At some point in your life, you simply can't do it all by yourself. For me, this happened about the time my first daughter was born. And it was well after that I started running.
The "shorter" distances were no big deal. I could sneak out at a lunch break and no one would notice. The help was needed when it was race day. Races always seem to be on the weekend and sneaking away wasn't always a reality. My lovely wife was happy to let me get out for a couple hours early in the morning to knock out a 5k, or a big 10k. The first year or so of my adult running was done almost 100% on my own - training, racing, all of it.
It wasn't until I started pushing the distance to something that couldn't really be categorized as a long lunch that I needed help. As a parent of young kids being worn out is just not a viable option. This is where it takes two parents. Sometimes, after a long run, you just really need a nap.
I was able to do the bulk of the training for my first full during the week. Yes, even the long runs. But that meant Friday night date night pretty much never happened, and at that point Saturdays were spent doing mostly kid stuff. But on race day my family really shined. A picture is worth a thousand words, so...
Somewhere around mile 18 I had a pit crew helping me change socks and replenish my supplies.
At the time, the little one was about one. She really wanted me to run the last 8 or so miles in flip flops Tarahumara style. The big one would have been six. I don't think she tried to help me tie my shoes, but maybe my hamstring would have felt better if I had asked her to do so.
The whole crew was able to chase me down the course by car. They found the best spots to stop and cheer. (My mom and the littlest.)
I forget when in the race this next one was taken, but since I'm on the concrete I have to assume this is somewhere in the mile 22 range. I think the smile says it all.
Knowing my family was at the finish made my low points in the last 10K bearable.
Not long after the race my mom sent me an e-mail saying how proud she was of me and what I good example I was for not quitting. (And I stopped and thought... I could have quit?!?!?! That never occured to me! I bet I still would have gotten pizza!)
After that full, I distinctly remember offering my wife the chance to "do something" similar the next year. She blew me off a bit.
Training for my second full is when things got interesting. I decided to run with Team in Training. I have to confess that I did not really consider the ramifications when I signed up. Specifically that the group long runs were on Saturday morning and most were nearly an hour away. This meant I would be leaving my wife and two small kids for half a day on the weekend. To top it off, my race was a thousand miles away, so I would have to travel for several days to get there, race, recover a day, and then come home.
For the most part my wife put up with it. I was up and gone before the kids were awake (Most days. Dang kids get up early.) And most days I was pretty functional when I got home. There were several days when I put the littlest down for her nap and I would crash with her only to wake up with two wide awake kids running amok in the house and my wife wondering where I was. And we managed to even get out to a couple of dinners with friends, and some pleasant Friday night dinners out.
Race week came. I went through my typical taper induced tantrums. My wife took it all in stride. I went, I ran, I came home. (It's a long story, there's not time for that here.) And I was welcomed with open arms and the understanding that I would probably want to do it again.
And this summer, I get to return the favor. This summer I gave my wife the opportunity to train for something big. And she is. Oh boy is she ever. Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC by bike. About 190 miles over two days. (And she mocked me for running 26.2 miles.) Saturday mornings the kids come and wake me up. We do Saturday morning things involving bad TV and too much sugar. Some days mom is home in time for lunch. Some days not so much. When I think of it, I leave out a fresh water bottle and something that can be eaten quickly during the short walk from the kitchen to the shower. Sometimes Sunday is a reapeat.
I try hard to take it all in stride. I don't think I've complained out loud yet. (Because the complaint isn't really real. It's just the emotion of being with two young kids all day.) But I just realized I have only another month or so until her ride. And I think I'm hanging in there pretty well and maybe even having a bit of fun.
Sure, I'm not putting up enough firewood yet, but there will be several weeks to get that done in August and September. In the mean time, I'm having fun with the kids and watching my wife enjoy being awesome.
And it's my turn soon too...
This is the long way of saying a little bit of help can go a long way. I know there are several of the Run JunkEe club members who do not have support from home. I read their posts and I just want to give them a big hug and offer to have them drop the kids off at my place on Saturday so they can go race or enjoy a long run without the worry about what they might come home to find.
Seriously, it breaks my heart to think of these people out there getting in an honest sweat with people at home not only not understanding and appreciating the work, but resenting the time and effort being "wasted" running. This is what I think about when my wife's four hour ride pushes out to six hours. Sure, I'm irritated that my plans have to change, but I get it. I've been there. I try not to make a big deal out of it.
