|Kentucky's State Capitol Building in Frankfort|
Runners and cyclists had already started to arrive when I parked my car. There was a century ride scheduled in another part of the city, and I drove in with several cars laden with zillion dollar bikes and people in those crazy jerseys that cyclists wear. I do enjoy riding my bike, and I admire their sport, but I don't think I'll be joining them anytime soon. Running gives me more than enough challenges. It would have several in store for me before this day was over.
Here in cloud-land, high above old downtown Frankfort, the sun was doing his best to burn through the morning haze. I walked down to the foot of the steps and collected my packet. This race supports the Frankfort YMCA, so it was particularly special to me. I am always proud to race in my yellow Y singlet, but that was especially true to day as I ran to represent not only my LIVESTRONG at the YMCA family, but the whole YMCA of Central Kentucky association. It was like being at a family reunion. You may not know a lot of the names, but there is comfort in knowing that they're all your cousins, somehow.
I started to warm up, and was reminded just how rough those picturesque hills can be on a runner. They make for great views, but there's a lot of climbing up and down to do when you race in Frankfort. I did a light jog or two up the big hill that leads around the right side of the capitol, past the floral clock, and behind the annex where the supreme court sits. This was to be the last half of mile 6 in the 6.2 mile race. We would all be feeling it the next time we saw that colorful clock. (Come to think of it, I don't remember noticing it during the race.) At the top of the hill, I realized the beauty of the course. The last quarter mile was a steep down-hill sprint. Our finishing kick was going to be more like a finishing free fall as we tore down the road around the left side of the building. This would be a blast.
By now, the sun was making some headway against the fog, so I trotted back to the car to change from my amber to my dark glasses. The pause gave me a chance to admire the assembly of the tribes. There were the Pear Shaped, the Lean and Mean (aka the "real" runners,) the Aging Hippies, they Callow Youths, and of course my own people, the Fat Men. I love these guys most of all. Fat Men haven't been running all their lives, and running isn't easy for them. Somewhere along their journey something made them say, "I really need to be running." A Fat Man Running is a man who is trying to make a change. I love that about my tribe. I watched one fellow in his baggy shorts and XXXL tee shirt as he paced around the grounds, stopping now and then to stretch, a little awkwardly maybe, but with as serious an intent as any Olympian. I loved him in all his middle aged glory because I felt as if I knew him. I knew he had great things in store for himself.
The starting area was strangely quiet at 7:50. There is usually a big crowd assembled 10 minutes before start time. Music was playing, but no local celebrity was at the mic making announcements and shouting encouragement. No pace group signs. Nothing at all to indicate that a race was about to start. At 7:55, I decided that I had the starting time wrong. Must be an 8:30 gun. Cool. No sense standing around cramping. I started to jog up the hill, running backwards on the course, away from what would be the finish line. I was probably 200 yards away when I heard the horn blow and uttered a word that was not appropriate for the uniform I was wearing. I had just missed the starting gun.
It was a good thing I had been warming up for 45 minutes, because I'm not sure I could have completed a 200 yard dash without the EMTs otherwise. Of course, I did have that long, steep hill to assist me. I managed to cross the start/finish line with the last of the walkers and began the long, slow process of weaving my way through traffic. In the excitement, I forgot to start my Garmin, and so did not start timing until about a block into the race. I'm still waiting on the official time to tell me how fast I ran.
The start of the course is a long descent from the Capitol steps to downtown and the river. The easy slope gave me a chance to recover my legs and my composure. It's tempting to exploit this long stretch to build up some speed, but racing down hills can wear you out too. I chose a conservative pace as I started finding runners who were more or less in my league. We wove around the downtown streets, along the railroad tracks on Broadway, and then turned into the long slow climb back up toward the start. These first two miles are an out and back loop, but they are also a down and up loop. All that glorious downhill run now had to be paid for. That's how Frankfort works. It's all long rollers. You enjoy one, then pay for the next one. Half-way back up the hill, we made the sharp left turn toward the river again. The Kentucky winds through these mountains and you never know where she's going to turn up next. Slipping down hill again, all you can think about is what a long climb this is going to be on the way back. And a long climb it is. The second leg of the course is another out and back and as you approach the turn, you realize that you have been going down just about the entire way. You're about to finish the last third of a 6 mile race and it's almost all uphill from here.
Of course the beauty of an out and back course is that you get to see runner's faces as you are heading back toward home. One of them was my brother Fat Man. He was the very last runner. Walking along, soaked to the bone with sweat, but his face hardened with determination. I said a silent prayer for him. I know what he feels like. He's going to have a great race when he comes back next year.
I had been tracking another runner for quite a while. A long haired, middle aged fellow with dark blue shorts and a gigantic beard was about 30 yards ahead of me, where he had been since the downtown loop. He was slow but steady, like me, and taking more frequent walk breaks than I was. I could tell he was tiring and decided to try to reel him in. That was going to be harder than I thought. I was as close as I had been all day when we hit the hard left turn that started the steepest part of the climb around the capitol building. Up we went. I had planned on 1:00 walks every mile, so my last one was done. He was taking those random breaks that tell you a runner is too tired to hold his rhythm. The dude was gassing. I turned my eyes down and chugged along. Every time he walked, I closed a little more. By the time we reached the crest of the hill, I was close enough to hear him breathing hard. I swung out to pass... the sucker had been playing possum! We both started to kick, and I watched with delighted amazement as this hairy old dude pulled away from me like a dragster. I don't know if I could have caught him or not, but I was in no mood to try. Instead, I settled into a hard run just short of "go for broke" and concentrated on not letting anybody pass me on the way to the finish line. And nobody did.
It was a pretty race. The humidity was high, but the combination of the morning dew and the shady roads kept things feeling a lot cooler than they actually were. I felt strong at the end and I like my conditioning as I prepare for the Bluegrass 10,000 on July 4th. I don't know if I'm ready to hit that 60 minute mark just yet, but I'm confident I'll be beating last year's heat soaked time.
Today, I'm resting. I'm not a racer, not really, but running hills in a race does funny things to your head. You don't want to be passed, and you want to catch the next runner. You press a little harder, a little longer than you might if you were running on your own. My batteries need recharging. But tomorrow? That asphalt better be ready. The great big feet of the Fat Man tribe will be out pounding again.