Saturday, March 19, 2011

#310: Race to Read 5K

The Race to Read benefits
Reading Camps of the
Episcopal Diocese of
 It wasn’t a particularly impressive time for a 5K (3.11 miles,) but I’ll take it. I didn’t get hurt, I didn’t embarrass myself, and I finished much faster than I expected.

The 5K course at Coldstream Park is an old friend. I’ve trained there a couple of times, and raced there once before, straining both my Achilles tendons while trying to catch a couple of shapely coeds who were walking away from me when I pulled up lame. Mrs. P and Mum both agreed that it served me right. This time, I stuck to my own pace. I was tempted by neither tailwind nor tight shorts, and I finished strong.

Starting with the young'uns
 It was overcast and cold in the park at the start. It felt much colder than last week’s race, but then, we didn’t have the protection of all those buildings to keep the wind off of us. I didn’t get as much time to warm up as I should have had. Not that I could have gotten very warm anyway. Whether that caused my first mistake or not, I don’t know, but when the horn sounded, I was too far up in the pack. I set off with the speedy runners at a much faster pace than I was ready for. The start of the course is a gentle downhill slope that leads to the firs hill. That hill is not long, but it's steep and it almost put me out of the race before I had broken a sweat. I was gasping for air, so I stopped running and walked for a while, letting the speedy runners pull away so I could catch my breath and find my own pace. Once I started running again, a lot more people passed me, but I let the music on my iPod guide me. I was listing to Ali Akbar Khan playing traditional Indian music. Not the musak you hear in restaurants, but the real thing. It’s the perfect balance between contemplation and passion. I like the state of mind it helps me to find. Working hard without working hard. Give a click and hear what I mean.

After you clear that first climb, there’s a fairly long downhill run, probably about a third of a mile, (don’t follow my fractions too closely. I’m guessing.) By the time I turned the corner at the end of this slope, I was running pretty smoothly. The next mile is almost all up. There were moments when I actually thought that the directors had somehow laid out a course that only went up. The route is a loop, so I knew that there had to be a “down” somewhere, but at the mile and a half mark, you couldn’t have convinced me of it. That’s because just after I passed the 1 mile mark, the leaders flew by me running back the other way. This is always a moment that is both humbling and amazing to me. These men and women were running almost three times as fast as I was, and none of them looked as tired as I felt. About half-way up the hill, a man who looked to be about seventy cruised by looking just as strong as any of the young Turks ahead of him did. He gave me heart.

Where would Bluegrass runners
be without John's?
My first mile, in spite of the walk break, was 12:31. That is waaaaay too fast for me. I’m not sure I’ve ever run a mile that fast. I paid for it on the long hill. My second mile was 14:20. That’s about a minute slower than my last training run was last Wednesday. Right about then, I was passed by a young woman and a little girl. They were running together and encouraging one another. The little girl was using a technique that I’ve seen little kids use before in these races. You run run run as fast as you can, then when you’re tired, you walk for a while. When the grown-ups (or in this case, the big old Fat Man) finally catch up, you run run run again. Now “slow and steady” may work for turtles, but I’m telling you, these little hares consistently kick my butt. There’s a very influential running guru named Jeff Galloway who recommends running this way all the time. He’s been run/walk/running marathons like that for decades and claims he hasn’t had a running injury in thirty years. After watching these two ladies pull away into the horizon ahead of me, I think I’m going to take another look at his training methods.

Jake makes a friend.

The last quarter of a mile is the downhill version of that climb that nearly killed me in the first five minutes. I finished the third mile in 14:54, but I was feeling OK. Right after you pass that point, you turn out from behind some trees and you can see the finish line. People are cheering you on by the side of the road. You can see the big clock counting the seconds. The real runners are already long gone. Their cars actually passed me on the way out, but I don’t care. I feel like running. I press as hard as I can. I’m not jogging now, I’m running. This is the stride I have at night when I dream about running. When I crossed that line, I was almost sad that I had to stop.

Turning in my tag after the finish. That's how they know
they don't have to send the dogs out to find you.
  I listened for Mrs. P as I crossed, but I didn’t hear her. I told her to start looking for me at about 45:00. The clock read 42:30. I was two and a half minutes ahead of my target time. She was just putting Jake in the car and heading for the finish line when I came out of the trees. My camera crew missed my beautiful form at the end! She got a shot of me checking in with the race officials at the back of the finishing lane though. No matter. I remember. Trust me. I was beautiful.

The young lady behind me gave me a pat on the back. "You did a great job! My goal was to not lose sight of you, but you almost lost me in the last turn." I smiled and said something about how she should set more ambitious goals, but it made me feel good just the same. Although they practice a very solitary sport, I have found runners to be the kindest, most supportive people.

That? Why, yes. That is a
snot bubble. Thanks for asking.
 Where to go from here? My next major goal for the year is the Bluegrass 10,000 on the Fouth of July. That race is twice as long as this one was. To prepare, I’ll be running at least one 5K each month from now till then. Monday it’s back to the gym. More weight work. More intervals. More visits to the doc to try to get my blood pressure stabilized. Scans and blood tests and endoscopes. There’s still a long way to go. But it is so good to be on the road.



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