I know I'm not the perfect husband. I know my marraige isn't perfect. But I know I could not acheive what I have done (in running and in life) without the support of the woman I call my wife.
And if you're one of those with the unsupportive significant other feel free to use the Run JunkEe's group to vent. We can't fix it, but we can comiserate and offer a sounding board. And if you can't bring yourself to post it up, feel free to message me privately. Again, I can't fix it, but I can listen.
Run on friends. And help someone else run on too.
(Video used without permission. No ownership implied.)
That in itself is no biggie. Blisters happen from time to time. But that isn't even the spot that was rubbing and getting hot. Oddly enough, the hot spot on the other foot was fine. And then today I spent a good bit of time sitting on a rock and playing with the newtons. I took them off, made sure there was no rocks or other junk in the shoe. I even popped out the footbed to make sure there wasn't anything along the sides. The shoes were still making hot spots. They started to grind on my feet.
Top left, New Hoka's. Top right, old newtons replaced about 6 weeks prior to my last full. Middle left, Trail Newtons (AKA, the bloody barons), middle right, old trail newtons used to train for the last 26.2. Bottom, the shoes I set my marathon PR in. I thought they would have smelled worse all together like that. Not saying they smelled good, but it wasn't as toxic as I had anticipated.
Run on friends!
(Fair warning - this one is pretty long.)
The previous two posts were about me becoming a runner in high school. The next decade of my life can be summarized pretty quickly.
Four years of college, college food, and college beer. Four or so years of living single, eating too many dinners on the road, drinking too many beers. A couple years of living with a woman who can cook like nothing I'd seen before, and more beer.
There are a few common threads there. Beer. Food. Now, I was not a sedentary person that decade. Far from it. College was hockey, ultimate frisbee, running now and again, snowboarding, and time in the weight room. After college was more snowboarding, rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain biking, hiking, some odd running mixed in, and who knows what else. But to round it all out, college involved way too many hours sitting at a keyboard, or sitting and reading. And after college work involved about 40 hours a week at a desk.
Over a decade, the sitting, eating, and drinking snuck up on me. At one point I was pushing 230 pounds. At 5'8", I was a big boy. Sure there was a fair bit of muscle in there. I could throw around hay bales like you wouldn't believe. But at the end of the day, I was simply not healthy.
I started to mix things up a bit on my own. I know I lost a few pounds. Then there was a health fair at work. I hadn't seen a doctor in about 8 years at that point. I felt fine. I wasn't sick. There was no point in going in. But here at work I got to see a doctor, a couple nurses, and I think there were even clowns and balloons.
They took my blood, checked my blood pressure (not in that order) put me on a scale, and asked me a bunch of questions. I went and enjoyed the healthy snacks while we waited for the results.
I don't remember the numbers because they aren't important. What I remember was a doctor that I had known for all of about 15 seconds took me into a corner and sat me down (most didn't get this treatment) and explained to me that I was at a dangerous crossroads. At 28 years old I was still young enough to handle what I had given myself, but at least once in the next 10 years my body was going to try to kill me. My blood pressure was incredibly high. My cholesterol was insane. My weight was fine if I were 18 inches taller.
This was pretty sobering news. Sure, I was a bit overweight, but I was active. I could bike to work and back no problem. Climbing a 14,000 foot peak was a big deal, but not impossible. Rock climbing happened every chance I got... There's no way a guy as active as I was could be that unhealthy.
So I coped with the news as I did most things back then. I had a pizza (No, you read that right. The whole thing.) a bunch of beer and some ice cream. And I ate that for about a week straight.
At the end of that week there was a Weight Watchers meeting at work. I went. Turns out work would pay for the program if I committed to it and made a certain number of meetings. The meetings kind of didn't suck. After the first week the plan wasn't so bad. I admit the first week was terrible. But I kept going back and I stuck it through. The weight was coming off.
At some point the weight loss was slowing. The one thing I hadn't embraced was exercise. The office also had a gym and a locker room. So one day I jumped on the eliptical for a bit. I'm not exactly sure why I chose the eliptical over the bike. But I know I avoided the treadmill because I was favoring my knees.
But as I was there churning away on the eliptical the treadmill was right there. In the back of my mind was the memory of high school. The memory of ultimate frisbee in college. The memory of running. After a few weeks, I caved and jumped on. A couple days later, I went and bought running shoes and kept churning away on the treadmill in the basement of the office.
