Head for the Cure 5K 2014 recap

Posted August 25, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running, Uncategorized


HftC 2014

Remember when I said that I wasn’t going to be running any more 5Ks and then found that I had four on my calendar? This was number 3.

I had run Head for the Cure back in 2012. That was the third 5K I’d ever run, and it’s fun to look back on my experience and the lessons I took from it.

The 2014 Head for the Cure was at the same location as the one I ran two years before. It was literally down the street from my house, about three quarters of a mile. The way I saw it, that would give me a decent warm-up run for the actual race. What was different about this year, however, was that I was captain for my company’s team. So not only is running an astonishing recent development in my life, but the thought that I am a captain of anything, most of all of an athletic team, just takes the astonishment up to 11. I chose to be team captain for purely selfish reasons. It got me a free entry to this race. The seven other members on our team also got the company to pay their fees, so there is some altruism involved, but it was apparent that no one else was going to step up for the position, and there would not have been a company team at all, so I took it on. Mostly the duties involved getting everyone registered and sending out some emails. (I’ll probably step up as captain for our company’s team next spring at the Trolley Run too.)

We’ve been having typical late August weather here lately, and that’s the polite way of saying it’s been hot and humid. By 8:00 gun time, the temperature was a mild 75 degrees, but the humidity as at 74 percent, which is a bit soupy for running in. We’d been in a nearly constant heat advisory all week. In other words: time to get my sweat on! (You can read this paragraph as my attempt to provide excuses for my run.)

Since I was team captain, and since the site was just down the street from my house, I got there an hour early and tried to look obvious so my coworkers could see me and we could get our team photo. I am apparently the only one I work with who likes to get anywhere early. I wandered among the crowds, checked out the various vendor booths, hung around the packet pickup tent, and generally tried to stay visible, but I didn’t see anyone for a long time. I knew a few of my team by sight, but most of them were little more than email addresses to me. I wouldn’t have recognized them except that most were wearing our company’s new tech shirt intended for these kinds of activities. (Note: I do not have one of these shirts. It has too much logo and wording on it. I don’t object to that, but the plastic lettering doesn’t allow sweat to wick away, and they stick to my skin in those places. Ugh.)

About twenty minutes before gun time, I happened upon two women who were wearing the company shirt; that’s the only way I knew them. I introduced myself and we suddenly became best friends. Then the three of us wandered around looking for the rest of the team. We never found any of them, though one of the women did spot some coworkers who had signed up separately from the team. The announcer suggested we all make our way to the starting chute, and I wished my team members a good run then pushed my way toward the front of the crowd near the starting mats. When I had run this two years before, I remember being behind many walkers that I had to dart around. This time I figured if I started far enuf ahead, I would be the slow guy everyone had to run around.

My plan worked. My watch caught some satellites about thirty seconds before the start, and I turned it on as I crossed the mats. And then hundreds and hundreds of people began to surge past me. I was fine with that. My plan was merely to be ahead of the walkers, not to set a blistering pace. I had done a speedy five mile run the morning before — though I had tried to throttle back and not tax myself — so I wasn’t expecting to set a personal record on this 5K. And there was that humidity. Most of this course had been freshly paved with asphalt earlier in the week, so it added to the heat. (And the excuse list.)

Within the first half mile we faced a small hill. It wasn’t too bad but I was already feeling drained and knew I had a long way still to go. But the nice thing about going up the hill was going down the other side of the hill and then entering the long, flat stretch beyond it. I was still being passed by people, but by the time I reached the water station at mile 1, most people had settled into their paces. The water station happened to be just across the boulevard from the starting arch, and I looked over there to see hundreds and hundreds of walkers just getting underway. I was glad to be ahead of that throng.

And onward. Not too long after this we faced the only real hill on the course. It wasn’t steep (only about 40 feet of elevation gain), and it wasn’t much more than an eighth of a mile long, but a lot of people were walking up it. Somewhere in my running life I had decided that I had to run up all of the hills I faced (if I could not avoid them, of course), so I kept plodding. I had surprised myself two years before when I had made it to the top of this hill, and I knew I had to do at least as well this time. So I did. I passed a good number of people, which always feels good, but this seemed to be the stretch where young fathers pushing buggies were scheduled to pass me. I console myself by saying those dads are young enuf to be my sons and that they are encouraging a healthy lifestyle for their own sons and daughters. And then I just keep doing the best that I can.

