It’s fall racing season. That’s why you’re getting this newest running post. I only have two more scheduled through the end of the calendar year (so far), so you won’t have to endure this too much longer.
Sunday was the inaugural run of the UMKC Regalia 5K. I went to the University of Missouri – Kansas City for graduate school many years ago. (Also, I attended the University of Missouri – St. Louis for undergrad. At the time, it went by UMSL, which we said was SLUM spelled sideways.) So when I learned that my old school was going to have a 5K run, and that it would be the first time for it, I found I still had a sentimental attachment and signed up.
They had posted the route map more than a month ago, and my wife and I had walked it just to get a sense of the hills and valleys, the shade, the busy intersections, and such. It was a nice loop walk from the campus to the art museum and back, and for the most part, it was downhill for the second half.
But as the race date grew closer, the route had changed. Instead of leaving the campus and rambling through a nice section of the city, the entire 3.1 miles would be run within the campus. It was now an out-and-back course, which meant we would run out to a given spot, turn around, and run the very same course back to the start, which would then be the finish. I’ve done those before, and they’re actually not so bad because you can get an up close and personal view of the route so you can better manage your return run.
It was 46 degrees when I woke on Sunday morning. The race apparel you see in the photo above quickly got modified. I supplemented the UMKC ROOS shirt (the ROOS are kangaroos, which are the school mascot, and the original was designed by a fellow named Walt Disney, who lived in KC for a time) with a long-sleeved compression shirt that I wore underneath. And I replaced the skimpy shorts with my new long running pants, which also weigh about the same as air but do a little better job of keeping a guy warm on a cold morning. I topped it off by wearing a cap on my head. Oh, and I did not wear those mismatched short socks. (I don’t know why my socks are generally mismatched.) Instead I wore my knee-high compression socks. I did this not because they are warmer but because my shin splints have been asserting themselves lately, and the compression socks help relieve that. Everything else you see went with me, including that suspiciously low bib number.
We got to the campus about an hour before the run, which is my usual, anxiety-driven way, and we wandered around a bit. Slowly people were gathering and trying to stay warm. I had my blood pressure taken (it was within the good range) and eyed the apples, bananas, and glazed donuts that were not yet being served. Soon one of the physical trainers from the university gym led a jumping sort of warm up that gave me a head ache. (I would have done better to run around the Quad a few times.) Then we were all herded over to the start as we waited for the gun.
I could tell by the space they had reserved for us to line up that this inaugural race had not attracted a large number of runners. I learned afterward that there were 200 of us, which is not the smallest run I’ve ever done, but may be the second smallest. Thus my low bib number and, I suspect, why the course was changed. They probably couldn’t justify closing roads outside of the campus for such a small run. Anyway, I was nervous waiting there, not because of the run ahead of me but because I had to tell my running watch to find some satellites, and then it had to hold that signal long enuf for the run to get going. (I had to do this twice before I timed it right to be “online” as I crossed the starting mats. Such are my first-world problems.)
And we were off.
The start was a sweet downhill for about a half block, and I was holding back to marshall my energy for a long, hilly run. As a result, dozens and dozens of people were passing me, but not only have I grown used to this, I know that I will eventually pass some of these people as they burn their energy too soon. The university had published the new route within the campus, and I knew what hills we were going to be climbing. Remember, it was an out-and-back course. They had found every hill they could inside the campus, squeezed them into this 5K, and then made us run them. TWICE.
By the first half mile, when we were actually going downhill for a long stretch, several people were already walking. I don’t disdain them because I was certain that I was going to have to walk some of this run too. I knew the hills before me, and I had run too much (and too fast) the day before, so I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run the whole thing. (Which is a little sad since it’s only 3.1 miles.) But I plodded along, not “feeling it” but throwing one leg in front of the other nonetheless. Not long after this the course turned and I began my ascent of the really long hill. I’d say it was every bit of three-quarters of a mile to the top. It was here I was sure I would need to walk. But I kept plodding, trying to keep my mind off of the growing agony. A nice trick is to look only at the ground directly before me. If I pull my cap low, I really can’t see anything but three or four feet ahead, and even the steepest hill looks flat that way. By this point everyone who was going to pass me had already done so, and I was beginning to pass some runners, which is still a novel experience for me. Also at this point, some of the elite runners were on their return leg and passed me going the other direction, making it look effortless and fluid.