Spring happened. Spring is incredible. It draws everyone outside. Including me. I started running through the office park. It felt good to be outside. I felt good to be running.
There was a 5k around the mall. So I signed up. And I raced. It wasn't quite like the high school races. But it was still good. There was competition. I finished the 5k with a great time for an old guy who had been horribly overweight just a short time ago.
What I didn't understand about this race is it was the last chance qualifier for the Bolder Boulder. I don't think that's the biggest 10k in the nation, but it's certainly top 10, and probably near the top of that list. And I had a qualified placement. I had a GOOD qualified placement in heat BB.
I pondered that for a couple days. 10k. I had never raced that far. In fact, in my training for the 5k, I don't think I went the .2 miles past the 6 mile mark to make it into a 10k training run. The race was just a few weeks away. But I signed up anyway.
And the training was rejuvinated.
Every day at lunch I could be found making laps through the office park. I found paths and trails. I found an illegal train track crossing that opened up MILES of trails with all sorts of hills. And I ran. Every day I ran. And I ran fast every day. (I wouldn't do that today. Today I know that not every run is supposed to be the same speed. But at the same time, I don't think I can put down a 5k or 10k time like that today...)
Race day came and it was glorious. There were thousands of runners. There were trumpets at the start. It was as much fanfare as anything. And I was able to channel that and feed my serious runner attitude.
And I finished a 10k race. It was a pretty good time. I even finished within a reasonable margin of error of where the race system predicted I would. And this was good. I enjoyed being a finisher.
As I joined the runners filing out of the finish area I struck up conversation with a guy I had been bird dogging the last three miles. Turns out he was pacer for marathons. I don't remember much of what we discussed, but I remember he mentioned I was a pretty solid intermediate runner.
At some point in the weeks following that first 10k, probably while running, it hit me that I wanted to push farther. The Denver Marathon. October. About three months away. When I returned to the office I took a minute to find a training plan and stumbled into an intermediate training plan for 13.1 miles.
I studied that training plan long and hard. I tried to memorize it even though I had three copies printed - one for my desk, one for my car, and one at home. And I ran to the plan. Mostly. The plan talked about all sorts of repeats, and tempos. None of that made sense. I just ran. Fast. I would run hills the days it said to run hills. That was no biggie. But the rest of the plan was just miles. This was the intermediate plan. It didn't just send me to 10 miles and leave me praying for the last 10k. No, this one sent me well past 13.1. I don't remember the exact high mileage mark, but it must have been in the 15-17 mile range. And I ran it. Every step of it. It was not all good. In fact, several days it was downright bad. I remember those feelings clearly. But I always made it back.
The day before the race I met up with an internet acquaintance who had traveld across the state to run his first full marathon. We had a pasta dinner, and polite conversation. We'll get back to him later.
Race day hit. I arrived insanely early. This was a very different feeling compared to Boulder. The start was less organized. The people were less organized. The starting gun fired and I was off. Only, no one was moving. I spent most of the first 5k dodging people. I assume now they were all out to run the full 26.2. But at the time I was just angry that they were all running so slowly and blocking the road. It was as if they had never run with a big group before and didn't care about courtesey or the suggested "rules" for running the race safely.
But I powered through. And kept powering through. And I passed people. I passed lots of people. Some friends came out to a park not far from their house to watch me run. I almost missed them. I stopped for a moment to chat and say hi to their kid (just one at the time) and I took off running. Passing more people.
I ran. I passed people. The miles melted away. I finished by myself. The finishers area was a blur. I gathered my things, changed clothes, and wandered out. I wandered over to the finish line chute and watched the runners pour in. All shapes. All sizes. Men, women, and I seem to recall a few young enough to be considered children.
Each runner was clearly fighting their own inner battle. But most of them were winning. And it touched me. And I began to cry. I cried. watching these strangers fight and win their battle with the distance and whatever else in their lives they were overcoming was just too much. And then I noticed the joy of the finish line. Kids running in with parents. Runners finding friends along the course. Runners holding hands across the line. And I smiled.
I don't know exactly how long I waited there. But I noticed my internet friend was approaching. And he did not look good. His posture was terrible. His arms were hardly moving. His stride was short and jerky. He was still running, but in a very loose sense of the word.