The last half of the course is flat, and though it twists and turns to get to the 3.1 miles of distance, it’s not at all challenging. A woman asked how far we had gone, and the course monitor said she didn’t know. But I knew since I had my running watch on, so I told her (1.88 miles). She thanked me and then asked me to run with her. This turned out to be her first 5K and she wasn’t feeling very confident at that point. She was doing fine, certainly fine by my pace standards, but I knew the value of distraction, so I chatted with her as we trotted along. I hope it helped. With less than a mile left, she said she was going to have to walk because her knee was acting up, so I wished her well and kept going.

There is one final turn on this course before the last stretch on the main road in the office park, and it was after this turn that I dug deep and began to push my pace. I could feel the heat and the exhaustion, but I’ve learned that I seem to have a well of motivation or energy or pride or something that I can call on in these last distances to finish well. And I think I did. I looked at the stats my watch reported later and found that I had continued picking up the pace in this last half mile, crossing the mats at a very good pace for my ability and experience.

When the official times were posted online later in the day, I learned several things. I did not capture last in my age group this time. In fact, I was in the top half of the 50+ runners in my age group. (A closer examination of the stats suggested that nearly a third of the men in my age group had walked the 5K, but even discounting them, I did pretty well for my experience and background.) I also found that I had beaten my time from two years before by more than 10 minutes! That’s a big gain. I missed setting a personal record by only a minute (my best 5K is the Great Balls of Fire 5K I had done a month before), and I do blame the heat and humidity for this as well as my not intending to set a record anyway.

So I finished well and grabbed a bottle of warm water then walked around to let my legs and lungs settle. Being team captain, I figured I should be over near the finish chute should any of my team be running in then to shout my encouragement. And so I found a shady spot and waited. And again I looked across the boulevard to see hundreds and hundreds of walkers just passing the first mile mark and the water station there. I was finished and they were barely underway and I was glad I wasn’t behind them. But good for them to be out there at all!

After about ten minutes I did see the two women on the team I had met before the race. I shouted and waved. They looked happy and pleased, and then they pressed on to the finish arch. Not long after that they joined me in my shady spot and blissed out about how wonderful it all was. When was the company sponsoring the next run? How could they get on the team? Could they be team captains? They needed to do more of this kind of thing! And so on. I had very little to do with introducing them to this mania, but it felt good to hear how good they felt. Soon after that they wandered off to the vendor booths where there was ice cream and donuts and bagels and fresh fruit and nachos (ugh) and water and Gatorade and smoothies and free massages and so on. I stayed in my shady spot and managed to see two more of my team members coming in. I shouted and waved to the first, but she had headphones in, and I don’t know if she registered me. Plus she looked intense and about done in and focused on that arch a few hundred feet ahead. Not long after, I saw another team member, but I only knew this because she was wearing the company shirt. I shouted and waved again, but she didn’t acknowledge it, which was fine. I knew what it was like on this stretch, with the finish arch in view and the endorphins going mad.

There was only one other person on my team that I thought was still out on the course. I suspected she was a walker, which meant it might be another half hour before she passed. Or she might have already passed. I could have stuck around longer on the chance that I would see her, but I didn’t.

I mentioned above that I had run to this event since it was so close to my home. And it might have been time to run home (as I had done after Great Balls of Fire). But I didn’t.

The very nice hike/bike trail that runs for something like forty miles through my community was only a hundred feet away, and I had promised myself that I needed to get more miles. So I hopped on it and headed east with my destination being the great state of Missouri about 7 miles away.

I won’t give you the gruesome details of this run. The heat had conquered the morning by then. I was more weary than I knew. And the trail seemed endless. But I reached my destination, which had two friendly faces as well as a cool salad and iced tea (unsweetened, of course). Then I got home and got showered and got recovered. I spent the rest of the day drinking water. I suspect I shed 5 pounds in sweat after the day’s effort.

