The Run Jen Run 5K, aka How I Realized How Lucky I Am

Saturday morning, as I let Lucy (Laura’s boxer) out to attend to her morning business, I, with my keen sense of awareness, noticed that snow was falling.  In about 2 hours, I’d be running a 5K and I wondered how snowfall might affect performance.  I’ve raced in rain and tropical heat and wind but I can’t ever remember racing in snow, until now.  This should be interesting.

The night before, I decided it was time to run another 5K, time to try to jump start some speed, and time to break out of the intentionally self-imposed 7:45-per-mile-marathon-pace rut.  I hadn’t cracked a 7-minute mile in weeks.  I’ve built a solid distance base, but now it’s time to work on speed again and the best, funnest, way for me to work on speed is to run some 5Ks.

I narrowed my search down to 3 races – the Sprint into Spring 5K in Troutman, the Keep Your Resolution 5K in Huntersville (at Birkdale), and the Run Jen Run 5K in Charlotte, at McAlpine Park.  Since my Lake Norman area condo is still under repair, I opted for Run Jen Run since it was by far the closest race to Laura’s house, my home away from home.  I was also adhering to Caleb’s first rule of the Rules of Road Race Cherry Picking – “Make sure it’s an inaugural race”.  Granted, my 5K legs weren’t back, but one never knows – if things went exceedingly, okay miraculously, well, maybe I had a very outside shot of a victory.  I was pretty sure I had a zero shot at a W at the Keep Your Resolution 5K – Chris Jones had won 2 years in a row with times in the low-seventeens.  Troutman was just a little too far to travel.  Run Jen Run it was.

After the Myrtle Beach marathon,  I took a few days off, then got the standard post-marathon-weakened-immune-system illness, so it was a full week before I ran my first post-race step.  Laura’s calf hurt badly enough that she went to the orthopedic doctor who recommended a walking boot for a few days.  So I was the only member of Team Triple C racing – Laura would be offering moral support and playing photographer and since she is as at least as, maybe even more, competitive as I am, she was not particularly thrilled about this role.  But at least she was now bootless and therfore able to run a few gimpy warm-up and cool-down miles with me.

I was surprised at how nervous I was for what I expected to be a little rust-buster race.  But when we pulled into McAlpine and volunteers were directing traffic, I realized there was a much bigger crowd than anticipated and this caused me a little extra anxiety.  I ended up making multiple pre-race, nervous, trips to the restroom.

I hastily registered and quickly abandoned any hopes for a win.  Lots of svelte kids with high school cross-country sweats were jogging around.  Laura and I jogged, practically crawled, a warm-up mile as the crowd got bigger and bigger.  This was the largest first-year race I could ever remember which added to the surreal feeling of the morning.  Snow?  900+ runners at an inaugural event?  Bizarre.

Finally warmed up on this frigid morning, I dumped my sweats into the car.  I donned a Reckless Running singlet, some Frank Shorter arm sleeves, a new racing skull cap – a Valentine’s Day gift from my biggest fan – yes, Laura, in case you were wondering – and the light, great for racing, Karhu Flow3 Trainer Lights.  I nervously jogged to the starting line and worked my way toward the front of the crowd.  I looked around and tried to guess where I might finish.  I gave up counting after I got to 10.

I spotted fellow master and fellow alum of the hottest Boston marathon ever, Todd Capitano, and we exchanged fist bumps and good lucks.  Anna Donlan lined up nearby and asked me what time I planned to run.  “I don’t know.  Low-21?” I answered realistically, but secretly hoped I could go faster.  Jen, the cancer survivor whose foundation this race was raising money for, gave us a motivational speech and I tried to repress emotions (my mom died of breast cancer in 2002) and focus on the task at hand.  But it wasn’t easy.  I felt humbled to be participating:

And then suddenly we were racing and I tried, unsuccessfully, to get comfortable.  I hadn’t cracked a 7-minute mile in weeks and I was struggling right out of the gate.  Chris Lamperski was there cheering on his fiancee Karin, and he and Laura cheered loudly which helped motivate me.  And at least I knew the McAlpine 5K course very well so there was none of my usual race course directional anxiety.

But I hurt.  I had forgotten the pain of the 5K.  Don’t get me wrong, there is no pain like a marathon pain, but the 5K offers its own unique kind of lung-busting, heart-pumping anguish and it all came back to me quickly.  I was hoping for at least a 6:30 first mile, but I knew very early on that was a pipe dream on this snowy, heavy-legged, day.

I tried to relax a little, to come to terms with this you-are-older-and-slower-than-you-think reality and accept it, when an older, stockier, bald guy in an orange tech tee, passed me.  I knew Laura and Chris would be cheering along the course and I felt a little embarrassed to be behind this guy, so I passed him back, which only made matters worse because then he passed me back at the exact moment, right around the one-mile mark, when we ran by Chris and Laura who kindly cheered me on.  Photographic (albeit a bit blurry) evidence of the moment:

photo 3

The exact moment when you realize that you’re not as fast as you thought. When I daydream, I run neck and neck with Bernard Lagat. When I race, I run neck and neck with this guy.

For the next 2+ miles, I basically chased this guy while simultaneously hoping that my heart wouldn’t explode.  Chris and Laura cheered mightily which I was very appreciative of as every time they appeared, I surged a little.

Things were a little hairy around the pond.  Since there were so many people running today, the first lappers and second lappers intersected at various points.  Add to that some annoying little kids who insisted on jumping in and randomly racing the ‘real’ racers, and it proved to be a bit problematic.  Don’t misunderstand – this race was incredibly well-organized, as well-organized as any first race I can recall – but with so many folks, the intersecting of runners was inevitable.

I tried to stay within striking distance of Orange Tech Tee, OTT, but he gradually put more and more distance between us.  I surged at various spots, shrinking the gap, but he put in surges of his own, lengthening it again.  And so it went.

As we neared the pond for the final stretch, Chris ran up and yelled, “600 meters to go!  Make your move, Allen!”  I tried.  I started reeling OTT in.  He seemed to be fading a bit and catching him appeared inevitable.  Weaving in and out of first lappers on the pond, I shifted gears and got ready for the kick.  I passed a couple of younger guys that I’d been trailing all day and then with about 300 meters to go, started ramping up the full bore kick.

Suddenly, I felt some hard core intestinal distress, bad enough that I was afraid if I continued at this pace, bad things would happen.  Since this was not for Olympic gold, or Boston qualifying, or for anything other than pride, I backed off.  Which allowed OTT to beat me.  I crossed the finish line, and leaned over, hands on knees, gasping for air.  Todd finished mere seconds back and told me, “I thought I had you.  I wanted to be that guy in the blog that passed you at the end.”  And he very nearly was.

I was frustrated, maybe even a bit embarrassed with my time.  We waited around forever for the awards ceremony – I was certain that I had at least won an age group award.  But when Molly Grantham of WBTV called out the male 45 to 49 age group awards, my name was not mentioned.  I won’t lie to you – that hurt a little.  It turns out that OTT is 48-year-old David Purdy and he beat me out for an age group award by less than 4 seconds.  I felt like Spider Man, when he refused to use his recently acquired super hero powers to stop a purse thief and that same purse thief later murdered his uncle.  If I had just fought through that stomach pain.  If I had just picked up the pace.  If this.  If that.

But then it hit me.  I’m out there running while Jen is fighting for her life.  I’m upset because I didn’t win some silly, meaningless award?  How stupid is that?  I won the moment I got up, alive and healthy, fed, clothed, sheltered, and loved.  Most of humanity should be so lucky.

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