Thursday, July 4, 2013

#470: Race Report, (sort of): 2013 Bluegrass 10,000




Even after half a dozen marathons and half marathons, the 10K... this 10K has a special place in my heart.

I don't remember the year, but I remember the night. It was lifetimes ago. Before cancer and the mental hospital and getting fired and my marriage coming apart. It was a summer evening and life was full of possibilities and I was making a list. It was like the list Gatsby's dad shows to Tom at the end of the novel. I still remember some of the items. "Practice cursive writing." "Get out of debt." "Take Martha to Ireland." And the last one was something special, something impossible, for no one's benefit but mine: "Run the Bluegrass 10,000."

I wasn't a runner at the time. I wasn't doing anything physical at all, if I remember. But something - I would say it was God's inspiration - prompted me to stick that item on the end of my list of life goals. Looking back, I'm convinced it was divine inspiration, because that thought planted the seed that sprouted when I was lying on my sick bed, looking for a reason to hang on to life. "I have to live. I haven't run that race, yet." And so the dreams began and the running soon followed.

2011 Bluegrass 10,000
My first BG 10K was the last race I ran before joining the Y. There were no coaches, no trainers, no YMCA logos... just my own will and Martha's faith in my ability to do the impossible. I wore the shirt that Mum bought me on my 50th birthday. She paid full price at Dick's because I said I wanted a LIVESTRONG shirt, and I was almost finished with treatment and there was no telling how much longer I was going to live so a $30 tee-shirt wasn't so extravagant as it might have been another year. Martha took this picture with her phone, from a balcony high above Main Street as I shuffled along the last mile of the race.

I remember feeling amazement as I crossed the finish line. It all sort of hit me at once... the miracle I had gone through. Since my diagnosis, I had four members of my family and friends still fighting cancer for their lives. Soon, they would all be gone, but three lived to see me finish that race. They were all proud of me. They still are, I hope.

2012: A familiar uniform makes
it's Lexington debut
My second time down Main Street was very different than the first. 2011 had been a cool, overcast morning, perfect for running. July 4, 2012 lived up to its name: it was a firecracker of a morning. I didn't record the temperature in my log, but I know that I didn't skip any water stations that day. Temps and humidity both soared and battered me, especially out on the hills of Richmond Road. After the turnaround, I was running on fumes. My second half was much slower than the first, and I finished strong, but spent. It was fast enough; faster than I'd ever run 10K before; but it didn't feel like a quality effort. I had let myself get pulled along by faster runners early and spent all my endurance coins too soon. I didn't want to make that mistake again today.

2013: You must admit,
I'm taking better pictures...
This morning, I was awake at 3:00 AM, too excited to sleep. You would have thought I was getting ready for the state championships and not a community holiday race. I made my standard race day breakfast: jelly toast and coffee. Chatted with the insomniac club on Facebook. Joked with other runners as they woke up to predictions of thunderstorms at race time. Pinned my bib on and put the timing chip on my shoe. Climbed the walls. When I couldn't stand the wait any longer, and the sky had started it's transition from black to steely gray, I tucked my spare key into the waistband pocket of my running shorts and headed out the door.

There wasn't a lot of traffic on Broadway as I began the 2 mile jog toward town. I took it slow, working out the kinks. Taking stock. Feet? Feeling good. Ankles and calves? Strong and relaxed. Coach Carrie had seen to that. Quads? A little twinge just above the right knee. Just early morning bugs to work out, I hope. Go easy up to the crest of the hill and see how it feels on the flat. There, that's better. Hips? No sweat. Tuesday's ache must have been from the stride change on the treadmill. I haven't run inside since the weather turned to spring and shortening up for the 'mill probably caused that little tweak. My posture is strong. Arms feel light and powerful. Chest high. Head back. Eyes up. Yeah, I'm ready for this.

Police officers and volunteers were setting up barricades as I came into town. We exchanged cheerful  "Good Mornings" and I thanked them for coming out on their holiday. I turned the corner toward the starting line and was struck, as I always am, but the beauty of the gathering tribes of runners. Gorgeous, toned bodies. Wide bottoms and rolling bellies. Golden tans. Pale, aged skin. Pre-teens and grand masters all jogged loosely back and forth along Main Street. We were all early and it was fixing to dump rain on us and there was no place on earth we would rather be.

2013: Strider Nation reporting for duty
I found the Striders and exchanged fist bumps and greetings. Runners bump fists. It isn't a pose, it's a sign of respect and a way to make contact without exchanging whatever fluids and ointments and microbes and whatever else is on the hands of the dozens of people you greet at a race. We laughed at the weather, and Chris joked that she wanted a pair of glasses with windshield wipers on them. Someone suggested that my sunglasses were an admirable show of optimism. Finally we gathered on the steps at Thoroughbred Park and posed for our annual group shot.

