The Gate River ‘Run’

I was at mile 8 of the Gate River Run 15K – only a little over a mile to go – when it finally happened. The death blow was struck to what remained of my ever-so-fragile ego. But I am getting waaaay ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning.

Pre-Race

Months earlier, back when my ego was still alive (old, weathered, but alive), our friend and fellow Triple C beer runner, Keith, invited Laura and me to join him and a few others to run the Gate River Run, the country’s largest 15K. He explained that other than the two bridges along the race, the course was flat and fast, and then he told us he had a friend in Jacksonville (site of the race) where we could stay for free. I quickly mulled it over – having only ever run our local 15K, the tough, rolling LungStrong 15K, my 15K PR was soft – I’m not sure I’d ever broken 1:07 (I might have a 1:06-high in there somewhere). I knew I could run better on a faster course – I had half marathons with a faster pace. And it sounded like a really cool event, like the Cooper River of 15Ks. Long story short, it was not a hard sell – Laura and I were in.

Fast forward to Gate River Run eve. We shoved our bags in the back seat of the Jetta wagon, wrangled the dogs into the way back, dropped the dogs off at the vet’s for boarding (side note: the dogs are ecstatic coming and going for every trip. Ecstatic to go to the vet’s, ecstatic to come home. There is a life lesson in there somewhere.) We rushed into Common Market to buy beer for the post-race – we dumped a big enough assortment on the counter that the cashier raised an eyebrow and asked, co-conspiratorily, “So, what are you guys getting into this weekend?”

Laura and I bickered for a second over breakfast – I just wanted to grab fast food on the way, Laura wanted something from the Common Market deli. She won, and I’m glad she did – that breakfast was incredible. No wonder I see so many people hanging out there in the mornings!

We met Keith, his wife Sue, and his brother-in-law Randy at a Dunkin Donuts in Rock Hill. That wasn’t our only Dunkin Donuts stop of the weekend because on a long trip, you need coffee, and because, you know, doughnuts. (Unrelated aside – why can’t I lose this weight I’ve gained since the injury?) Restroom, coffees to go, and the caravan to Jacksonville was on its way.

We headed straight to the expo where we popped in and grabbed our packets and did the obligatory pre-race shopping. I was super uptight and anxious to get out of there because apparently the hours of driving had flared up the knee – it was sore, tight, and hurting and I was pissed off about it. The farthest I had ‘run’ (by run, I mean run with periodic 1-minute walk breaks) since the knee surgery was about 6 miles. I wasn’t 100% sure I could finish the race and now with the knee flaring up, I was feeling even less confident. I rushed expo-salesmen’s dream, Laura, out of there so I could get to Keith’s friend Bill’s house so I could get off my legs and ice the knee.

Balega impis at the Gate River Run expo. #balega #balegabestsockever

Balega impis at the Gate River Run expo. #balega #balegabestsockever

We arrived at Bill and Donna’s, our incredibly friendly and hospitable hosts, grabbed some beers, I filled a ziplock baggie with ice and applied it to the knee, and spent a nice end-of-winter-beginning-of-spring evening next to the pool chatting. An ice-cold 3C IPA (or two) was just what the doctor ordered to ease my nerves a bit. After a nice home-cooked pasta dinner, we hit the sack.

Lovely place to relax pre-race.

Lovely place to relax pre-race.

 

The ‘Race’

That morning we went through our standard pre-race rituals, although as I knew I couldn’t ‘race’, I was much less nervous than usual. Don’t get me wrong, there was still some anxiety – I was quite uptight as I worried whether or not I could safely traverse 15K, wondering if the knee would hold up, etc., but I knew there was no sniffing a PR so I had no pressure over reaching a certain time. But otherwise, we did the typical pre-race junk, “Where’s my bib? Oh shit, we didn’t get pins at the expo! DONNA, do you have any safety pins?!?” That kind of stuff.

