How Allen Broke Bad – Lung Strong 2013 and More

Today I give a nod and a wink to Breaking Bad executive producer Vince Gilligan.  Ever since Ed and I sent the staff of the X-Files our mothman script back in the 90’s, Vince and I have mutually admired each others careers from afar.  So I’m sure he’s reading this.  My hat’s off to you, Vince.  This post is my homage.

And just like last week’s millions of Breaking Bad fans, I’m sure three or four of Allen’s Road to Boston fans are anxiously awaiting the next installment.  And just like Vince, I come to deliver.  So wait no more.  Queue up the theme song (as soon as somebody writes me a theme song.  Ed, I’m looking at you.)  and let’s do this.  Magnets, bitch.

Lung Strong 2013

Lung Strong is one of my favorite local races.   I’d run this one 5 years in a row.  So of course, I had to keep the streak alive and make it 6.

Friday, race eve, I met the gang for runners’ lunch and was shocked when I walked into the restaurant and saw Bjorn, who currently resides in Norway (or is it Finland?  one of those Scandinavian places), standing there.  He was in town for Anne Marie and Joey’s wedding.  When I mentioned I was running a 15K on Sunday, Bjorn asked, “Sub-60:00?”  I laughed.  I couldn’t break 20:00 in a 5K the week before on a relatively fast course – no way in hell I could break an hour on a tough, hilly 15K course (if I’m being completely honest here, no way I could break an hour on any 15K course).

We finished up lunch and I headed straight over to Run For Your Life on Park Road and registered.  The girl manning the table asked, “Is this your first 15K?”  I felt like a fat lady who had just been asked, “When are you due?”  Okay, I know I’m old(ish) and slow(ish), but don’t I at least look like a runner, somebody that has more than one 15K under their belt?  At least a little?  Sort of?  Luckily some observant (I was wearing a race t-shirt) stranger came to my defense – “Look at him!  He’s obviously a runner.” – and spared my ego and me a complete breakdown.

Saturday morning, Laura and I wrangled her boys together and made the long, nearly 2-mile, drive from my condo to Old Jetton Road.  Laura signed the dubs up for the fun run and I set off for a warm-up.  My body was still ravaged from a slew of back-to-back races over the last few weeks.  I was sore and tight.  Tight, tight, tight!

I ran into Clayton who told me how he had showed up for this race a day early (Charlotte-area races typically occur on Saturday but this one was on Sunday).  There was a 5K going on and he thought, “Oh, what the hell, I’m here” so he just jumped in and ran a sub-19:00.  These are the actions of a runner.

We finished warming up, Clayton headed to his car for last minute preparations, and I made my way to the starting corral.  There I found one Aaron Linz and we chatted for a bit.  I saw Fam warming up and I joked with Aaron, “Just stay with that guy”.

Tim Rhodes called out race instructions, notifying us that the course had changed this year, and moments later we were running.  I tried to settle into a realistic pace – I thought sub-7:00 would be doable – but I was knocking on the door of a dangerous pace.  I am the danger.  I am the one who knocks.  (Okay, okay – I’ll admit it, that one was a bit forced, but you try paying homage to the greatest TV show of all time without giving spoilers – it’s not as easy as it looks.)

I came through the first mile, shortly after entering Jetton Park, in right at 6:55.  But it was not a relaxed pace – I felt like I was expending a little too much effort.  Damn it.  I backed off some, hoping I could still hover around sub-7:00.  But I was working too hard, harder than a chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-dealer.  Okay, maybe not that hard, but hard nonetheless.

64-year-old Butch Holt passed me comfortably.  Then 11-year-old Connor Selle did the same.  So this is what it’s come down to, chasing 64-year-old men and 11-year-old boys?  Both looked strong and effortless while I struggled mightily to keep up, even while cursing myself.

Luckily, every time I started to completely fade, there was someone I knew screaming encouragement – like the 2 Hovises (Hovi?), or more accurately the 2.5 Hovi, popping up at various places along the course and cheering the other runners and me on.  Like multiple volunteers, including Cliff Weston who yelled at me “Pick it up old man!”, although I didn’t recognize him at the time and, in my loopy race state, actually thought it was a stranger being literal.  Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace.  So those weren’t my exact thoughts, but they were definitely along the same lines.

I’ll spare you most of the other boring details.  This is the abridged race recap:  I tried to maintain sub-7:00’s, but couldn’t.  I tried to reel in Butch and/or Connor, but couldn’t.  I tried to PR, and could, barely.  Laura cheered me in around the final turn and I was relieved to at least beat last year’s time and PR, by a meager 18 seconds or so.

Bobby snapped this pic near the end:

Chris Steinmann posted on Facebook, "Where is everybody, or is Allen the only person who entered?" and I responded, "I'm just that far ahead (of 38th place)"

Chris Steinmann posted on Facebook, “Where is everybody, or is Allen the only person who entered?” and I responded, “I’m just that far ahead (of 38th place)”

The dubs fared much better in the fun run than I did in the 15K.  Wilson out kicked the other kids for the win, and Warren, 2 years younger, finished on the heels of the older kids in the lead pack.

Then we hung around and drank free beer (Laura and me, not the dubs) and ate free pizza (all of us) and chatted with Adam and Audra and Cliff – the post-race was exponentially more fun than the actual race which felt kind of like torture.

