Memorial Day 10K
It’s not really writing related, though I have made a few posts here connecting my running to my writing. And since running really has become a big part of my life, and since several of you fine people are also runners, I thought I might post accounts of my runs for your entertainment.
We were in St. Louis for the Memorial Day weekend to attend the wedding of the daughter of some long-time friends, so of course I had to see if there was an organized run I could do. And there was. And I did.
There is a 10K run that is believed to be the oldest west of the Mississippi — this year was its 39th running. It’s called the University City Memorial Day Run, and there was both the 10K and a 5K. I, being the smug, “experienced” runner that I am, now think it’s hardly worth the trouble of lacing up if I don’t go at least 5 miles, so I chose the 10K. I was in need of a little humbling it seems.
For some unaccountable reason, I still get nervous before a run. I don’t know why. I’ve done enuf of these to know . . . what? That I’ll survive. That I’ll do decently for my level. That no one will ridicule my pace and just about everyone will be encouraging. But I get nervous, so, of course, I had to get to the race site a full hour before the start so I could fuss and fret and try to settle my nerves.
The day before, when I picked up my race packet, I had driven the course (well, what I thought was the course given the quality of the map they provided) and soon regretted it. One of the techniques suggested for pre-race jitters is to drive the course so you can know what to expect. I shouldn’t have. The damned thing was all uphill! And that is, of course, impossible since it started and ended at the same place. Yet for all of the uphill going, I didn’t see any downhill compensation that wasn’t immediately followed by another hill that had to be beaten. So I had that bit of perceived reality to gnaw on for the morning too.
But the other runners were gathering, and the 80 percent chance of thundershowers turned into 70 degrees and clear blue sky with benevolent sunshine streaming down on us. (The rain came in the afternoon when we were around a bandstand in a park listening to patriotic tunes.) There were more than 1200 runners registered, though it seemed like fewer at the starting line. My wife was with me the whole time, reminding me that I always do fine on these things and that this time would be no different. Part of me understood that; part of me didn’t.
As the appointed time neared, I separated from her and joined the throng behind the starting line. Then I turned on my watch and waited for it to grab some satellites. At the horn, the throng herded ahead, but we only started actual running as we crossed the starting mats. (Probably 30 seconds passed between the horn and when I was underway, which I believe dragged down my official pace, but I never give too much credence to those things anyway.) And so we were off — straight uphill! Nearly a mile of uphill, folks! Seriously! Nice way to start. As usual, the throngs were racing past me, but I have this tendency to start too fast on these runs, unconsciously keeping pace with those around me, charged up by all of the energy of the event, and I burn out quickly. So I deliberately held back my pace and let the masses move ahead. It wasn’t very long before I had a nice, open space around me, with a few runners beside, a few ahead, and a few behind. Pretty much perfect conditions. I could vary my pace as I needed to without hindering others or being hindered by them.
And so I pushed on. The first water station was just after mile 1, and while they offered both water and Gatorade, I was disappointed that they didn’t have any Bud Light. (I did ask at each station though. Curiously, they kept telling me the beer was at the next water station.) This was on one of the few downhill stretches of the run, but it was a tease, because it merely distracted us from the next, long uphill stretch we had to face.
At about mile two, the 5K runners peeled off on their route, and we (fool)hardy 10K runners kept on our route. I generally ignore the screams of anguish that my body gives me during the first mile of a run. That’s just the shakedown, and while it seems as though I’m going to die horribly and certainly not be able to complete the run, I know it’s just griping. At about mile two I have a better sense of how I’m doing.
So at mile two I listened to my body and was hearing screams of anguish, certain that I was going to die horribly and not be able to complete the run. I routinely run 10K on my own several times a week. There was no reason for this 10K to be any different. Except for those unceasing hills. They weren’t steep. They were long. Loooonnng! They were pulling all of the energy out of me, energy I was hoping to conserve for the latter part of the run, but as Yogi Berra said about baseball, “ninety percent of the game is half mental.” I really knew I had to power through the hills and that I would still have the strength to keep at it on the flat stretches. Also, I was proud that I did run up all of the hills while many of those around me walked them and only began running again at the top. And those flat stretches did come. There were even some short downhill parts, but they always seemed followed by more hills.
