Monday, March 18, 2013

#420: A 3K Weekend: Short and Sweet

Living Strong... Every day.
Before I start my looooooong race report, I want to ask you to please consider giving to Living Strong at the Y 2013. This is my fundraiser to support LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, a program that has transformed my life, and that helps cancer survivors to become cancer victors every day.
Please click the button and give what you can. Thanks, Pennsy >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I am well past the point in my life where I can even dream of leading a race, let alone winning it. My race is against the Fat Man I was; the sick man I became; the runner I have become; and the disease that tried to take that all away. I didn't win any medals or cups or awards this weekend... but I was victorious twice in two very different races.


And... they're off!
I love the Shamrock Shuffle 3K in Lexington. It is a St. Patrick's day tradition around here, and was the first event I ran after my cancer. It's 1.8 miles of music, laughter, costumes, and Kelley Green. It is a time for reunion with old friends who only race once a year, and with fellow runners you haven't seen since the ugly winter weather started. I arrived at the registration area about an hour early to look for friends, and found bunches of them. We talked about our plans for the spring season, and rejoiced at the weather. This race is usually run in weather that is... well... Irish. Cold. Rain. Lead gray skies. The temperature at race time yesterday was an impossible 59° and the threatened rain gave us a reprieve. This year's course sheltered us from the winds and was practically a straight out and back: level streets and one hairpin turn at the halfway point. It was going to be a great day.

I was shooting for an 18:00 race. The mistake that changed my day, not surprisingly, involved math. Instead of setting my Garmin to keep me at a 10:00/mile pace, I set it at 9:00/mile. I don't know. It made sense at the time. At the gun, I was lined up just behind the 16:00 pace. I figured the quicker runners would pull me off to a good start, then I could settle into my target speed. We squeezed through the narrow starting gate, guided by that paragon of wellness and healthy living, Ronald McDonald. The pace was quick, but comfortable as we headed off into the morning air. Most of us were running in shorts and a tee shirt for the first time all year. Strollers. Dogs. Kids running with their parents. I didn't have much trouble weaving through traffic because I was running with a fast crowd: much faster than I was used to. The little Virtual Partner on my Garmin showed me just behind pace for the first .75 miles, but by the turn, I had caught up and was on target. I never saw the 1 mile marker, but when my watched beeped, signaling the first mile, I was shocked to see I had run it in 9:00 flat. That was way too fast, faster than I had ever run a mile in a race before. I decided to hold on, and see how I felt at 1.5 miles.

My breath was coming fast now. My usual 2-in/3-out rhythm was down to 2/2. I could tell my heart rate was up, but my legs felt strong, and the core strengthening exercises Coach Carrie had been inflicting on me all winter were taking charge. I felt tall and powerful as we rounded the gentle curve down Main Street where the finish line awaited. I checked my watch at the 1.5 mile mark. I was way ahead of pace. I started pumping my arms and heard Carrie's voice urging me on, just as she did every Wednesday morning when she cranks the treadmill up to 9 mph and waits for the color to drain out of my face. I was still passing runners! I was taking a breath every stride, now. My chest heaved, sucking in fuel. My lips puffed , blowing out exhaust. Just as I felt that last, sprinting gear kick in, I blew out something else. My upper denture flew out of my mouth. I gave one hopeful swipe, trying to catch the most expensive thing I own before it fell to the asphalt below. I saw something white fly off of it as it skidded along the street beside me. Barely slowing down, I crouched , picked them up, checked for broken glass, and popped it back in my mouth. No time for delicacies now. I ran hard. My legs started to feel heavier as the lactic acid built up in them. It seemed to me that I was really slowing down, but I kept catching other runners as the finish clock came into sight. 16:00! There was no way I was reading that right. I was running without my glasses, so I obviously had the numbers confused. My arms pumped fast as they remembered all those dumbbell rows I had done at the Y. My legs churned, recalling the hours spent sprinting in the pool with Christy on Tuesday afternoons. I crossed through the finish gate without even a glance at the clock and pushed the button on my watch, hoping I had hit the right one.

The first friend I saw was Sharon, a former fat woman who had just taken 3rd place in her speedy age group. She had been at the finish line for about three minutes when I arrived. "How did you do?" She asked. "Don't know," I gasped. "No glasses. Can you read my watch?"

16:21. Average pace, 8:46/mile. Absurd. No way. But the official time, confirmed it. I had bettered last years time by 3:38. When I started working with Coach Carrie, I told her I wanted to get faster. The woman knows her business.