So my next organized run is in three weeks. It’s a 10K, and when I ran it last year I had such a great performance that I vowed to run it every year. Plus, maybe the weather will break before then.

hard core

Posted August 18, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Rants and ruminations

I almost never tell people I know that I write. I think I’ve mentioned this before on the humble blog. In part it’s because the writing is my thing. I don’t want to have to share it with my immediate cohort. I also tire of the “advice” people (who know nothing about the process of the craft or the industry itself) feel they can beneficently bestow upon me to better my effort. (I get enuf of this from couch potatoes about running.) And there are probably plenty of other reasons that I’m not self aware enuf to know.

But I surprised myself some months ago after a Wednesday night group run, when the gang was busy rehydrating, as I confided to a fellow runner that, yes, I did write and that, yes, I wrote fiction and that, yes, some of it was even published. I blame the carb-loaded beer for my lapse in judgment. She immediately asked to read one of my stories, and since I had my usual supply of tiny slips of paper showing links to them (see my guerilla marketing post), and since, well, beer, I got brave enuf and gave her the slip for “The Lonely Road”, which I consider my best work to date. (I felt like I was baring my soul by sharing that.)

I think a couple of weeks passed before she showed up again at our Wednesday night run, and I asked her what she thought of the story.

She said she had lost the slip of paper with the link.

I gave her another slip.

Weeks passed before I saw her again, and she told me that she couldn’t make the link work. (It turned out that she’s not that computer savvy — she kept referring to the story as my blog.) So I took her iPhone and linked to the story on it to show her that it did exist. She subsequently confessed that she was not really much of a reader. I can see why she might not have pursued my story online.

Weeks passed, and I knew enuf to stop asking about my story. She didn’t bring it up, and I figured it was a lost cause.

But last week at our rehydration session, when most of the crowd had already staggered home and only a handful of us were left rehydrating, she said that she had actually started reading my story.

She said it was too hard core for her to get through!

Have you read “The Lonely Road”? I admit that it starts out coarse, but I did that deliberately to contrast it with the tenderness of the ending. Coarse, though, is not the same as hard core. Yes, the words “pussy” and “balls” and “hung” occur, and some frank innuendo passes between the rough characters and my innocent protagonist, but I think we all know people like this and have found ourselves in situations as I depict in the start of the story.

Still, I was surprised at her reaction. Granted, I don’t know her very well (she’s a much faster runner than I, so we don’t exactly chat on the trail as we trot along). Still, hard core?

She also confessed that she’d once again lost the link to my story. So I emailed it to her (as well as the link to “Velvet Elvis” that I consider a comic work — and thus not hard core). That was last Wednesday. I hope to find out this week what she might have read since then. Or not.

Honestly, though, I am grateful for her initial reaction. Just about everyone I’ve spoken with about that particular story has said “nice” and generic things about it. Some of you have made discerning comments (especially you!). And while that is nice itself, it’s not visceral the way my runner friend’s reaction was. Does that make sense?

“Hard core” suggests to me a lack of experience in this part of life for my runner friend. “Hard core” suggests an innocence and a fresh eye to the universe of my story (which is odd given that she’s a mother of teenagers and has been through a difficult divorce). But “hard core” is honest and even spontaneous. It is a gut reading by someone who is not a jaded reader.

I figure that, eventually, the fact that I write will become common knowledge among my running friends. Most of them, I’m sure, won’t give it a second thought, but a few (we have a disproportionate number of librarians and school teachers among us) may, perhaps, take up my stories and give them serious readings and then take the time to let me know what they think of them. But they’re going to have to pursue me and my stories. I’m just too shy to put myself out there.

in other news

Posted August 8, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

I’ve mentioned this in a couple of places, but in case you haven’t heard, I’m going to become a grandfather in January. My daughter and her husband have a baby boy in the works. If they’ve chosen a name, they’re not sharing it yet. She’s told us to expect the name to be “non-traditional.”

