What you have just described is the fundamental flaw in FT runners; poor lactate management.
What you ST buddies could do with their aerobic systems, you had to do with your (poorer) aerobic system augmented by generous dollops of energy from your lactate energy system. So of course, when the race went long enough, you would fall off the pace with spiralling blood lactate (BLa) while your buddies disappear over the horizon. Horrible feeling!
What you needed to do was (is) work as much as possible on building up your aerobic condition so that you did not need to call upon your lactate energy system quite as early as you did. The longer you could delay an increase in BLa, the better.
So, this was not a racing thing, this was not a "lack of guts" thing, or lack of racing brain, or any other psycho-babble nonsense anyone tried to tell you; this was 100% failure to individualise your training in a way that was optimal to you. As you can see on the C&H thread, Mamede (FT) and Lopes (ST) never ran the same training. Their PRs at 5k and 10k were within seconds of each other, and Mamede's (the FT guy) were the fastest.
So, it should have been possible for you to defeat your faster ST buddies all the way up to 10k with optimal training, but note also from Mamede and Lopes, that Lopes beat Mamede more times than the other way about. ST's do that. They are race-ready more often than FTs. Fact of life.
Doesn't always have to be so though. I coach an FT dude, and he's PR-ing all the way from 800-HM, and he's pretty much always in race-shape because I made him an aerobic monster FIRST. So it is possible. He has race seasons; track in summer and road all winter.
You make one point I agree on; begin with an ST at the bell (with 400m to go) is often now safe enough for an FT already on his BLa limit. That final 400m can be a long lonely way ... but note that I said "200m to go". Most FTs who have hung tough that far can generate one final fatal kick and cross the line first. And of course you are right, it does depend on how much you have had to access you lactate energy system to get you that far.