Bill and Keith drove so there were no worries over finding parking and all that jazz. We zipped into town, Bill, the local, flying down the lesser-known roads with Keith tailing him as closely as possible, which was no easy task as Bill kept switching lanes to take the fastest route possible. But the knowledgeable Gate run veteran got us there quickly and without incident.

Shortly after parking, we had a little mini-diaspora, everybody with separate goals going their separate ways: Laura, Keith, and Randy all warming up in different places at different paces, Bill, Donna, and Sue off to walk the 5K (Bill was unable to run the 15K due to lingering injuries), and me hanging out near my corral trying to pull the trigger to run. I was freaking out over the knee. It didn’t hurt as badly as the night before, but it was still tight and iffy. Let’s just say I was less than confident – I had an ongoing internal debate over whether or not I should bail. But hell, we had come all this way and I wanted to add another state to my ‘racing’ goal (for purposes of the every state goal, racing is defined as “having run in an official race,”) so I did my usual pre-race dynamic stretching, hoping to loosen up the damaged knee and everything else for that matter.

This race is so very Cooper-River-Bridge-Run-esque. Huge race, mostly flat except for the bridge(s), lots of locals in it more for the celebratory atmosphere and less for the running, etc. Our seed times got Laura and me spots in the top corral (trust me, it didn’t take Olympic-trial qualifying times – I think we used our Cooper River 10K times to register). As I finally made my way in just minutes before gun time, I felt like I didn’t belong as there were lots of skinny, collegiate-looking types warming up. But as the start time neared, they dropped the rope between corrals and more and more older, chubby types with bib #’s in the one-thousands made their way in, so I felt less and less out of place (Laura and I were #474 and #472 respectively). And while I wouldn’t be setting any records and would be run-walking, I still thought I could hold my own with many of the folks around me.

Finally, with minimal preamble, the gun fired and we were off. I started my first 5-minute run segment a little faster than anticipated (I know many of the blog faithful are shocked to hear this), sub-7:30 pace, but the knee held up so I didn’t panic. And as the knee didn’t hurt, I was basically ecstatic. After months of being sidelined, I was finally, at least partially/sort of, back in the game.

While I felt fine, I knew from prior experience/post-surgery setbacks, that I had better stick to the gameplan (running 5 minutes, walking one) to preserve the knee. So I did. When the watch hit 5:00, I hit the lap button and started walking. Damn it, just as we neared the first bridge.

Walking up the first hill, suddenly I became “that guy”. How many times had I poked fun of “that guy” with my friends? “We’re not a mile in, we hit the first bridge, and there’s this guy walking! Seriously?!? What the fuck, dude?” Now that guy was me. Hiya Karma, nice to meet you. Somebody, over drinks later that evening, would be having that exact same conversation about me. And the thought of this so gnawed at me that when some well-intentioned gentleman slapped me on the back and said, “Come on guy, you’ve got this!” I was, shall we say, less than grateful and responded, “I’m fine! I’m just coming back from injury!” and suddenly the well-intentioned guy got defensive and said, in a manner that I interpreted as a little too defensively, “Well so am I!” (seriously, we were like two kids, “I know you are, but what am I!”) and this thing evolved into some really weird, early race, pissing contest. Until my lap hit the one-minute mark and I took off at sub-6:30 pace, just to prove a point.

And so it went. I did this forced-Galloway run. I would pass hordes of people during my run sessions and they would pass me back during my walks. Early on, it took a lot of will power for me to stop running and walk, but on a warm, humid day as the race wore on and since my fitness level is pretty shitty since the surgery, I started welcoming the walk breaks.

But god, again, not having run this far in forever, with the sun beating down, this race started to drag to me after about the halfway mark. And as I was getting more and more anxious to finish, I started cheating a little bit on the game plan. The run segments crept up to six, then seven minutes and the walk breaks dropped a little, from a minute to 55, then 50 seconds. Let’s get this thing over with.

