The 2014 Freedom 5K

MYRTLE BEACH, SC July 4, 2013 – America had only been 237 for a few hours when Laura and I struggled to fully awaken. We got up before 5:00 in order to make it from Sunset Beach to Myrtle Beach by 6:50, the cut-off time for race-day registration for the race that was scheduled to begin at 7:00. By the time we, coffee in hand, climbed into Laura’s SUV around 6:00, we were right on schedule.  Or so we thought.

Laura plugged in the address of the starting line into her Iphone’s navigation which spit out an estimated time to arrive of one hour. Stunned, Laura and I stared at each other. Driving, I put a little more force on the gas pedal than I had originally planned. “How is it an hour?  I thought Myrtle Beach was only 30 minutes away?” It was. But the race was on the opposite end of town, basically as far away a point as existed in Myrtle Beach. Let the games begin. I gunned it – our race to the race began.

I sped down Highway 17 towards our destination and hoped that South Carolina’s finest were not lying in wait, while seemingly every slow driver in South Carolina kept trying to thwart us by pulling out in front of us and then driving like 20 miles per hour on a major thoroughfare. Laura kept reading off the estimated travel time as my NASCAR-esque speeds kept cutting into it.  “55 minutes…50…45”  By the time we pulled into the Piggly Wiggly parking lot at Market Common, allegedly adjacent to the start, it looked like we had arrived on time.  But the fun was just beginning.

I scanned the area for registration, but saw nothing.  In the meantime, I felt storm clouds gathering down below (this is a pleasant euphemism for gastrointestinal distress).  Mother Nature had some plans for me that took precedence over registering – Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs dictated that I had more urgent matters to attend to.  I rushed into the Piggly Wiggly in search of a restroom, Laura close behind discussing a registration game plan.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Notice the last word on the bottom layer of needs.  I'd have to fulfill that need before I could become self-actualized, or run a decent race.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Notice the last word on the bottom layer of needs. I’d have to fulfill that need before I could become self-actualized, or run a decent race.

I found the restroom and burst in, only to realize I was third in line.  Things were becoming dire, like critical mass dire – I was perspiring heavily, and not because of the 100% humidity. I fidgeted nervously, and grimaced in pain while some guy in the stall wrote a novel, composed an opera, drew blueprints for a Pentagon-sized office building, or something equally time consuming.  I muttered curses under my breath and started contemplating other courses of action.  Sink?  Ew.  Garbage can?  I came up with nothing acceptable while jackass worked through his magnum opus in the stall.  It was now past 6:45, I was still 3 deep in line to a stall whose occupant made no indication of approaching completion anytime soon, and I had yet to register for a race that started at 7:00, whose starting line I had not found.

I made an executive decision and bailed, running out in search of other facilities.  Laura was waiting outside the bathroom door and gave me a “What the hell took so long?” look.  We ran out of the Piggly Wiggly.

By now a steady stream of running-wear-clad folks trickled past and we followed the line to a group of tents, ostensibly registration, and hallelujah, port-a-johns.  Both had long lines.  Care to wager which line I jumped in?

Laura agreed to register us while I doubled over in cramps and, despite my atheistic leanings, desperately prayed that this long line to relief would go quickly. For some unknown reason, the port-a-johns were gender specific so I decided that I would argue that I was more female than South Africa’s Caster Semenya if I had to use a women’s port-a-john and if anyone protested.  Of course, the first stall that became available had the little obviously-intended-to-be-female symbol in a dress on it and I rushed right in.  The time was well after 6:50 by this point.  I could care less as I was wholly focused on some other business.  The relief was sublime and I didn’t worry about the race start until the task at hand was finished.  Upon completion, I looked at my watch, which read 6:57.  It looked like our warm-up was going to be at race pace.

I exited and there stood Laura patiently waiting with my bib and safety pins in hand.  I hastily pinned it on and we sprinted across a bridge towards the starting line.

We made it to the start and I was pretty shocked at the size of the crowd, nearly a thousand folks had gathered.  Laura and I pushed through the crowd to try to get closer to the starting line (NOTE: most race awards are by gun time so it behooves one to be as close to the starting line as possible).  By the time we settled into the corral, 2 rows or so back, the announcer was already at “10!  9!…” into the countdown to the gun.

I spent those last 10 seconds trying to relax and bring my heart rate down.  You really shouldn’t start a race with an elevated heart rate, especially when the temperature is near 80, with 100% humidity.

And finally we were racing.  I did the usual, taking off and dodging hordes of slower folks, especially kids.  Why don’t more 5K race directors do like Todd and ask people to line up according to their projected finish time?  Oh well, standard fare as the appropriately-dubbed firework kids came trickling back down to reality.

I settled into 5K effort, glancing at my Garmin which hovered around 6:00/mile pace.  I knew this was a tad fast, but I felt surprisingly good, especially when one considered I had run what felt like the hardest ‘easy-day’ 6-miler of all time less than 24-hours earlier.