Without thinking I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Hey everybody! There's my friend Billy (name changed) about to finish his first marathon! Help me cheer him in!" And everybody did. Billy's head raised slowly as he heard his name. Strangers were cheering for him. And his back straightened. I don't think his stride got any beter, but anyone who has run the distance will understand why that is. But just by a few simple yells, Billy's finish line experience changed. I had something to do with that.
And it was watching this man I had spoken with for only 45 minutes over a bowl of noodles finish his 26.2 mile battle representing whatever it was he faced in his life at the time that I realized something.
Remember the high school story about the other runners welcoming the big guy on the team with the new uniform? I had become one of them. I was there creating a positive, supportive environment for other people so they could better fight their battle. And that felt really, really good.
Since then, I have been looking for a way to continue to do that. Run JunkEes has given me a bit of an outlet to help make that happen. At the core of it, I like to help people because it makes me feel good. And if other people get the encouragement they need to win their battle, then it's' one of those things that will work out just fine in the end.
As you may remember from Part One I had just joined the cross country team.
For most of the cross country season I was not a runner. I was a hockey player. Ever see the movie Happy Gilmore? It was kind of like that, only I didn't get to punch Bob Barker, and there were no checks. Not even the big goofy ones.
I was running to get in shape for hockey. Whenever the going got tough (and the going was frequently tough) I would reflect on why I was there. I would visualize playing an overtime game and needing to work extra hard to be able to reach the puck first. That translated well to "just make it to the next tree."
One small push at a time I became stronger. One small push at a time I became a better runner. And by being a better runner I became a better hockey player.
There are two points of the cross country season that stand out as me becoming an "actual" runner. The first is the peak of my training season.
Coach had 12 miles on deck for me and a few of the other JV runners. The turn around point for that 12 miles was the top of one of the biggest hills around. And I ran. I don't remember much of anything about the run. I do remember reaching the summit and finding the other guys were still there. They hadn't really waited, I just sort of showed up before they thought I would. (For some reason, the other slow guys weren't there that day.) We joked for a few minutes and then headed back. We ran as a loose pack trading spots, going slow and easy. And joking. It was the joking that stands out. I was running TWELVE miles and joking.
The next runner-defining moment happened a few weeks later at the last race of the season dedicated to upperclass JV runners who simply were not going to make it to state. For many (myself included) this was to be the last race wearing school colors. This was the second race of the year on this course. I knew it. I knew it was flat, fast, and fun. Fun. That's a word only a runner would use. I toed the line in the number two spot (2nd fastest senior on the JV team) behind the fastest big guy, in front of the slowest big guy, and we were all in front of a bunch of juniors who would push us out of the chute, pass us, and meet up with us at the finish line.
20 years later I still remember the details of this race. That is the strength of the impression it left in me. This was the race where I was not running against the clock, or the voice in my mind, or the fire in my lungs. This was the first (and so far only) race where I was running against another person. Shortly after the start there was a short, but steep hill. The mass of bodies climbed. Some dropped at the hill, some powered through. I powered. The guy next to me powered. At the top we wound up shoulder to shoulder. He and I battled shoulder to shoulder for nearly the whole three miles. I'm not ashamed to admit he beat me in the last 400 meters. I am not ashamed of that because there is no doubt in my mind that I gave that race everything I could. I didn't colapse at the finish, but that was more a testament to the others on the team holding me up than any residual strength in my legs.
Hockey players don't run that way. Runners run that way.
Right around the timing of that race was the first official hockey meeting of the year. Coach didn't recognize me. It's a good thing baggy clothes were in style, because nothing I owned fit. After a short discussion about what I had been doing all summer and fall coach put me in charge of off ice fitness for the pre-season. I'm positive the guys on the team hated me for me. But we ran. We all ran. We ran as a team. After the team exercises the guys would split up. And I'd go for a run. One day, one of the younger kids on the team came with me. And we ran together as team mates and as runners.
But here's the catch. All of that? That's what it took for me to recognize myself as a runner. The coach saw me as a runner when I kept coming back. She saw a kid running on a three hour nap between hockey practice and cross country practice. The rest of the team? They saw me as a runner the moment I didn't quit on that first run. They saw my determination as I got faster every time I went out.
Stop saying you aren't a runner. If you show up, you're a runner.