They live in Brooklyn, currently in a tiny, fifth-floor walk up apartment, but apparently their bid on a hundred-year-old brownstone was accepted and now they’re waiting on the usual inspection and what not to take the next step.

I see a lot of New York trips in my future. Better save my pennies.

the grind

Posted August 4, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Rants and ruminations, Running

I’m sure it’s getting tiresome – all of my talk of running and races and such. Perhaps more tiresome is when I try to draw writing lessons from my running.

Too bad.

I’ve never been much of a joiner. Perhaps it is because I was the persecuted kid in grade school; I was never welcomed into any group or clique (except by default with all of the other rejected kids). Don’t cry for me, though. I take strength from all of that. But I suspect that I went without for so long that I now see being a loner as a better, more preferred state and have turned the tables, shunning groups. In fact, in the two groups where I can claim membership — a local running club and a monthly book discussion group — I feel like an outsider only let in through charity or some community service-minded spirit. I realize that the problem is all inside my head, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that I pretty much keep my own counsel. I am training right now for a full marathon in October.* There are all sorts of rigorous training plans I could be following, with miles allotted to certain days, exercises allotted to others, rest days in between, and I know people who do follow these plans. I don’t. I tell myself that I should, but I don’t. I just grind out the miles, trying to go farther each week and maybe occasionally trying some suggestion I’ve overheard at some post-run rehydration session. If I did follow such a plan, I’d probably run a better marathon. I’d probably have less fatigue, more endurance, fewer aches and pains, something resembling a smile on my face as I cross the finish line. Part of me knows this, and that part of me says maybe I’ll actually follow a plan for my next marathon. (I must run at least two.)

The other part of me knows, however, that if I had a formal training plan drawn up, I wouldn’t follow it. I would try at first, and I would anguish when I started slacking, but I would fall into my usual just-grind-out-the-miles mindset. It’s self defeating, I know. But it is who I am.

And now the tenuous connection to writing.

I’ve tried a couple of times to join writing groups. I’ve never been satisfied with the results. When others read my stories and find “faults” or “weaknesses” or “areas for improvement” I nearly always automatically reject their input as missing the point or lacking a sufficient understanding of my brilliance or that kind of thing. Part of it is sheer defensiveness, of course. Part of it is not being comfortable with group dynamics. Part of it is laziness; rewriting is hard. And a small part of it, I really do think, is that I am right and they are wrong. So I keep my own counsel.

On the other side, I can’t ever seem to find anything nice to say about other peoples’ draft stories. All I can ever do is pick them apart and find their faults (real or imagined). Again, I fail in the whole group dynamics thing.

So I shun advice (for the most part — some of you have been helpful in your insights when I’ve dared to share something with you) and just grind out my work in the best and only way I know how. Yes, I might write more or better — or get more widely published — if I listened to more advice from others, kept to a more rigorous writing schedule, tried tricks like writing prompts to warm up, went to writing retreats, and all of those sorts of things. But that doesn’t seem to be who I am.

Yet my wandering in the wilderness must work. I am seeing stories published. I am getting supportive words from editors. I am developing a voice that I can call upon. Could I do even better? Perhaps. Will I try? Unlikely. I’ll just keep grinding along.


*You can expect a thorough, blow-by-blow account here on the humble blog.

or I could bore you . . .

Posted July 23, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Running


with yet another account of yet another race I ran over the weekend. I’ll keep this one short.

I ran the Great Balls of Fire 5K on Sunday morning (just before the last of the polar vortex left and typical Midwestern summer heat resumed). I managed to squeeze nine miles out of this little three-point-one mile run.

The race was held just three miles from my home, so I ran to the race, ran the race, then ran home. Thus nine miles. The warm up to the race helped because I set a new personal record in the 5K by 44 seconds, which is always nice (especially at my advanced age). But with the heat of the day increasing, the run home was not so nice. I darted from shady spot to shady spot.

