2 In a Row?

For a couple of months now, my boss has been asking me, as a member of the leadership team for the running club at work, about helping her to organize a run/walk.  When she mentioned there was going to be a 5K on our campus Wednesday, I thought, in the words of Ricky, this would be a great opportunity to get 2 birds stoned at once.  I said, “I’ll take one for the team and run this 5K so we can get an idea of a course for your run”.  She bought it, I mean agreed, so Wednesday at lunch time, I got paid to run a 5K.

Luckily, our 11:00 meeting ended early so I bolted for the locker room and changed into some racing clothes barely in time to make it to the starting area by 11:45 for a noon start.  I knew I had at least a decent shot to take this thing as I can count on one hand the number of runners in my wheelhouse, or faster, who work in our complex.  And I knew at least half of them wouldn’t be running this thing – no Derrick, no Dean, no Todd.  This left Wendy (Norvell) and the Indian kid I always see blazing by on the work trails as the chief competition.  There’s always the chance that some unknown speedster will show up, but at least at work there’s a very limited population to draw from so the odds of some unforeseen fast kid showing up were pretty slim.

I jogged from the locker room to the starting area and ran past, trying to squeeze in a quick, albeit abbreviated, warm-up.  I ran into Wendy and we chatted as we made our way back to the starting line.  There I surveyed the crowd of 30 or so for potential contenders – Wendy, the fast Indian kid, and a svelte triathlete-looking lady were the ones to worry about.

Wendy, Tri-lady, and I lined up on the front row, the Indian guy one row back, while the lady from the gym (we have a gym at work and they were the ones putting on the race) called out a few instructions, including a course description which I was anxious to hear, and then she counted us down to the start, “…5…4…3…2…1” and Wendy bolted off the line.  I chuckled and would have jokingly screamed “False start!”  had I known the crowd, i.e. race director, better but god knows what would have happened had I actually cried out so I kept my big mouth shut.

Wendy was sprinting and I was working hard to keep up with her as the race started uphill on a loose gravel trail – I glanced at my watch and saw that we were running at about 5:30 pace which I knew I couldn’t maintain and assumed she couldn’t either.  After all, we both had recently run the Freemorewest 5K and finished only a minute and change from each other.  I wanted to be patient and wait for her to slow down, but I was too antsy so I accelerated and passed her as we made our way up the little half-mile section of trail.

I clearly went out much too fast and felt like my heart and chest were on fire as I climbed for the first quarter mile. I got dizzy and faint and my arms felt numb before I even hit the first half of a mile – not cool – and at 80-degrees-plus out, with the sun mercilessly beating down, and with crazy high humidity, this reminded me a little too much of Boston. I remember thinking “I hope the gym employees know CPR”. I was working way too hard to try to settle into something I thought might be fast enough to win, like sub-7:00/mile pace.  But I couldn’t hear Wendy, or anyone else for that matter, on my heels so I assumed I had already built a substantial lead.

I was wrong. I hit the little turnaround at the end of the trail which afforded me the opportunity to see how far back the competition was.  Wendy and the Indian kid were much closer than I had hoped so I tried the ol’ cross country trick of surging and pretending to look strong so they’d be tempted to let me go – it was quite a stretch and I don’t think anybody will be nominating me for an Oscar anytime soon.

The course: up and back on the trail, then 2 laps around the complex.

The course: up and back on the trail, then 2 laps around the complex.

I struggled to maintain pace even as I sprinted down the trail.  I passed the site of the start and headed towards the buildings – the remainder of the course was simply 2 loops around our complex so at least I shouldn’t get lost.

I exited the trail and made my way toward the buildings where my manager and a small contingent of co-workers stood and cheered me on.  Again, I tried to accelerate to fool those behind me into thinking my lead was insurmountable. The gym staff had been adamant that we stay on the sidewalk – “…we can’t ensure your safety on the roads…” but as I dodged all the folks taking their leisurely lunchtime strolls along the sidewalk, it occurred to me that the roads would have been much safer.  I was one misstep (mine or a walker’s) away from plowing somebody over.  And if you run on enough sidewalks and/or trails, you know how people tend to meander and drift – I had to be constantly vigilant to avoid collisions.  There were numerous close calls and people looked at me like I was insane as I zipped (I use the term lightly – 7-minute per mile pace isn’t exactly zipping) by.