Then it happened, the penultimate blow to the ego. Somewhere around mile 8, as we neared the big bridge, the one really significant hill, I got passed. By a little boy. Wearing a, I shit you not, Frozen backpack. Not frozen as in spent-some-time-in-sub-32-degrees-temps frozen, but rather Frozen as in this:

Things are not going well when you get passed by a child wearing this.

I actually thought to myself, and yes, I am quite aware of how sexist this sounds, “Well at least it’s a boy” because while the moment was the death of my racing ego, had it been a little girl, it may have been jump-off-the-bridge worthy.

And at that moment, I came upon another man walking, who appeared to be about my age, and I pointed to the backpack and said, “Well ain’t that a blow to the ol’ ego?” and he replied “I have 3 of those at home”.

Frozen backpacks?”

“No, kids!”

Then I spied a lady holding a sign that read, “It’s a bridge. Get over it.” that would’ve been funny had I not seen a thousand of them at Cooper River.

And then we began climbing the bridge, and of course, I reached my ‘time to walk’. Ugh. And the videography drone hovered directly above me – how I yearned for Katniss to pop up and shoot that bitch down. But at least this time I was not nearly as conspicuous as on the first bridge – now I was accompanied by slews of folks who were walking. I did my minute and started running.

Things were not quite as easy as they had been up the first bridge. This one was longer, steeper, and at mile eight on a hot, humid day. Did I mention that I hadn’t run more than 6 miles in four months? But I was close now and determined. Speakers were blaring Eminem, “Mama, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean to make you cry but tonight, I’m cleaning out my closet.” And while I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, the song helped motivate.

There was a wheelchair racer struggling up the bridge and I yelled, “Come on brother, you’ve got this!” and hoped he didn’t feel about this like I had earlier, on the first bridge.

Distance-remaining signs were interspersed along the bridge. 1600 meters to go. 1200 meters to go. 800. 400. But man, the finish line looked so far away. I hit the point where I was supposed to walk again and I thought, “Screw that” as I picked up the pace, running the entire last mile at a respectable, about marathon-pace, clip.

I raised my arms in victory and watched myself in the jumbotron as I crossed the finish line. Obviously, not my fastest race ever, but a 1:17 (would’ve been an awesome half time) which equates to about 8:15 pace – much faster than I expected to be able to go with a walk/run. So I was pleased.

There was some lady, like an angel from heaven, walking around handing out ziplock baggies of ice and I thanked her profusely as I grabbed one and sat down and iced the knee.

Post-Race

Reunited, we all hit the beer line, and while it wasn’t the greatest beer of all time (Miller Lite), it was cold and alcoholic so it served its purpose.

Triple C Beer Runners post Gate River Run 15K. From left to right: Randy, Keith, Laura and yours truly.

Triple C Beer Runners post Gate River Run 15K. From left to right: Randy, Keith, Laura and yours truly (complete with complimentary towel)

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon hitting cool local Jax spots:

In the Bold City brewery in Jacksonville. This was well into the post race celebration - we couldn't even finish the complimentary flights.

In the Bold City brewery in Jacksonville. This was well into the post race celebration – we couldn’t even finish the complimentary flights.

 

Laura and I imitate the giant painting across the street from Bold City. If I had taken my hat off, we could've nailed it.

Laura and I imitate the giant painting across the street from Bold City. If I had taken my hat off, we could’ve nailed it.

And that was it. While I didn’t have an earth-shattering race, and even though I had a “your-competitive-running-days-are-officially-over-when-an-8-year-old-wearing-a-Frozen-backpack-passes-you” moment, it was a comeback-from-injury breakthrough day. After all, I was able to cover over 9 miles at ~8:15 pace, which is pretty much a normal training run. And although I wouldn’t put money on me running Boston this year, you can safely bet that I will return to running regularly and may even beat a Frozen-backpack-wearing kid or two in my next race.

 

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