Sunday was the third annual UMKC Regalia Run 5K, and this was the third time I ran it. I’ve been in on this race from the start, and I hope to keep running it every year, regardless of wherever else my feet may take me.
Just as with the Plaza 10K two weeks ago, I didn’t look up my prior time; I just wanted to run this one and enjoy it rather than try to set a personal record for the third time. Rather than get up at my usual freakish time Sunday, I slept in until about 4:30 and then puttered around the house, brushing my teeth thoroughly (there’s nothing worse than finding some annoying bit of food stuck in your teeth when you have miles to pound out — really, nothing is worse), and dressing in my kit slowly. I wore what you see above plus compression shorts, calf sleeves, and socks. Look at those poor shoes of mine. They don’t even have 300 miles on them yet, but they look beat up. Most of that look is due to a patch of mud I encountered on an early morning (dark) run along the paved trail. My headlamp didn’t distinguish the mud from the dark trail, and I was well into it before I felt the squish and slide beneath my feet. So, muddy shoes. I had intended to wear a compression shirt as well to help me stay warm, but Libby deterred me, which proved to be a wise thing.
We got to the university about an hour and a half before the race, so I drove the course. It was the same course as last year, so I knew what to expect, and driving it did not turn up any surprises other than a dead animal at about mile two, smashed in the middle of the road. The route is hilly with three long hills (I’d say at least half of the 3.1 miles was uphill), and not only an uphill start but an uphill finish as well. That’s just mean.
Volunteers from the School of Nursing at the university had a tent set up and would give general medical advice as well as take your blood pressure. My BP has always been good, but I wanted to get my numbers both before and after the run, just for comparison. My pre-race blood pressure was 132/62, which the nurse assured me was very good. (Yes, the top number could have been a little lower, but she said that BP is often higher just after waking and/or consuming caffeine, and I’d had iced tea, unsweetened, of course).
There was a lot of standing around, milling about, and general waiting as the runners assembled and stood in the sun that was creeping over the trees. For whatever reason, the run did not start on time. The official start time came and went, and no one had moved to the start line. Eventually, through some unheard prompt, the crowd did head over to the start, and I joined them. I was told that there were 213 runners and walkers that morning, so I picked a spot before the arch that I thought would be near the back of the pack. I misjudged and found I was in the first third of the group. That didn’t really matter other than that it meant more people would surge past me at the start, which is fine.
The sound system was terrible; it sounded like a sick cricket, and most of the runners around me chattered away even as the “celebrity” announcers did all of the usual thank you’s and pep talk. (The celebrity announcers were a husband and wife news team on the local NBC station, both of whom happened to graduate from UMKC — as I had, but they’ve not asked me to be a celebrity announcer yet.) With all of the usual stuff out of the way, there was a countdown, and then the air horn blasted, and we were off. I got my watch online just as I crossed the starting mats, trudging up the hill and into the first turn of the morning.
I had gone into this run with some unspecified anxiety. Perhaps it was from having run a hard six miles the morning before. Or the ongoing dread of the upcoming marathon (next month). Or whatever the general malaise is that has been clouding my running life of late. Whatever the cause, the anxiety disappeared as soon as the feet began moving across the pavement. That’s nearly always the case, and it’s a good tonic. (Later that evening I succumbed to a head cold that kept me out of work today. The early stages of this probably contributed to my anxiety without me realizing it.)
With a shortish bit of uphill out of the way in the first quarter mile, we were soon on a flat section before a nice, long downhill stretch. My wife was waiting for me at a corner along this downhill, so I straightened up and closed my gaping maw long enuf to look as though I was in control and having a dandy time. She took a photo that was soon on social media, but I had miles to go, so I gave her a wave and pressed on.
The pack had thinned by this point, my lungs were reluctantly in the game, and I looked up to see who was beside me, ahead of me, behind me, and racing past me, assuming I would be with this crew, more or less, for the rest of the run. This pretty much was the case, though a few left me far behind, and a few I managed to get ahead of and stay ahead of. There was one man ahead of me, running at about my pace, who looked to be around my age. I told myself I should pass him and keep him passed, just as a challenge. But a part of me also thought that if he was in my age group, and I came in fourth (for the age group), I would regret not passing him and collecting the accolades for coming in third. I had no illusions about this, though. I didn’t come close to placing in my age group last year, and in fact, I have never placed in any of my runs. (There was a long period when I first started attending races where I successfully defended my position as last in my age group.) But it was a little mental calculus that pushed me along a bit.
I think it was Isaac Newton who said that for every downhill there is an equal and opposite uphill. That was certainly the case with this run. Since the course was the same as last year, and since my wife and I had just driven it an hour or so before, I knew that this hill was waiting for me. It was a long hill, climbing past the sculpture garden at the art museum. The sun was out. The run down the hill behind me went a little faster than I should have allowed. My cockiness in passing that man may have caught up with me, because that man now caught up with me, most likely because I stopped running and began walking up the hill. I had not wanted to do this. A 5K is only 3.1 miles. I should be able to run that whole distance without difficulty. (I’ve run 13.1 miles nonstop before.) But my body wasn’t having it. I could have staggered at something like a run up that long hill, but I think it would have pretty much destroyed whatever stamina or control I had for the rest of the run. So I walked. Maybe only a third of the hill. But I walked. I was not proud of that as I watched the man of my age run past me and continue to run up the hill.