The race benefits research into testicular cancer. Hence the clever name. At the end, before the awards ceremony, a mother and her 17-year-old son got on the stage to thank us all for coming out. Her son had recently beaten this cancer, and while he smiled through her talk, he must have been squirming miserably inside as his mom told a bunch of strangers in intimate detail all about his testicles and how to do a self examination and things like that.

Rock the Crossroads 2014

Posted July 13, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running


RTC b4

Some time ago I had decided I wasn’t going to be running 5Ks any longer. It’s just not my distance. I can’t get warmed up enuf in that short distance to turn in a good performance. Or so my thinking went.

I now have three 5Ks on my schedule for the next few months, and I ran one over the weekend that turned out to be my best 5K yet.

This was the fifth year of Rock the Crossroads, but since I’ve only been in the running universe for two years, I’d never been involved with it before. It takes place in downtown Kansas City, in the artsy Crossroads district, and it’s set in the evening so that everyone can party afterward. A friend from my running club had asked me to join the team she was part of. As I said, I wasn’t keen on 5Ks any longer, but I’m always flattered when I’m invited to anything, so I signed up and began fretting right away.

That morning I had joined my running club for our usual Saturday run and put in four miles at a decent pace, which is to say I pushed myself. Thus I was not sure what kind of run I had in my legs and lungs for Saturday evening. I showed up downtown an hour early, which is always prudent for these things, and began wandering the area. Headquarters for the run was a bar/restaurant known for death metal music, and I walked through it, looking for familiar faces but not finding any. I thought about having a beer to get hydrated, but I wondered about the efficacy of that, and I certainly didn’t want to have carbonated liquid sloshing around in my stomach as I ran. Plus, since there was still an hour before the run, I didn’t want to find myself standing in line for the foul portable toilets at gun time.

The heat of the day had collected in the downtown pavement, and the tall buildings were alternately throwing shade and reflecting heat. The reported temp was 90+ degrees at race time, but I think the temperature on the street was higher than that. Fortunately, a breeze was coursing through the streets. Eventually, I spotted my friend and her boyfriend, and then she introduced me to her coworker, who was our team captain. We milled about, visited the toilets (also prudent), and at least one of us (though not me) had a beer. With about ten minutes before gun time, we all began milling toward the start chute, whereupon I was separated from my group, which was fine since we all ran at different paces. The run only had about 1,000 participants, but even so, the chute was noisy, and I think the national anthem was half over before I’d even heard it. I turned on my watch and hoped it would catch some satellites there among the tall buildings. The gun went off and the herd milled toward the starting mats. I did have a satellite signal as I crossed the starting line, and I was off.

“Start slow,” I told myself. “Start slow.” I ran at what felt like a comfortable, sustainable pace, but when I made the mistake of looking at my watch, I saw that I was going faster than my normal average pace. So I tried backing off a bit, but I’ve never been good at this. Or rather, I can slow myself, but I soon unconsciously pick up my pace (which I did, until the one, long hill at the beginning of mile 2).

The course wove through the grid of streets downtown, turns coming every few blocks. The pavement alternated between decent and dangerous. There was one hole in the first mile, right at a turn where everyone was crowding to cut off the corner a bit, that could easily have swallowed a person’s leg halfway up the calf. I was surprised it wasn’t marked or blocked with a cone. But I rounded that turn unscathed and kept going. I thought I had a decent mental picture of the course in my head, but there were a few turns I wasn’t expecting before we completed mile 1 and came upon the first water station.

I used to disdain the water stations, especially on something as short as a 5K. But my tough experience on my first half marathon last fall taught me a hard lesson, and now I nearly always get a drink. Since the heat was intense this evening, I knew I would grab a cup of water as I dashed past. (No, they didn’t have Bud Light, though I did ask.) Then we turned into mile two and the long, long climb of the only hill in this run.

Did I mention the heat? Many, many people were walking up this hill, which was more than a half mile long. I’ve tried to meet hills at a run and to keep running, however slowly, all the way to the top. Only then might I allow myself to stop or take a walking break. I managed to run to the top of this long hill too, but I didn’t give myself a break after that, knowing that the course was almost completely downhill from that point. I just kept going.

