Staley, 53, of Ballston Lake was the top finisher 50-and-over, placing 27th overall in 54:41.
“I felt pretty good today. I felt strong on the hills and had a good time, a minute faster than four years ago,” he said. “I feel young. I felt pretty good for an old man.”