The Run With Théoden 5K

The decision to run this race was made pretty quickly – we had nothing else on the calendar, it was my friend’s race, and it was mostly flat and fast on my home course, the Mallard Creek Greenway. Sold. Laura signed us up online weeks ago and we showed up on race day with less than half an hour before the starting gun was set to fire.

We set out for an abbreviated warm-up. I felt horrible – it was warm, windy, and my legs felt like they had iron plates strapped to them. This did not bode well. During our little jog, we spotted this guy, Executive Director for Let Me Run:

Let Me Run E.D. Paul Martino makes a cameo at the Run With Théoden 5K.

Let Me Run E.D. Paul Martino makes a cameo at the Run With Théoden 5K.

As we made our way onto David Taylor Drive, a runner in a white singlet and shades approached, waving. A bit too far away for me to make out with my near-sightedness, he waved harder as he neared, until he was only a few feet away when I recognized him. “Bjorn!” The Norwegian speedster himself in Charlotte! “Bjorn, what are you doing here?” I cried. He answered, “I’m here to win $100!” Back when I was actively seeking a cherry-picker to win, Bjorn made a lot of jokes about flying in to derail my shot at victory. Apparently, this time he really did it. I guess he didn’t know that there was zero shot of me winning in this crowd as Chad, James Haycraft, Pezz, and any number of other fast folks were already signed up. But it was a pleasant surprise to see ol’ Bjorn back stateside.

Physically, I was still feeling less than stellar when we jogged back to the site of the start. I tried to knock the 5K rust off by doing strides, but everything felt futile. I felt like a man walking to the gallows – “Let’s just get this over with.”

I tried to relax in the starting corral – for some reason, even surrounded by friends for a pretty laid-back race, I felt uptight. I joked around with friends when this pic was snapped:

chad grimacing at start

I am doing a much better job than Chad of hiding my starting-line anxiety. From left to right: Do-rag Dude, Pezz, Laura, Théoden (sandwiched by JITFO), me, Bjorn, James Haycraft (#23), and Chad.

This was a prediction run so that the people who came closest to predicting their, or Théoden’s, finishing time, would win $100. This also meant you weren’t allowed to wear a watch which was killing me and adding to my anxiety. Have you read this blog before? Do you know how fast I go out until I look at my watch? I was afraid that without a watch, my heart might explode. Oh well, what could I do? The time was upon us.

The announcer counted down, “Five…four…three…two…one…” and I shot out to the lead. For about three feet. Then Chad passed me. Then Bjorn. Then James. Then Pezz. And more. I settled in behind the lead pack as we turned right out of the parking lot onto David Taylor Drive.

Even without a watch, at just 10 or 15 meters behind Chad and Bjorn et al, I knew I was out too fast so I backed off and tried to settle into a more realistic pace. But we were climbing up a pretty steep hill and I felt like any pace would hurt. Maybe a half a mile in or so (hard to tell exactly how far as I had no GPS!) we crested the hill and made the first of two turnarounds:

Which way do I go?!?

Which way do I go?!? Good thing Gucci was there to follow.

It’d been a while since I’d run a 5K. I had forgotten how bad they hurt. I was sucking wind hard and slowing rapidly. But when I finished the u-turn, there, tight on my heels, came Laura, Danielle, and Théoden. I’m sorry, I don’t care how pretty you are, I can’t let a girl with a broken toe beat me, so I surged on the downhill.

As I cranked ever downward, Gucci, playing the role of biking videographer, pulled alongside and said, “You better catch that dude in the do-rag. Don’t show up at the house [several of us were planning to hang out at the Freshness’ after the race] if you don’t beat do-rag dude.” I assumed, and really hoped, he was joking because the gentleman in the do-rag that he was referring to had a considerable lead on me. It would take a self-destruction of epic proportions on his part for me to catch him.

At the bottom of the hill, we turned right onto the greenway. Having run on this thing literally hundreds of times, even though I felt like my heart might burst out of my chest any second and my lungs might collapse from over-exertion, I calmed down a bit. This was my home course – I knew every bend in the path. I was instantly transported back to my cross-country days as I dusted off the old bag of tricks.

I tried to surge past every bend in an attempt to break the will of anyone behind who might have the idea of gaining on me – the trick is to make the distance between you and them seem insurmountable. “Aw man, he’s farther ahead than I thought!” That kind of psychological warfare.

But I was hurting. I expected somebody to blaze past any second. I gutted it out and tried to make an attempt at reeling in the big (tall, NFL receiver size) guy in front of me who I’ve run with in races before and seems to be right in my wheelhouse, although he looked pretty strong and had about a 50 or 60 meter lead on me.

We passed the one mile mark and I desperately missed my watch. How fast was I going? I had very little idea. Just keep pushing.

I did my best to maintain effort down the greenway, but the pain of the 5K was wearing on me. I kept praying I’d see Chad coming back any second. It seemed like he should’ve come back through by now.

Finally, I spotted him headed back my way and he had a dominant lead. When he got close enough to hear me, I mustered up the miniscule spare energy I had and cried out, “I can’t see second place!” Having led a lot of races recently, I know how welcomed such a comment is when you’re out front (and in case you didn’t pick up on it, that was sarcasm. I have led exactly one race in recent memory.) Unless something horrifically bad were to happen, Chad had this thing sewn up.

What seemed like an eternity later, I finally got to turn around, too. I made mental notes of how far everyone else was behind me. Danielle was tight on my heels, with Brian Morris and Théoden a few seconds back from her. My love, aka Broke Toe Mountain, was some 30 seconds or so back from them. I figured if I worked really hard and didn’t utterly self-destruct, if none of them put on otherworldly performances, I would finish in the same spot I was currently in. Ah what the hell, might as well try to chase down big guy, Evan Canfield.

Me, doing my damnedest to catch Evan.

Me, doing my damnedest to catch Evan.

I pushed (if I had a watch, I think it would have shown that my third mile was faster than my second) and made up some ground on Evan, but not enough – when we exited the greenway with probably less than a quarter of a mile to go, it was obvious I wasn’t going to catch him. Nevertheless, I kicked about as hard as my legs would go, just in case somebody from behind had me in their sights, or in case I was hovering around a milestone like 20-even I could maybe dip under.

I crossed the finish line in 19:52 as the announcer called out my name (nice touch!) and then I staggered around for a second or two trying to catch my breath as Danielle and then Brian came in seconds behind me. Chad trotted over and we chatted for a second when Bjorn tossed me a much-needed bottle of water. Very shortly thereafter, Théoden crossed the line, and a few seconds later so did Laura and I cheered loudly for each of them.

I made my way to the results tent and made note of the times. My prediction for my time was off by about 30 seconds, but I was only four seconds off of Théoden’s. I started planning how I was going to spend my hundred bucks. But as the awards were announced, the winner of predicting Théoden’s time was Shawn Matthews. He’d predicted 20:20 to my 20:19. Théoden ran a 20:23. Son of a bitch – I’d missed a hundred bucks by a second!

shawn stealing my check

This is Shawn Matthews stealing my check. I wrote a complex computer program, utilizing advanced algorithms, to come within 4 seconds of exactly predicting Théoden’s time. Shawn threw a dart at a clock and came within 3.

Laura was third place woman overall and I won the men’s masters which scored us both a nice pint glass. A couple of beer lovers like us can never have too many pint glasses. And later that night, we got to put our awards to good use:


Our kind of prize!

Our kind of prize!

And that was our Run with Théoden 5K. Much fun was had and nobody puked – success!


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