John's Striders is a running group affiliated with John's Run/Walk shop here in Lexington. John's is mecca for running in our town, and the Striders were created to help new runners find their way into the sport. They are an amazingly joyful group of people. Runners with decades of experience willingly share their wisdom and encouragement with newbies. There has never been a time I've run with them that I didn't come away inspired and a smarter runner. I'm proud to be one of them.

2013: In the Zone on the way to a new PR
The race was just super. I had mixed a special 10K playlist on my iPod to keep both my spirits and my cadence from lagging. The support from spectators was great. People with cowbells shouted encouragement, and several times I heard my name from friends and fellow runners. The storm never materialized, but a light drizzle kept me cool through the race and I was able to pass several of the early water stations by. I don't usually run with headphones, but today I did and I found that the music helped me to stay focused. My mind didn't wander like it does on a long training run. I probably missed a few things along the way, and I don't think I'd make a habit of running with earbuds, especially in a  longer race, but today, I was glad I did. The hills that had caused me such grief last year were little more than gentle rollers today. Mountain miles training with the Striders had seen to that. When I hit the half-way point, I was right on target with my pace, and decided to press the gas pedal a little to see what I could do. My body responded better than I could have imagined, finishing the second half of the race two minutes faster than the first, and running the last mile in 9:34: as fast as I've ever run a mile in a race. My goal had been to finish in 66 minutes. I finished in 1:04:18, a new PR by almost 4 full minutes. And what was playing in my aging ears as I crossed the finish line? Freebird, of course!

I jogged/walked home in the rain, alone. I usually like to meet friends for brunch or coffee after this race, but it's kind of a special year for me. I'm learning a lot about being alone these days. I expected to be a little sad about not having anyone to hug or share my post-race euphoria with, but I wasn't sad at all. I felt... dare I say it... proud. Grateful to God for giving me a chance to run. Grateful to all the people I've known and lost this year and the inspiration they will always give me. Grateful for the friends who are sticking with me, and the new friends I haven't met yet.

And yes, dammit. I'm proud that I made the choice to accept all those gifts and turn them into a loving celebration of life. I may never break any records other than my own PRs, and I may never win anything other than participant shirts and finisher's medals, but crossing that finish line, you feel like a champion. And in a way, I guess we all are.

Everybody in a race has a thousand reasons not to be there. Excuses. Rationalizations. Justifications. Anxieties. Nobody with any sense puts on skimpy clothes on a rainy morning and runs 6 miles in a race they can't win. And in spite of all that, we run. We run together. We run alone. We run. And by running, we celebrate who we are... who we can become... and we testify to the power of will and faith. We all succeed because we choose to run and we believe that no matter how crazy it looks to the rest of the world, it is worth it.

When people see us running by the side of the road, they see all kinds of things. Fanatics. Neurotics. Traffic hazards. But once in a while, I hope they see the miracle. In a world full of death and discouragement, we are alive and running. We are not stronger. We simply choose to run. We choose to live. I hope that now and then, when people see a runner, they realize that they too can choose life. There are miracles waiting for each of us.



  1. I can't tell you how proud I am of you! Although I am home taking care of my dad I have a new independence as well. Getting DNA genetic testing confirmed that my body just doesn't do well with having lots of carbs in my diet. I didn't go into this thinking any one way of losing weight is better. Now that I realize how my body does process carbs I have totally changed how I eat. I don't exclude carbs from my diet (I have dramatically reduced them) but I need to focus on other sorts of foods and the results have been very good. Now, it isn't any sort of miracle weight loss but I do have more energy and I do walk ... every day. Not even Sunday escapes me. Even though I am still dealing with a leg tumor, nerve damage in my arm and hand and a cataract in my eye I average 3-4 miles per day. I know that isn't much to some but I am proud that I do it even though I walk slower than most. It has helped my stability to get very good walking shoes although I gulped at the cost of $110.00 but it has been totally worth it! In the past 9 weeks I have lost 27.5 pounds. I got to get another pair of pants that was a size down because the original ones looked ridiculously baggy. I use a Fitbit to keep myself motivated and I even walk around my home late at night to get to the next thousand steps.

    I am sorry that this "comment" has mostly been about what I am doing but your tenacity has motivated me and I am making changes in myself. I have about 90 more pounds to lose but I can see light at the end of the tunnel. It will take a year but that is okay. I want to get myself a bicycle when I reach my goal weight and know it will be fun to ride around like I used to as a child.

    Thanks for being faithful to post what you are doing and going through. You inspire me!

    1. You just made my day, little Sister. Keep up the great work. You're going to love your new wardrobe!

  2. Great post, once again! You never fail to inspire.


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