So I did what I do in these situations. I picked a lamp post ahead of me and told myself that when I reached that point, I would begin running again. And as I usually do, I started running before I reached that lamp post. It wasn’t too long after this that I reached the top of the hill and made the turn on a short flat stretch. This was about the halfway point of the run, and ahead was the one water station. I trotted up, my hand held out so the volunteers would know to give me a cup, and I said what I usually do in these situations. I looked at the water and said, “No Bud Light?” That always gets a laugh, though I expect that eventually someone is either going to recognize me as “that guy” and not laugh or else have a can of Bud Light ready to hand me. (As funny as that would be, I wouldn’t drink it. Most runs happen in the morning, and I wouldn’t want all of that carbonation sloshing around in my stomach, especially since I couldn’t throw away the can only half emptied. That would just be wrong.)
After the water station, we had a nice, long downhill to match the uphill I had walked a part of. I had a clear view of the course before me, perhaps for as much as a mile, and I knew that once I had covered that distance, I would have only the final, cruel uphill to the finish arch. Two things happened at this point. The first was that I passed the dead animal my wife and I had spotted during our earlier drive through. It was a former opossum, it was thick with flies, and it was rank. The second thing was that I caught up with the man I had so glibly passed before. I caught up with him and I passed him again, and I decided to keep him behind me for the rest of the run. Fortunately, I had the long downhill to help me with this, and I put as much distance between us as I could on that hill.
Which may have been a tactical error because I ran out of gas with less than a half mile to go. I was walking again. The man was still behind me, but he had kept running. So I walked until I felt I was sufficiently rested, then took up my running pace again. We were back in the campus by this time, and I knew what hills remained. Basically, all of the last half mile was uphill, some of it steeper than other parts. But uphill nonetheless. I did more mental math. I looked back to see where the man was (really, you should never look back in a run) and calculated how much more rest I could grab before a face-saving sprint to the finish arch. I suspect that the man was having as much trouble with the hills as I was, and I thought his running pace would slow when he reached the steepest parts of the last bit, so I walked for a third time. This was for a much shorter distance, but it was certainly welcome. (And I had not been the only walker at any of these points.)
Coming around the last turn, I could see the green finish arch near the top of the hill. It was the same hill we waited on for the race to begin, so here at the end I would run up the part I hadn’t run up before. And I put my rest to good use, running as hard as I could up the hill and to the arch. I remember hearing several people cheering that I was giving it a hard finish. I guess I was.
I crossed the mats and turned off my watch, noting that it registered my run as only 3.02 miles, rather than the 3.1 miles of a full 5K. I can’t explain that. I didn’t cut any corners. I even ran some of the turns wide to give a high five to the police or volunteers there. Whatever the explanation, I had started and finished under the arch, and the distance was considered official.
I collected my bottle of water, had the timing chip cut from my shoe, and was given my colorful medal, as you see below. (It’s the one on the left.)
My wife found me, and I made my way over to the Nursing School tent to have my blood pressure taken again. This time is was 150/62. The nurse was amazed. The top number was expected to be higher after a run, but so was the bottom number, yet it wasn’t. She said my heart sounded strong and that the unchanged lower number (after the run) was a sign of real fitness. Me!
I then found the chocolate milk (and consumed five cartons before my wife dragged me away). Since my watch recorded a different distance, I couldn’t rely on that time to be an accurate representation of a 5K, so we waited around for official numbers to be posted.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was not my fastest 5K, and I would have guessed this one wouldn’t be a personal record given the walking I did. When I found my official number, placing me at 80th overall (out of nearly 200 who eventually completed) I didn’t take note of my time. I would be able to look it up online later. So I turned to my wife and thought about heading to a well-earned pancake breakfast.
But something about my listing made me want to go back and look at it again. There was an unlikely number in one of the columns beside my name. I wouldn’t let myself admit to what it meant, and so I waited for more of the tallies to be posted. And then it was confirmed.
I had completed third in my age group! Me!
That has never happened before. I’ve never held any expectations of placing in my age group. I’d always joked that the only time I would ever get third in my age group was when there were only two in my age group. And yet I had done it. And there were seven men in my age group for this race, so it was a legitimate win.
There would be a ceremony when age group awards would be announced and handed out, but that was most of an hour away as they waited for all of the runners/walkers on the course to come in and then hold the Kangaroo Hop for the little kids. (Kasey the Kangaroo is the mascot of UMKC. Kasey was originally drawn by Walt Disney.) With a busy day ahead of us, we didn’t want to wait around, so I went to the awards table and collected the other medal you see above. The bronze one for third in my age group. And then we left. In retrospect, I wish I had stayed for the ceremony. This may be the only time I will ever get such an award, and I should have reveled in it rather than dashing off.
I will do the Regalia Run again next year, but I expect it to be stressful since at least a part of me will want to place in my age group again. And at the least, I won’t want to be defeated by those hills, so I’ll probably train extra hard.