Running is such a microcosm of life – it provides the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This week I experienced a lot of the latter with very little of the former. Allow me to break it down for you, day by day.
I felt like I needed a day off from running so I didn’t run.
This was week two for The Run For Your Life track series. With the bargain basement price of $8 to run as many events as you wanted, how could I not?
As usual, I was struggling to get there on time – I had to pick up the Dubs from school and try to make it to the track by 6:00 so I could get W2 entered in the 100M dash. We were about 30 seconds too late for Warren’s age group heat. He could’ve run with some slightly older/bigger boys, but he opted out. With the mile only minutes away, I had to rush off, outside of the Myers Park High stadium, for an abbreviated warm-up.
When I got back, the slow heat of the mile was starting and I was too late to jump in. I typically live right around the cut-off so I can choose between the two heats and sometimes it’s more fun to run the slow heat where I have a shot at winning versus the fast heat where I’m battling to avoid last place. But I heard someone cry out ‘the over 6-minute heat’ – that was sand-bagging a bit too much, even for me – I would’ve had to go with the fast heat anyway.
Just before we lined up, Stan asked me how fast I was planning on going and I answered, “If I break 6:00 I’ll be happy.” He gave me what I interpreted as a look of disgust that I couldn’t quite fully decipher. Was it “You’re pathetic”? Was it, “Come on man, I need someone to pace me and 5:59 ain’t cutting it!” Or was it something else altogether? I had no clue.
We started lining up and I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of being in the far back. But what else could I do? I couldn’t very well ask for the front inside as nobody there looked as slow as me. To give you an idea of my dilemma, I need to steal a line from the movie Rounders, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.” Replace ‘sucker’ with ‘slowest runner’ and ‘your first half hour at the table’ with ‘the starting corral’ and you’ll quickly understand – I was having a very hard time spotting somebody I was confident that I could beat. Finally, after some concerted effort, I discovered an older man and a little girl that I thought I could out kick if push came to shove.
While I was frantically searching for someone slower than me, the starter fired the gun and we were off. After the initial jockeying for position, I found myself a few meters behind Stan. He wasn’t gapping me early so I decided to just try and hang tight. There was a little group of three of us running about the same pace: Charlie, Stan, and me. I fought not to lose touch.
That was basically my entire race – don’t let Stan drop me. Hang on, hang on, hang on. I thought if I could just stay within striking distance, I might be able to out kick him. Oh, did I mention that Stan is member of the evil Stache and Dash empire? Extra incentive.
Starting the gun lap, I was about ten meters behind Stan, who was probably five meters or so behind Charlie. I spent the entire final lap closing that gap. Rounding the final turn, I had cut the distance between Stan and me to maybe two to three meters, and Stan had done the same between Charlie and himself. I kicked.
I heard Laura screaming “JITFO!” as I sped past Stan, and then Charlie, and I set my eyes on a guy about my age that was ahead of all of us. But even with him fiddling with his watch, I couldn’t catch him. Here’s photographic evidence of how it all went down, thanks to Bill Shires who was playing the role of Charlotte Running Club photographer:
I woke up Wednesday morning with my Achilles hurting enough that I was limping. Another day off.
Triple C Beer Runners’ night. Laura and I started out the first mile together, but she’s been nursing a calf injury and decided to bail after the first mile. I ran alone up to Tryon when I ran into Chad on his way back. He joined me for his second lap, my first, around the Observer and we ran together the rest of the way. Easy for him, hovering around tempo pace (7:30s) for me. But it was fun chatting with my fast pal, the Corporate Cup half marathon champ. This was by far my best run of the week.
To give you an idea of how utterly horrible this run was, it started with me getting hit by a car and then got worse. Did you catch that? Allow me to reiterate, or as certain people at my job like to say, re-enter-eight. The run started with me getting hit by a car. Then. Got. Worse.
I was just going to run an easy five or six miles. About a quarter of a mile in, I was running by the gas station at the corner of Central and Eastway. Some knucklehead was exiting the gas station, turning right onto Central, as I approached.
This a-hole started gunning it from the parking lot of the gas station, well before reaching the road. He never looked to his right, ever. He saw cars coming from his left and he punched it to get in front of them, right about the time I was directly in front of the car.
Luckily, I saw this developing just in the nick of time. I shifted into an all-out sprint in a desperate attempt to get past the car before he accelerated, and I would’ve made it had he pulled out at a normal rate of speed. But he didn’t. He floored it.
With a millisecond to spare, I realized I wasn’t going to get past the car before it made contact. So I made like the Heisman and stiff armed the car, and in the process, I made sure to slam my hand down on the hood as hard as possible, hoping to inflict some damage. The momentum of the car against my extended left arm pivoted me out of the way as the driver continued to accelerate and took off. I stared at him in disbelief before I raised both arms and let fly a barrage of curse words that would’ve made a drill sergeant blush. The driver never looked back. Hit and run! I was livid.
But what could I do? In the excitement, I never got a good look at the driver. I didn’t pay any attention to the license plate. I just stood there as adrenaline coursed through my veins.
I assessed the damage. Other than a little stinging of my left palm, I appeared to be injury free. Oh well, might as well continue on with my run.
With my blood pressure now sky high and with my system full of adrenaline, I cranked for a bit. My old infirm Achilles which were both tight and sore moments earlier felt great. I continued to mutter curse words under my breath for the next mile or so – it took that long before I felt back to normal at which point I realized I had stopped my watch and never restarted it. My cursing began anew.
I eventually calmed down and reached my turnaround point and headed back home. Things seemed to have returned to an average run. When suddenly my stomach rumbled. It started with a little minor discomfort, then got worse.
