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.
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