Diversity Safe Alliance 5K

Some 5 days later, on Friday, my boss was putting on a 5K at work, not completely unlike this one, for Diversity day and to support the Safe Alliance charity.  Since it was my boss’ race, I pretty much had to be there, beat up legs and pneumonia (I had caught a nasty cold from somewhere and spent the last 24 hours coughing my lungs out) or no, since this was my manager’s race, I pretty much had to show my support by running.

Also, I had won the last race at our complex, back in May.  I felt I should at least make an attempt to defend the title.  Pat, my manager-turned-race-director, assigned me the #1 bib.

Let’s cut to the chase, Friday morning.  We lined up at the start.  I was comfortable with the course since I basically designed it – it was virtually the same course as the last work 5K with some minor changes – I had it ending at Pat’s sweet little post-race setup at the complex’s covered pavilion area.  There were tables with post-race goodies like doughnuts and bananas and water bottles, and places to donate goods to Safe Alliance.  John Troutman was there with a professional DJ setup – he was spinning tunes and making race announcements and doing it as well as anybody I’ve encountered since the folks at the 2012 Boston marathon.

Pat was smart to draft experienced race director Todd Spears to organize the starting corral.  He made us line up according to anticipated speed, which was especially important on this day as well over half the participants specifically signed up as walkers.

I scanned the corral to scope out the chief competition.  Unlike the last race here, I spotted quite a few contenders.  Number one, of course, was my latest arch-nemesis Wen Norvell, also a member of JITFO’s arch-rival, Stache and Dash.  Looking as fit as ever, she had recently kicked my ass at Blue Ridge and I was hoping to prevent her from doing it again.  There was a last minute registrant, a svelte young surfer-looking landscaper, complete with ponytail, who saw runners gathering so came over and asked Pat if he could participate – exactly the kind of guy who can derail one’s dreams of a win.  Also present was Baki Oguz who, I was told, had recently run a 3:25 marathon.  And their was a young kid in split shorts and racing flats.  And there stood Tom Torkildson, a local, nearly-as-ubiquitous-as-Brenny, road racer.  A win was not guaranteed, not by a long shot.

Todd counted down and then Bill (Waterson, friend and co-worker, also volunteering) fired the air horn to signal the start.  Wendy, much like last time, although without the false start, burst into the lead and I tucked in behind her.  Settle down there, Sparky – I intentionally held back this go round.  Last time, I had gone out so fast that I thought my heart would explode – my arms had literally gone numb and I had felt faint.  I really wanted to avoid that feeling.

So I stayed behind Wendy, just close enough to keep in contact.  But she slowed down and I slipped past her at about a quarter of a mile into the race.  Someone came with me as I heard footsteps directly behind me.  I tried to lock into a solid, somewhat comfortable 5K-effort pace.

We headed up the gravel trail, to me by far the toughest part of the course – I had nearly imploded here last time and felt like it was a miracle to have held off Wen.  I wanted to save something today for the latter stages of the race.  But somebody was right on my heels and less than a mile in, they made a move to pass me.  It was young Groundskeeper Willie.  “Damn it”, I thought.  I surged to make him work for the pass.  He backed off and I maintained the lead.

The first half of the trail is uphill, but then you reach the end, turn around, and head down.  I am a much better downhill runner than up so when we hit the downhill, I let loose.  Gravity became my friend as I cranked downward – I could still hear Willie but his footsteps got fainter and fainter.

We exited the trail and hit the sidewalk around the buildings.  Now things were flat and fast and here the course catered to my particular skill set.  I love running these little races where I’m in contention for the win – it so reminds me of the “good ol’ days”, back when I actually got to employ race strategy.  Which I did here.

Every time I turned the corner of a building, I put in a surge, meant to break the will of Willie, or whoever else might be watching, the strategy being that once the runner behind turns the corner, they see that the lead is now longer than they remembered and they lose hope of catching you.  That was the plan anyway.

When we got to the front of the complex, I was able to glance at our reflections in the windows to ascertain how far back second place was.  Groundskeeper Willie fought nobly and was still in striking distance, but he looked to be struggling.  By the time we began the second of two loops around the buildings, I again glanced at the windows and Willie was nowhere to be seen.  I quit worrying about him, assuming he was continuing to fade, and instead started worrying about Wen who is definitely capable of reeling me in, as she proved at Blue Ridge.  I turned the last corner and cranked out one last surge.

As I neared the final stretch, a tough uphill climb back to the pavilion, Pat was standing there taking pictures and cheering.  I called out, “How far back is second place?” and she answered, “I don’t even see them”, so I relaxed a little.

I JITFO’d up the hill as John called out over the PA something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, your winner, Allen Strickland!”  That was kind of cool, and Bill and Todd, breaking race official neutrality protocol, cheered me in by name.

Wen, having broken Willie, crossed a few seconds later and we congratulated each other.  She begrudgingly laughed when I said, “JITFO revenge!”  Later I accepted (and will sell if anyone is interested) my winnings – a Wells Fargo tote bag.  Yeah, to the victor goes the spoils.  I’m not in the race-winning business, I’m in the empire-building business.


And that’s it for my week of racing.  Now I focus on finding a way into Boston.  Spoiler alert: It’s not looking good unless I find some last-minute miracle, like maybe this.  Stay tuned.


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