Quite possibly the coolest race shirt in my collection.
Sunday, after church I went to the Y to train with the LIVESTRONG at the YMCA survivors. This was a very different day. 38° and a nasty looking wintry mix that kept them all at home, safe and warm. I did 7.65 miles on the treadmills at my target marathon pace, a much more modest 11:15. A long, hot shower finished the jog off  nicely, and I drove home to put my race bag together for the 6:00 start of the Run for the Gold 3K in Frankfort KY. The rain was sleet now. My defogger struggled to keep up as I made my way to the state capital. I was about an hour and a half early, and when I stepped out of my car, the wind bit my legs in spite of the tights and warm up pants I was wearing. I stuffed my hands deep into my gray fleece Y Staff jacket and walked to the tents where The Pogues were blaring in the rain from lonely speakers. A DJ shivered in the wind. The sweet lady who handed my my packet smiled sympathetically. She was grateful for my support of the even, but was obviously certain I was insane for being there. I moved my car to the parking lot of the Frankfort YMCA, and slipped in for some shelter and a friendly face. I found plenty of both. I took a little tour of this charming old downtown Y, then went out to the car to decide just how many layers I would be wearing for the race.

It was still cold, but the sleet had mercifully slowed, so I decided against the rain suit. .A short sleeved tech shirt, long sleeved tech shirt, and a long sleeved cotton YMCA tee would do the trick. I left The warm-up pants on over my tights, slipped on two pairs of gloves, and pulled the black and yellow knit "chemo cap" that one of my LIVESTRONG participants had made for me down over my ears. I was as ready as I was going to be. Now to test these legs.

The felt like they were made of stone. I walked/jogged around the downtown area, feeling like I was pulling a trailer. Jogging was hard. Running was out of the question. I warmed up gently, paying mind to every little tweak and twinge. "What's that in my foot?  OK, it's gone. Is that a cramp in my calf? No, just a little knot working it's way out. Is my knee hurting? Walk a few steps and it smooths itself out. I trotted around blocks and buildings for half an hour, not daring to test race pace. There would be no repeat of Saturday's triumph. I moved my pace clock down to 9:30min/mile. We'll try a couple of blocks and see if I can get up to that speed. Finally, it was time for the gun. I saw my old running buddy DJ, he was way up with the burners. We bumped fists, exchanged good wishes, and parted. I made my way back to the 20:00 finishers. This was going to be a much longer race for me. The gun fired, and as the crowd funneled its way through the gate, there was frigging Ronald McDonald again. Why does McDonalds have such a presence at events that it works so hard to make impossible for most people? My indignation provided the spark that my cold engine needed to finally turn over, and I slipped in behind a guy in a bright yellow running jacket who was passing the crowd along the left side of the road. I didn't try to stay with him long, but he gave me a tow and got me up to racing speed much faster than I would have done without him. The course is pretty on a pretty day. The first half is a long, mostly gentle climb toward the Capitol Building, then a nice speedy descent back toward the Kentucky River and the finish line. I wasn't worried about passing runners this time. I would catch up with one whose pace I liked and tag along for a few yards until I felt strong enough to move by them to the next one. I really don't remember much of the race itself. Only the sensation that it felt much shorter than the Shamrock. The long, downhill run after the turn was as good as a rest stop as I let gravity do the work for me. It was short work making the downtown loop. I had already jogged it several times while I was warming up. I smiled and greeted the heroic volunteers who stood along the route, guiding and encouraging the runners. I wouldn't call my finishing stretch a sprint, really. Maybe 8.5 out of 10. Of course, by then, that WAS my 10. I found DJ, who had smashed his own PR to bits. We sipped water, walked together for a while, then parted ways as he went to find a friend, and I went to find my glasses so I could make out the time on my watch.

16:54. 9:23 minutes/mile. Not bad. Not bad at all.


So that was my weekend. Two short and sweet events that reminded me just how blessed I am to be alive. This is why I tell my story. I want people to know that redemption is real. God has plans for us that we know nothing about. And the love of friends can lift us to heights that we can barely dream or imagine.

Time to put the stopwatch away for awhile. The road ahead is all about the miles. My first marathon took me almost 6 and a half hours to finish. I hope the next one is faster, but I have to be sure I can keep going for as long as it takes. There are some long, long runs ahead of me. But something tells me I'm going to love every step.



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