To my surprise, I found myself at the top of the hill not too long after this, having continued to run the whole time. It often happens to me in a run like this that I realize I’m going to finish successfully. It’s usually some combination of understanding how far I have gone in relation to how far I have left and a general sense of how much energy I have in me. That realization hit me as I crested the big hill. There was a short loop ahead of me, and then I would be running down that long hill. But there were two more hills to conquer after that, so I didn’t run lickety-split down the hill. That might gain me some time, but it would still tire me.
I came to the big turn in the course again and faced the first of the two remaining hills. By then I was running on will power alone. I was determined to run every step of that course, but my body was trying to tell me this wasn’t such a great idea. Will power won that debate and I once again found myself at the top. It was about at this time that I understood that I should have stuck with the skimpy racing shorts rather than the long running pants. I was hot. I might have had a bit of discomfort at the start, but I would have benefited at the end.
Remember how I said that the course began with a sweet downhill? Since we were retracing our steps that downhill became an uphill.
Now, who designs a race with an uphill finish?
That’s just mean.
As I rounded the corner to face this last hill, my wife was there on the sidewalk, shouting out my time. (Note: This is NOT something you do to a runner. They either know their time based on their watch, or they don’t want to know their time.) I might have been annoyed by this had the number she shouted not been so surprisingly good. I had only a few hundred feet to go, and I was still three minutes ahead of my best time ever for at 5K!
Of course, they were a few hundred uphill feet.
The last chords of Pomp and Circumstance were blaring out of the speakers as I hurried up that stupid hill. (Remember, this was a university-sponsored run.) I managed to cross the finish mats just as the last notes sounded. At the time I didn’t know what kind of performance I had turned in. Despite my wife’s encouraging number, I really doubted that I had run it well. The hills had killed me. I felt as though I was doing little better than a walking pace up the big one near the end. I suspected that my wife got the time wrong.
I surrendered my right foot to the man who cut the timing chip off, and I told him I got an F. F for FINISH, which was about all I felt I could be proud of for this run. He appreciated the scholastic humor of it, handed me a bottle of water, and sent me on my way. The next person in line handed me a blue and gold graduation tassel, which I thought was a nifty and appropriate alternative to the finisher’s medal many races give.
My wife was waiting for me on the sideline. It was only then that I looked at my watch to see my dismal numbers.
Not so dismal, it turned out. Not bad at all. Great, in fact. On that horribly hilly course, I had set a race PR. I had set a personal record for my fastest 5K in an organized run.* I was amazed. And had I known I was building to such a successful finish, I would have pushed myself much harder out on the course, hills or not.
So, of course, I will run it again next year. And I plan to do even better.
My wife and I wandered through the booths at the finish area. I had intended to get a post-run blood pressure reading, but I forgot about it. That might have been interesting. I hadn’t forgotten about the glazed donuts and managed to eat three of the damn-them-to-hell things before I stopped myself. There were no bagels, and no chocolate milk, which really seems wrong. But there was face painting, though I didn’t take that consolation.
It was a good run. I hadn’t expect to do well, and I surprised myself. I’m just 51 miles from breaking 1,000 for the year. There are miles to be run out there. And I’m going to get them.
*I have actually run a 5K faster than I did at the Regalia Run. In fact, I had done it the day before on my regular Saturday training run. Normally I run these solo and meet up with the club at the end. But for some reason, one of the runners wanted to run along with me. He caught me at mile 1 (of our 4.5 mile run) and we trotted along together for the duration. He’s a much better runner than I, and he had pushed my pace then to an all time fastest 5K (according to my watch, which is pretty much gospel to me). It was one minute and ten seconds faster than what I had done at the Regalia Run, but it was “unofficial” so I’m taking that course PR, dammit!