As I sit down to write this on Black Friday, or as one of my Facebook friends dubbed today, “You’rewelcomegiving”, I am thankful that I ran a race yesterday and not today.  It is currently pouring down rain – that would have made for a much less enjoyable race.  Here’s how yesterday’s Turkey Trot went down.

The last 2 years,  I’ve run the Turkey Trot 10K in Huntersville.  I was less than impressed – those guys have a few issues with road race logisitics.  Up until recently, the plan was to race against Dean for the 40-44 year old age group victory.  I won it in 2009 while Dean won it in 2008.  The rubber match was on for 2010.  But when Laura moved to Charlotte, Thanksgiving went with her.  I had to follow my heart, and my stomach.  The Southpark Turkey Trot 8K was practically right around the corner from Laura.  Taking into consideration all the logistics problems of the Huntersville race (add that it moved locations this year, meaning new problems would surface), the decision on which race to run became easy.  The only disadvantage to the Southpark race – the odds of me winning any award were slim to none.  The big guns show up for this one.

Scott Dvorak (owner of the Charlotte Running Company) and company do this race right.  It’s held at Southpark Mall so parking, even though there are literally thousands of runners, is not an issue.  And the 8K begins just after 9:00 which means you even get to sleep in.  Or in our case, Laura had time to do all those last minute Thanksgiving preparations – putting the turkey in the oven and whatnot.

So we rolled into the Southpark parking lot around 8:15 or so.  We trotted over to the starting line where the 1 mile fun runners were already at it.  Laura and I wished each other good luck in our respective races and I set out for a little warm-up.

I hadn’t gone far before realilzing I needed to find a restroom.  I spied the port-a-johns and for about 2 seconds contemplated using them before deciding against it.  10,000 people, 5 port-a-johns – you do the math.  I searched for “alternate facilities”.

I located what appeared to be some pretty isolated bushes and headed for them.  It was only after I began, um, taking care of business,  that I noticed my particular bush had a significant bare spot.  For all intents and purposes, I was buck naked in the middle of the city, and I only realized this as a girl walked up and looked directly at me.  She got a nice full frontal shot and I feared that at any second she would scream and/or call the police.  Luckily, she appeared to be a road race veteran and was completely unfazed – we runners see this kind of business all the time.  She didn’t even flinch but instead simply continued on her merry way.  So let me take this opportunity to send out a special thanks to the random girl for ignoring me!

After my little restroom hiatus, I continued with my warm-up, doing a few strides in the Dick’s parking lot.  By this time it was 8:50 so I headed back to the start where I spotted Kevin.  We chatted for a second, did a few more strides, and gave Aaron, our Charlotte Running Club president, high fives as we ran by.  Kevin still had on his warm-up jacket and ran off to find someone to give it to while I tried to squeeze my way into the already crowded starting corral.

Once in the corral, I surveyed the crowd for rivals.  I typically like to find someone in my wheelhouse to pace off of.  Just as I was about to give up, I spotted Boriana Bakaltcheva.  I knew our 5K times had been within seconds of each other, until recently when she ran about an 18:30 compared to my 19:11.  I decided I would give chase once we started, which we did a few moments later, about 5 minutes after the baby joggers were off.

The beginning, as it almost always is in a race this size, was a mess.  I almost plowed into the back of a hefty gentleman displaying all the tell-tale signs of a road-race rookie; wearing the race t-shirt, putting his number on in the back (as Bart Yasso likes to say, “You’re in a road race, not a rodeo”), and lining up in the front.   For the love of god, why don’t all “big” races (more than, say, a thousand runners) corral by pace?

I was weaving in and out of folks like a tailback through defenders, all the while trying to keep an eye on Boriana who had gotten a much better starting position than me.  But eventually I made my way through “the posers” and settled in just behind her.  I felt like our pace was a tad pedestrian so I passed her and tried to lock in.

I came through the first mile in 6:11, a little too fast, as usual.  I eased off the throttle a bit and Boriana passed me back.  A recent bout with a cold seemed to be taking its toll as I sucked wind hard and my lungs hurt with each breath.  I was really huffing and puffing while Boriana breathed lightly – a bad sign for me in this particular race-within-a-race.  She began pulling away as we came through the 2-mile mark and my second mile split was 6:27.  I came into this race hoping only to maintain 6:30 pace so I was still well under my goal at this point.  But I felt rough and was fading rapidly.

