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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.