I've been asked several times how I started running. The truth of it is a really, really long story. In fact, there are two stories. This is the story of the fat kid in high school who wanted to try to make something for himself.
And not just another sandwich.
Later on we will get to the second story. The story about the 28 year old father who suddenly had a whole new outlook on life.
I was 12 or 13 when I started playing ice hockey. It was a good time. I loved the rink, the gear, the other kids. At one practice we were missing a goalie. So I volunteered. Guess what? Fat kids make great goalies because they take up more of the net. Off and on between age 13 and age 16 I would ride my bike to "get in shape" for hockey. You know, because riding a bike for three miles once or twice a month makes a huge difference come playoff time. At least that's what I told myself.
I first really considered running while at a hockey camp. The camp was part instructional and part tryout. We had to run a mile. A whole mile. I don't remember my time, but I remember it was incredibly slow. As I sat at the finish line trying hard to not vomit I overheard the camp director talking to the kid who won the mile race. Turns out the kid had run cross country the year before. To be honest, I had no idea what cross country even was, but the seed was planted.
As part of playing hockey, I did my best to keep up on all the news I could find about the sport. This was the days before the internet. If I wanted to read about hockey, I had to luck out and find an article in the newspaper, or the rare write up in Sports Illustrated. One such lucky day I was reading an article about my favorite goalie and about how he was revolutionizing the sport not only with his playing style, but his general athleticism. Turns out the guy would run marathons (and later ironman triathlons) in the off season. Talk about showing up to training camp in shape...
The next part is a bit blurry because it was a long, long time ago. I might even say it was many people ago. But there was something about going out for the cross country team at school. And I went. This would have been summer training. There was a meeting, and then a few days later, after school ended, there was an early morning practice. The night before I was out playing hockey until about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. The alarm went off early, I headed to the school, and I met with a couple dozen strangers who I was going to run "with."
I feel it is important to note the topic of shoes didn't come up at our meeting. I remember I showed up to the first run wearing a pair of Nike cross trainers.
After waiting around a bit for the stragglers, the group took off on a trip around the athletic fields at the school. One good loop. To this day I have no idea how long that loop really is. If I were to guess, I'd say it's about a half mile. And I gave that half mile everything I had.
When I returned to the group, they made a spot for me in the cirlce and we all stretched out. That wasn't so bad. I could see doing that again. Just one loop. And I thought I was going to die.
Imagine my surprise when the days training assignment was handed out while we were stretching. The "elites" were headed out five miles. Five miles. And yes, elite is the right term. One of the guys went on to set state records, run for a division 1 school, and even make the olympics. And the thought of them running FIVE miles after doing that loop just didn't even make sense in my mind.
There were three kids (including myself) who had never really run before and were shaped very much like the couch we were so used to sitting on. We all finished the half mile loop at about the same time (oddly enough, the same 1,2,3 order of fat kids would not change through the season) and we all thought we were going to die. Our assignment was to simply run that way to the trail, run on the trail, when one of the elites passed us, turn around and head back.
I don't remember much about that first run. I remember it was hot. I remember it was NOT fun. I remember how much my shoes sucked and my feet hurt.
But I was there to get in shape for hockey. So I came back.
The summer running went pretty well. I was able to play hockey all night, and run in the morning. Sleeping during the day didn't phase me because I was in high school and really only worked with my dad on the weekends.
After a couple weeks I managed to convince my dad this wasn't some passing fad and he finally caved in to buy me better shoes. I remember a few good times with the group. I remember a few miserable times by myself on long runs. (Of course, they were all long to me.) And the summer proceeded. And hockey got easier. And running got easier.
By the time school started and practices switched to after school instead of mornings I wasn't even all that ashamed to take off my shirt and tie it around my head to keep the sun off my neck and shoulders like some of the other kids. I know I was still one of the fat kids. I just wasn't quite as fat as I used to be.
As the cross country season kicked off it became clear that the coach wasn't going to cut anyone. She said she wouldn't, but I'm not sure I believed her. It was just a matter of who was the varsity squad, and who was the JV squad. That was a level of stress that I simply didn't have to worry about. Not only were there seven guys faster than me, there were seven guys faster than them. It was just me and the other two big guys rounding out the back of the pack. (Pun fully intended.)
I remember Uniform Day. This was a day I was dreading. I had seen pictures of the stuff runners wore. The shorts were... short. The shirts were... small. And all of this was rather foreign to me. But that was the uniform. And if I were to run, that's what I would wear.