When I made the first left turn, I glanced back to gauge the distance between first and second.  The Indian kid had passed Wendy, but it looked like my lead had grown and he didn’t look particularly strong – it would appear that the heat and humidity were being just as unkind to him as they were to me. But I didn’t want to take any chances – I kept playing the surge game after every turn.

After one complete lap of dodging and weaving through walkers around the complex, I saw Dean up ahead, and he cheered for me as I approached.  I cried out to him, “Hey, how far back is second place?” when I realized that I was lapping some of the slower folks so it might not be clear to Dean who second place was so I yelled out, “The thin Indian kid!”, granted not the most politically correct description, but I didn’t exactly have a lot of time to come up with a more thoughtful, detailed description.  Dean simply responded, “Way back – you’ve got this!”

More pedestrian dodging as I began the gun lap.  I was hurting – the weather and the last race only some three days removed took their toll.  But as I made the next left turn, I could barely see second place so I was confident that, barring a complete meltdown, I could get my second win in less than a week.

At least the loop around the buildings was mostly flat – I think any significant hill would have put me in the grave.  This effort, while significantly slower than Saturday’s, felt immensely more difficult.  I was hurting, and hurting badly, but if I could just hang on a little longer, I would win.

I rounded the last turn and Dean, grinning, gave me two thumbs up, way up, as he yelled, “You’ve got this!  Finish strong!” I tried but the legs didn’t seem to want to respond.  But I did manage to cross the line first.

I staggered over to where the bottled water waited in ice, grabbed one, and poured most of it over my head before drinking.  For the second time in a week, I had won a race with a time almost 2 minutes slower than what I was running less than two years earlier.  But I’m not going to look this gift horse in the mouth. I got excited when the race director told me the prize was a Run For Your Life gift certificate – I dreamt of a number with a couple of zeros after it, silly me.  It turned out to be for twenty bucks, which meant I broke even once you count the registration fee.  But that added up to a grand total of eighty bucks worth of gift certificates winnings in the last week – not too shabby for a washed up old has-been – okay, okay, a never-really-was, but you get it.

Karmic Revenge

That evening, I walked to the parking deck and discovered that my car’s right rear tire was flat.  Lovely.   We have a garage onsite but as fate would have it, they closed at 6:00 and it was now about 6:30. Of course. I didn’t want to change the tire in my semi-professional work attire, so I changed out of my ‘dress’ shirt and into the only short-sleeved shirt I had available, the bright orange race t-shirt I acquired a few hours earlier.

I made my way toward the front of the complex and phoned Laura for help, but as I was talking to her, the nicest guy in the world, aka Dean, drove by and yelled out, “Hey, what are you doing?”  I screamed, “I’ve got a flat!” so he pulled back in to offer assistance.  As he pulled in, he said, “I never would have seen you if it weren’t for that neon orange t-shirt.”  So there’s one race tee that came in handy.

With Dean there, we were able to quickly change the tire.  Karmic finance update – it eventually cost me $23.50 to patch the tire, effectively wiping out that day’s winnings.  Still up $56.50!

So I was back on my way to meet Laura and her friend Jay at my new old house (I recently bought it but it was built in 1949).  Jay has done a significant amount of remodeling to his house and was coming out to offer advice on mine.  As we pulled into the driveway, I noticed a little river of water flowing down the driveway.  Uh-oh.

We made our way to the back of the house where water was gushing out of the little laundry room.  Great – a pipe had busted – instant scramble mode, Code Red, as we ran around the house looking for the cutoff valve.  I called my dad who is a regular Bob Villa and he instructed me on exactly where cutoff valves resided in old houses like this.  Thanks to Dad, I eventually found it and cut off the water.  Catastrophe mostly averted as only minimal damage was incurred.  But pretty sure this wiped out what was left of my winnings.

The point is, no way was karma going to let me walk away with 2 victories in one week without paying a price.  Sigh.

Back to the Road

I have probably seen my last win for the foreseeable future, or perhaps forever.  Now I jump right back into serious marathon training.  I have about 12 weeks to get fit enough to significantly drop my marathon time in hopes of ensuring a spot in the 2014 Boston marathon. I just have to make sure not to run too fast or the roof on my house might collapse.

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