Around this time I saw a familiar face in the crowd, Paul Mainwaring, as he cheered loudly for Boriana.  When I came by, he cheered loudly for me too and his cheers boosted my morale a bit.  I tried to pick up the pace as we hit a hilly section of the course.

My breathing was excessively labored as I made my up.  I throttled back and saved myself for the downhills, where I always let gravity help with the work.  I’ve never understood why so many people “fight” the downhills. 

This race felt like it had as many runners as Richmond.  I was surrounded by fellow runners the entire race.  By mile 3, Boriana had significantly gapped me.  I started seeking motivation elsewhere when I noticed a familiar runner ahead just as he stopped to tie his shoe, allowing me to catch up.  It was Joel Thomas, my Shamrock Marathon compadre.  Joel looked to be hurting a bit, as was I, when I passed.  I wanted to ask, “Hey Joel, you feel as shitty as me?”, but all I could manage was a garbled, “Joel”, and a wave. 

Miles 3 and 4 were hilly and slow, 6:54 and 6:45, respectively.  I needed a fast fifth one if I was going to make this thing remotely respectable.  A few folks around me provided some much-needed motivation.  A big guy, built like a tight-end, and I had been taking turns passing each other for a while (I can’t remember his name but Théoden knows him – I think he’s a UCRR guy) until a young girl in a tie-dye shirt blew by and I went with her.

Tie-dye girl and I continued to pick up the pace throughout the last mile.  I’d be damned if I was going to let a girl in a tie-dye shirt beat me.  When telling the story to Laura, she asked, “When you say tie-dye, do you mean one of those colorful Try Sports singlets?”  I answered, “No, I mean tie-dye like a cotton Grateful Dead t-shirt.”

 As tie-dye and I sped up, I caught bits and pieces of a conversation taking place behind me that went something like this, “Remember, you have a slight uphill finish, so save yourself a little for that.  I’m dropping back now – I won’t be able to maintain this pace and you need to pick it up.  Now go!”  Just then, an eleven-year-old kid flew by.  God damn it.  I have been reduced to racing eleven-year-olds and tie-dyed-tees.  So be it.

Tie-dye and 11 passed me but I locked on.  Down the final stretch, I tried to squeeze between them and instead plowed into tie-dye, effectively knocking her out of the way.  This apparently angered her as she sprinted past me.  She and I kicked, leaving 11 in our wake.  I’m embarrassed to say that I outkicked tie-dye, 11, and the UCRR tight-end.  But give them all credit – the 4 of us all ran sub-6:15 fifth miles (well, officially .97 miles) – my Garmin clocked me at 6:11 so that my race had 6:11 bookends.

Digging deep to outkick a Grateful Dead fan (photo courtesy of Carolina Snapshot)

Officially, I finished in 32:38, good enough for 85th place, which sounds pretty bad until you consider that there were 4300 finishers.  And I’m within two and a half minutes of an 8K I ran while on the cross-country team at Carolina.  Granted, it was by far my worst race in a Carolina uniform – I only remember it because I was devastated for having such a crappy race and not at least breaking 30.  But still.

So while I consistently beat myself up for not being as fast as I’d like, not as fast as many of my friends, I am very grateful to be able to run at all.  I’m light years ahead of where I was just a few years ago when I thought I’d never run again I have so very much to be thankful for.  First and foremost, I’m thankful for my wonderful girlfriend Laura who, along with her mom, cooked another fabulous post-race Thanksgiving dinner.  And not only am I thankful, I’m also very proud as she continues to rapidly improve as a runner – she officially ran a 42:34 yesterday, nearly a ten-minute PR!  All in all, we had a fabulous Thanksgiving.

Next up – only 8 days until we run the Dallas marathon!


2 Responses to “Trottin’”

  1. Scott Says:

    OK, so by my count, in recent races it’s like this:

    Allen 1, 11 0
    Allen 1, Tie Dye 0
    Giant Running Taco 1, Allen 0.

    .667….not bad. 🙂

  2. aaron Says:

    Tradin paint with Boriana. That girl is tough to catch. She has been having a good year. Enjoyed the recap. That is one of my favorite races in town. Holy improvement by Laura! She is really taking care of business. Dallas will rock.

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