The girls team took care of their stuff first. I remember it didn't take as long as I thought it would. I guess when there's no choice in color or style it goes pretty quick. The varsity men went in one or two at a time. Most the JV men went in one or two at a time. The Big Three just hung back in the hallway. I remember we all got quieter as the numbers dwindled. We were called into the room one by one. The fastest of us went first. Then I was called in. There were three uniforms laid out. Small, smaller, and smallest. There were words with the coach. I was embarassed. I grabbed the biggest of the smalls and held it up against my still plump frame. I had underwear bigger than this. I put it in the team duffle and slinked out. I kept my eyes on the floor as I left and sent the last guy in. There would be no eye contact. We were all going through the same thing, and like most fat kids, we were going to go through it alone.
I remember the last guy, the biggest of the three, walked out with a mostly empty duffle. I learned after the fact that the coach was going to cut up a couple old uniforms and build something that would work.
That should give some insight to the coach and the accepting nature of the team she built. We were not all equal runners. We knew that. We didn't need to address any of that. But we were all equal members of the team and deserving of a team uniform. And anyone in possession of that uniform was worthy of respect as an individual and an athlete. When the biggest of us wore the custom built uniform for the first time it was clear he was feeling uncomfortable. I was familiar with that feeling. I could read it in his eyes, even though they never looked up. I have to admit that my stomach dropped like a rock when some of the kids started to clap. But the rock didn't hit bottom. Before that happened, I realized this was not the typical teasing clap I was expecting. This was a TEAM welcoming a new member with respect and dignity. He still blushed, and I still felt kind of bad for him, but for a different reason. He wasn't used to being in the spotlight like that. But he kind of liked it. There was a smile. And his eyes came up off his shoes and he took a quick, happy, look around the room.
I didn't know it at the time, but this was one of my first true lessons in acceptance and tollerance. Coach didn't need to keep us all on the team. But she did. I don't want to say she did the three of us Big Guys a favor because that's the wrong word. But by inviting us in, and letting us stay, she taught me (and I assume the other two) a bit about human nature and kindness. I would say she taught the other runners something about how to give kindness, but I learned through the year that these kids didn't need to be taught that. They were all just good kids who only needed an opportunity to show it. I would learn later that most runners are like this.
That's going to conclude part one. The acceptance to the team. Part two will be on becoming a runner.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, I'm not racing a whole lot this year as my wife is training for an incredibly long bike ride and I'm home with the kids. Well, this past weekend a sort of perfect storm formed. On Sunday my parents were coming over to join us for a pancake breakfast fund raiser at the firehouse. And there was a small race going on in the next town up the road.
This is what we call opportunity. The kids with grandparents. Race close to home. Damn straight I'm going to run.
Now, none of this came together until the night before the race. Online registration was closed. Thankfully the event organizers allowed race day registration.
It was a small field. I was estimating about 200 people. Race results show about 180. (I'm kind of proud of that guess.) Turns out the event was mostly a dog walking exercise. And that eliminated most of the "competition" for the race. But it did introduce the opportunity to see a whole herd of basset hounds.
The start of the race was a rather casual mess. I was engaged in casual banter with another guy running without a dog. We slowly edged our way to the front of the pack as the moments to the start time ticked by.
I should pause here for an explanation. It is almost always poor form for people of my speed to start at the front of the pack. If I'm up there, the fast runners have to move around me at some point. And that's just bad manners on my part. But looking at the field, I was comfortable that I wouldn't be inconveniencing too many people and I was probably doing myself a favor.
The race started with a good old fashioned "Ready, set, go!" And a small group of about 12 people (including yours truly) leapt from the line and into the race. We stayed mostly together for the first tenth of a mile or so. I checked my Garmin. Oh yes. This was too fast. I was near the back of the pack in 10th place. I was able to count the heads in front of me as the course descended a rather large, long hill. I didn't slow. In fact, I relaxed, opened up the stride and let gravity pull me past the two runners in front of me. I checked the Garmin again. Oh yes. This was REALLY fast. It was a good hill to start with.