Not long after cresting that hill I came to the second water station and gladly accepted the offered cup, managing to splash most of it on my face, which was fine. I’ve run with rain in my face, but on this run, it was my face that was raining from all of the sweat dripping off it. Yet I was sustaining a strong pace (for my ability, natch), and I was sure heat stroke was running right behind me. But if it was, it couldn’t seem to catch me. I could feel the heat, and I could feel the fatigue of a hard run, but I could also feel the strength to keep pushing.

Just before the last turn and the long, flat straightaway to the finish arch, I spotted one of the other runners in our group that evening. He was perhaps fifty feet ahead of me, and I thought if I really tried, I could catch up with him and we could run it in together. So despite being exhausted and not close enuf to the finish to start calling on the reserves, I stepped it up and soon caught up with him. But then something completely foreign and unprecedented happened to me. I decided to be competitive! I decided to pass him without acknowledging him and then drive on as hard as I could to the finish, to come in ahead of him.

And this I did. I was passing many people on the long straightaway, those who had evidently cashed in their energy reserves too soon, but I was also being passed by others who had held their reserves for this glorious, leave-it-all-on-the-course finish. I came in a minute and a half ahead of my friend (as determined by our official times later), but more importantly, I had beaten myself. I had set a new personal record for running a 5K, by four minutes!

So much for not being able to warm up enuf in a short run, I guess.

I got the medal, I got a bottle of water (quickly drained), and I met up with several of our group in the huge party area behind the bar where a live band was shattering the night and beer was flowing. Except that the instructions for buying beer were confusing and I at first had my self stamped as not being allowed any. Any runner could attend the concert for free, but you had to show ID in order to get the special pink bracelet showing you were old enuf to buy beer. Once I figured that out, I presented my ID (I had carried it in the tiny pocket of my skimpy shorts in case I collapsed on the course and had to be taken to the hospital). Then I got a beer. ($7!) But in the meantime, my few friends had disappeared.

RTC bling

The great race had a bittersweet ending. My friend, who had invited me to run it with her, had gone back to her car to get her ID only to find that a window had been smashed in and her purse as well as her boyfriend’s wallet had been stolen. This must have been an audacious thief. My friend had parked her car on the course of the run where the thousand runners passed. And even though most of the runners were finished by the time she made her sad discovery, there were still runners on the course coming in who were passing within feet of her car. There were also runners who had completed the course and were returning to their own cars, many with family members beside them. And, of course, there were volunteers and police at nearly every intersection.

Would I run this race again next year? If I was invited perhaps. But though I looked, I didn’t see another person in the crowd that I knew aside from my one friend. I think this run attracts a different crowd, one that will put the excellent party facilities to good use. I’m more interested in the running itself. But next year is a long way away.



Posted July 8, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts

What to do? Maybe the summer doldrums are playing games with my motivation, sending my directional compass spinning wildly. I continue to pick at my Fathers and Sons stories, ideas for them still pop into my head unbidden, but it’s not happening with the white-hot intensity of earlier months. (Still, that leaves plenty of material to keep me busy.)

At the same time little developments and ideas for an unrelated story I’m calling “Double knot” have been asserting themselves. This story idea — more of a character idea — came to me some months ago, and I copied down my thoughts and notes and revelations as they came in their sudden flurry. And then the urgency seemed to subside for a while. Yet now it is back, suggesting that I take a break from the F&S stuff and give it some love. And maybe I should. Maybe that would be a healthy break. (This story would be about the character in “Travel Light,” though farther down the road of his life.)

And recently, and most unexpectedly, an old plot idea I’d had for a Finnegans novel sort of floated to the surface of my mind and said it was time to get started on that. I think it is only coincidental that the story would involve running, but maybe not. (I have wanted to write a series of cozy mystery novels that are unique in that they do not involve a murder and mostly don’t even involve a crime. There is plenty of evil that people can do that doesn’t involve the law.)

And so my thoughts are all over the place. I’m not sure where to give my attention, and that alone pretty much paralyzes me into doing nothing at all. I’ll get out of these doldrums soon enuf, and then the words and ideas will flow. I think.


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