I tried to ignore this gastrointestinal distress but it increased and increased until it reached critical mass. I realized this was not going away. I began desperately to scan the surrounding area for somewhere with a restroom. There was none.
I would’ve given $500 at this point for someone to allow me to use their restroom. I was on Commonwealth Avenue and about to lose my shit, literally. I was stumped as to what to do. There used to be construction on a nearby house, and therefore a port-a-john, but it had apparently been removed recently. Oh, things were getting bad, very, very bad.
I looked for hedges. Trees. Anywhere to duck behind outside of the sight of the busy road, but I could find nothing. I was no longer running but was instead walking in hopes that a slower pace might make this horrific situation dissipate. No such luck.
I approached Lorna Street and looked down it. At the very end were some trees and bushes. I made a beeline for these and barely made it there before things came to a head. I ducked behind a tree and some foliage and, in the words of my Indian outsourcing partners at work, “did the needful.” I finished my nightmarish business and walked home in shame.
If this wasn’t the worst run ever, it was way up there. Certainly top 10.
My friend Todd has his own business where he provides affordable timing services for small road races. As such, he sometimes gives me insider information on some prime cherry pickers. He let me in on one in Concord that had a 10K that only had 10 people registered. I couldn’t pass it up.
Laura and I showed up early at Frank Liske park on Saturday morning. I knew something was wrong as we made it there early, something we never do. Then I realized that this small race would probably only accept cash or check and I had neither so I turned right back around and headed out in search of an ATM. We found one pretty quickly, acquired cash, and hoofed it back to the park and quickly registered.
I ran into my old buddy and high school track and cross-country rival Dennis Pope. I introduced him to Laura, and we briefly chatted about old times before I spotted the race director, Perry. I shot over to chat with him about the course because I thought I had a reasonable shot at spending a lot of this race in front. I didn’t want to lose by taking a wrong turn. Time now having gotten away from us, Laura and I set out on a very abbreviated warm-up before rushing back and lining up in the starting corral.
Perry gave us a few brief instructions then counted down and yelled ‘Go!’ A few kids jetted into the lead while I tried to find a manageable pace.
There were two races starting simultaneously, a 5K and a 10K so I wasn’t overly worried about the high school kids that gapped me immediately out of the gate – I assumed (correctly as it turned out) that they were running the 5K. We made our way along the crushed-gravel course around the pond in the heart of the park.
I was comfortable with the surroundings as I have spent many a day running in this park. It was within a few miles of the house I’d grown up in and I’d run these trails many, many times. After my earlier conversation with Perry, I was confident I knew the course.
I felt okay, not great, through the first mile. I came through right where I expected timewise. We hit the hill that had doubled as Heartbreak in the 5K I’d put on as a fundraiser for Boston a little over a year earlier and I started to struggle. Three or four folks passed me and while I knew some of them had to be running the 5k, I knew I wasn’t lucky enough for all of them to be. And I was right. We reached the 5K turnaround where three or four folks turned around. Two didn’t. So now I was in third.
So there were two people in front of me a mile and a half in. But their leads were not insurmountable. I wasn’t giving up just yet. But I wasn’t exactly feeling like gangbusters either. I wasn’t running the second mile as fast as I’d run the first. Granted, there had been a substantial hill. But still.
We left the park and entered an adjacent neighborhood just as a guy, about my own age, passed me. As he passed, he calmly said, “Hey, how ya doing?” and I cursed inside because he said it effortlessly, I responded, “Good, how are you?” and tried to hide the fact that I was beginning to struggle.
We entered the neighborhood and immediately had to climb a substantial hill. Suddenly the gap between the first three and me was not so insignificant. And it was growing.
The three leaders in front of me, two guys roughly my age and a girl probably in her early twenties, reached the turnaround well before me and came back towards me. Usually, this is the kind of spot where I’d feign a struggle, try to look more labored than I really was in hopes of making the leaders get over-confident and slow down. But this time I wasn’t feigning. It was like 80 and sunny and we’d just traversed a significant hill – I didn’t feign nothing. Truth be told, I looked very much like the JITFO founder during the 2012 Boston marathon, and felt like him, too.
I hadn’t given up just yet. I made the turnaround and tried to speed up. I made a concerted effort to reel in the leaders. Then I saw Laura up ahead and was glad to see her – the fact she was still running meant she was overcoming the calf injury she’d been dealing with of late. As we crossed paths, I cried out, “How’re you feeling?” but she only responded with “Where’d they come from?” pointing at the leaders. I shrugged.
My mind screamed “Speed up! Catch those guys!” and my body said, “Fuck you. I’m dying here.” I could see where the guy who had passed me now had the lead. I was okay with that – he seemed like a nice fellow. I, on the other hand, was done. D. O. N. E. Done. I shifted into try-not-to-get-passed mode. I fully expected Laura to pass me back in the park.
My pace got slower and slower. “Just don’t walk”, I told myself. I was barely shuffling. “Oh god, let’s get this over with.”
I slogged it through the park. When I rounded the final curve, I looked at my watch and realized the course was considerably too short. And I was glad. I crossed the finish line in fourth place with a time that I won’t embarrass myself by repeating. If you want to know it, you’re going to have to find it on your own.
I hung out and watched Dennis finish. Then we all waited around for the awards ceremony. There was pizza and sodas and sports drinks so life wasn’t all bad. Laura got her award for top masters (even though she was second woman overall) and I got my first in age group medal (even though I was third male overall) and that was that. I’m glad this one is in the rear view mirror.
This week is over and I for one am ecstatic about it. Let’s look ahead and forget behind. I’m not sure what I’m doing next. I’ll probably run another event or two in the Summer Track Series. I may jump into the China Grove 5K. And of course, I’ll have to start training in earnest soon for the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. Hope to see some of you out there and I hope I fare a little better than I did this week!