Early on, I could see ahead, all the way to the leader, and I saw very few guys that looked to be masters (those over-40), so I thought I might have a shot at a masters’ age group award.  There was 1 guy up ahead, shirtless and tattoo-laden, who was bald and looked like he might be over 40 so I focused on trying to reel him in.  As I did, some kid wearing a hat that said (such-and-such, some school whose name I can’t recall) cross-country, comfortably passed me so I tried to lock in behind him.

With my wagon hitched to the high school cross country kid, I quickly passed the only potential master in sight.  I came through the mile in 6:09, just a few strides behind the high school kid.  I was a little concerned that I was running a bit too fast early on – I was hoping to break 20:00, something I hadn’t done in nearly 2 years, and to do that, I only needed to run 6:25 pace.  But I felt good so no need to start panicking – just relax and chase the kid.

We neared a fork in the road where the 8K and 5K folks would split.  Some fit lady passed me comfortably.  A volunteer before the split was yelling, “8K to the left!  5K to the right!”  As I approached, he screamed directly at me, “8K to the left!  8K to the left!  TO! THE! LEFT!” and motioned wildly to the left, like one of those airport runway guys with the orange flashlights.  I somehow managed, between gasps, to say, “I’m running the 5K”.  I looked down at my bib and noticed I was wearing an 8K bib.  Oh joy – I hoped this wouldn’t come back to haunt me.

A professional artist's rendering of the 5K course.

A professional artist’s rendering of the 5K course.

The entire race up to this point, I had worked to lock into a sub-20, maintainable, pace.  And through 2 miles I had succeeded as my Garmin signaled 6:15 for the second mile split.  I felt fine through 2 miles – all I had to do was hang on, don’t drastically fall off the pace ledge, and I had a 19-something in the bag.  But it was going to take some work – I felt more and more fatigued with each step.  After all, I was knee deep into marathon training with the Santa Rosa marathon less than 8 weeks away, and was coming off a pretty tough week of training.

The last mile is a bit of a blur, basically a lot of me telling myself, “Just hang on, just hang on,…” Every time I glanced at the watch, which was quite a few times, I was holding steady at around 6:30 pace.  It was a big drop off from the previous 2 miles, but plenty fast enough to finish under 20.  I was stuck in no man’s land – I couldn’t hear anyone close behind, and the high school cross country kid, while still in sight, was too far ahead to track down.  We ran a loop around the little lake near Market Common and then headed down the final stretch to the finish.

I was going to finish well under my goal of sub-20, and I thought I was a lock for some kind of age group award, so I was content to cruise the final couple of hundred meters.  But then I heard footsteps.  Before whoever it was passed me, I made the decision “If it’s someone young, or a female, I’ll let them go.  I’ll race a masters dude.”  So whoever it was started to pass me with about 150 meters to go. I glanced over and it was a guy.  With some specks of gray in his hair.  Shit.

So I shifted into a faster gear to see if he’d come with me.  He did, but he appeared oh-so-very labored, huffing and puffing and grimacing.  Thanks for playing – I kicked and he let me go.

I crossed the line and was pretty darned ecstatic to look up and see a time in the low-19’s.  It was my first sub-20 in nearly 2 years and it officially, chip time, ended up being 19:11.  This gives me hope that I’m fit and therefore able to run a solid marathon at Santa Rosa on August 25.

When I crossed the line, an official ran up and yelled to me, “Did you switch from the 8K to the 5K?” and I just barely managed to get out, “Yes” between gasps of air (Laura correctly registered us for the 5K but volunteers apparently inadvertently gave her 8K bibs).  I turned to wait for Laura and didn’t have to wait long as she sprinted the final straightaway while I cheered loudly.

We jogged a cool-down and waited for awards, while also snagging some of the sweet swag (alliteration – you’re welcome!) I scored bottle koozies (those things are like ten bucks at the beach!) and Gatorade and chocolate milk and much more.  At one point, I walked straight up to the Bojangle’s tent and grabbed a chicken biscuit and took a bite only to turn around and see that there was a line of like 200 people patiently awaiting for a biscuit of their own.  My bad y’all – I didn’t see the line until it was too late.

Final results – Laura won the women’s masters division.  I won my age group, but was a little disappointed to find that a handful of masters guys had beaten me (did they look so young that I hadn’t noticed them?)  I found it fascinating that the guy who I sprinted it out with, 37-year-old William Hunt, was also from Cornelius – it turns out we were sprinting for Top Cornelius (and for that matter, North Carolina) male.  Any DART peeps out there know this guy?  I wanted to chat with him but we were in a hurry to get back to the Fourth of July festivities in Sunset.

Laura and I left with big smiles on our faces.  While getting there was a bit of a hassle, it turned out the race was well done, we both met our goals and then some, and we had a blast.  Medals all around.

I have new found confidence going into the Santa Rosa marathon.  The McMillan calculator projects a 3:06 marathon based on a 19:11 5K time.  And while I always have to add 10 to this figure to get a more accurate prediction, that still gives me a 3 minute cushion between the adjusted 3:16 projection and my goal of 3:19.  It sounds possible.  So keep your fingers crossed and tune in for the future adventures between now and the 2014 Boston marathon!

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One Response to “The 2014 Freedom 5K”

  1. John Says:

    Very entertaining reading! And not bad racing either!

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