Mile two started with a hard right turn and the joy of flying down the hill was over. Time to climb. I drove a fair bit of the course the night before while out to get milk. This climb was not a surprise. I kept my cadence. I focused on form. I could see the top of the first rise. In fact, I had run this at least once before. I wasn't able to maintain the insane downhill pace, but I didn't slow too much. I checked the Garmin to double check my pace guess (close enough) and to look at my heart rate. It was high, but nothing I couldn't work with for a bit. And mile two kept on with rolling hills. The pack in front of me started to ease away. I could no longer see the leaders. I couldn't hear anyone behind me. At one point the course made an odd loop through a parking lot (I assume to get the right distance) and I was able to confirm that the people behind me were a ways behind me as the course doubled back. It wasn't long until I was running by myself with no one in sight in front, and no one in sight behind. I even turned to check at one point. It was like I was on a training run it was so quiet.
Mile three started with a steep switchback of a climb that was thankfully short, and then a nice gentle down that lead to a sharp right and a slow, gentle climb. The lady working the water table even offered me a poop bag. I'm sure she was joking, but had this been a marathon, I may have grabbed one... As I neared the turn, one of the course volunteers pointed the direction I was to travel and said words. I assume they were words. She was only about 10 feet away, but I couldn't hear her over the thumping in my chest and the roar of my breath in my lungs and throat. I was starting to feel this. I held my hand to my ear in the universal sign indicating I had no idea what she was saying. "Mumble, mumble, point, stay left, mumble, mumble..." I think I caught the important part.
One more turn would put me in sight of the shopping center where the race started and finished. And in the middle of the long steep hill I had run as a warm up. I'm not going to lie. I wanted to stop. I wanted to walk. In fact, I was going to. Then I noticed the people. There were people watching this little race! This was the only section that had houses. There were people in windows, people on porches, and people in lawn chairs. And they noticed a runner and some of them started clapping. Oh help me they brought the kids. I can't stop in front of the kids. What kind of example is that? So I did the end of race grimace/smile (you know, the one that says, "Really, this is fun. Watch out, I may vomit.) and waved a bit as I chugged on by. I made the tough decision to NOT look at the Garmin. I didn't wan't to know.
Another course volunteer cheering and pointing. I had seen this older gent running the course before the race. He had some idea what I was going through and he was using his words and body language to help me through it. Too bad I had no idea what he was saying.
One last turn into the parking lot and the steepest climb of the course yet. I had run this section as a warm up. I knew it wasn't long, but it was steeper than a flight of stairs. I gave it my all. Knees up, lean forward, arms pulling. And I'm sure I looked ridiculous working that hard and moving so slowly. I was still by myself. Way by myself. (Race results would show I was about a minute behind the person in front of me, and a minute in front of the next finisher.) There wasn't really any cheering. I think I woke up the announcer. And I pushed my way into the finishers chute.
I'm not sure if it was habit or if there was a real need, but I noticed there was no trash can anywhere near the finishers chute. And at the end were two young girls collecting the tags off the bottom of the bib. And all I could think was to breathe deeply, arms up, and whatever happens, don't dry heave and vomit until I'm clear those two innocent girls blocking the end of the chute. I managed to hold it together. I'm not sure exactly how. Those girls have no idea how terrible their job could have been.
In the end I didn't run a PR performance. My 5k PR is from high school. I'm not saying I can't beat it, I'm saying I haven't properly trained to beat it. But for a last minute race at altitude with hills, I did fine. (24:12 for those who must know.) Turns out that was my first top 10 finish (8th overall) and it was good enough for a 2nd place in my age group. The first place finisher in my age group also won the race. Event rules state that one cannot win both the race, and your age group, so I got the award. Another first!
The nice guy was was speaking with before the start finished third overall. He told me a story about the first place finisher. He was running with two small dogs. At mile 1 he stopped to let the dogs drink and splash in the doggie pool that was set up. And he carried at least one of the dogs for a good part of mile 2. And he still managed to run sub seven for the duration of the course.
Yes, this sounds a bit like bragging. And perhaps I am. But I ran my race leaving nothing more in the tank for the finish. I am proud of that. I also didn't vomit or dry heave. And that might be a first for me running a 5k. And to top it all off, the field was small enough that I was able to win a little something. And I never got passed after the start.
There are a couple possible morals to this story.
1) Don't slow down. People are watching.
2) Just show up. You never know what could happen.
3) Do whatever you can to finish in front of the herd of basset hounds.
4) If something is slowing you down, you might have to stop and let it splash in the pool a bit, or pick it up and run with it.
Run on friends.