Somewhere about mile 3.8 I got my second wind. This usually hits me in mile 4, so I take it as a sign I’m improving my stamina if it’s arriving earlier. That was also just over the halfway point and, it seems, all of the hill climbing was done by then. There may have even been a barely perceptible downhill slope from that point, but the full force of the once benevolent sun cancelled that completely. I was sweltering. My face was hot. The sweat was rolling, and there were miles to go. I had stopped at the first four water stations to sip a cup of water (and catch a minute or two of rest), but not long after the fourth, I began to see a miscalculation in this. Though I had no breakfast (other than a banana), I felt as though I needed to empty my stomach. Unwillingly. Beside the road. This had happened to me one time before when I took too much water in the middle of a run, but two weeks ago I got a terrible cramp in my calf during a run apparently from being dehydrated, so I was trying to be mindful of that. I managed to take my mind off my stomach by concentrating on the screaming of my lungs and the wobbly feeling in my legs and the general anguish I felt all over. That’s the power of positive thinking.
And I pushed on. I was on the long, flat, straightaway before the last turn toward the finish line. Though I was among the last coming in (well, there were 30-40 behind me), there were still people on their porches and driveways cheering us on. And the police were vigilant at every intersection to keep us safe. (I thanked every one of them as I trudged past.) And then, about a mile from the finish, I heard a familiar voice.
My wife had come out to meet me. Perfect excuse to stop for a moment and say hi. She took a few photos — I look terrible — and then I got going again. I really felt drained, but the legs seemed to be working on their own by then. People were still giving me thumbs up and encouragement from the sidelines, and as I made the last turn, I saw the finish archway far ahead. Very far ahead. Impossibly far ahead. So I did what I always do in these cases. I just looked down at the ground before me and kept going.
Part of me knows that I have more energy than I let myself believe. When I set out to do a 7 mile run, I can breeze through the 5 mile mark with no trouble. But if I set out to do a 5 mile run, I have to fight with myself to get to that fifth mile. So it was with this 10K. It’s only 6.2 miles, and if I had started out planning to eat 8 miles, 6.2 would have been nothing. (Well . . . ) And that may have been at the back of my mind as I approached the finish. I straightened up. I put a little more flash in my stride. I painted a smile on my face. And I came in looking strong and happy. (For the photographers.) I summoned the ability to do that because it was there all along. (This is the part of me that tells me I will be able to do that half marathon in October that is currently giving me grief and worry.)
Then I gasped and panted and wiped my sweaty face with my shirt and staggered around in circles and assured strangers who asked that I was okay. And I was. Because she had gone out to meet me, my wife was not at the finish line until later. I wandered through the booths, but there was no chocolate milk and no bagels, which seems criminal, but maybe that’s a St. Louis thing. They did have samples of burritos, yet not only was the line for these really long, but I really didn’t want to risk a burrito on my stomach at that point. I did dare a cup of water, and I managed to keep it down. And then my wife arrived. I checked my time and found that I had once again successfully defended my spot as slowest in my age group, then we got in our car and drove to the bed and breakfast where we were staying. I partly disrobed and then fell into the swimming pool there. Many distance runners will take literal ice baths after a run. This wasn’t exactly the same, but the water was cold, and I don’t think the temps were in the 80s yet, so I got a sense of what an ice bath must be like. My thighs felt like pudding, but it was nice to wash the crusted salt from my face. And out of my running cap, which had gotten a bit grungy lately. I was only in the water for perhaps 15 minutes, and then I sat in one of the poolside lounge chairs and let myself bake in the sun for a while.
I was beat, but I was not beaten. I had not set out to take on a challenging run for this trip to St. Louis, but part of me thinks that I need to do it again next year just to see how much I can improve in that time.
For those keen of eye, you will have noticed my running shirt in the photo above says “Olathe Running Club.” That’s the group I joined at the turn of the year to get encouragement and advice, which I have gotten. But I’ve also gotten fellowship, which is an unexpected benefit. “Olathe” by the way has three syllables. o-LAY-tha. Now you know. Among many runners I know, it is traditional to post a photo of your running gear before a race. Except for my compression shorts, what you see above is what I took on the road with me.