I haven't run a race in almost a year, sine the infamous "Independence Day Choke Job of 2012." I've been running steadily since then, of course, so I'm in OK running shape. But a few things were conspiring against me that were making me think this wasn't going to be a great race:
- My work schedule has changed in the last three weeks, making it impossible to do any weekday runs. I've been getting by on Saturdays only, so for almost the last month, I've run only four times.
- My asthma has been very, very bad lately. The tree pollen is so think in the mornings that I have to use the windshield wipers just to get out of the driveway.
- The course was described on the website as "hilly." Since this race was 5 minutes from my house, I kn ow the streets it was run on. "Hilly" puts it very optimistically.
I picked up registration stuff Friday afternoon. Nice to save a little time before the race. I asked the registration volunteers (who were very enthusiastic) what kind of a crowd to expect, and they said about 300 runners. "Great," I said. "I guess this means I won't be getting a prize for my age group." They very sincerely told me not to think that way, that anything could happen. "Maybe we'll have a special category just for you," one of them said. I was about to say, "Well, I usually win my sub-category -- 40-49 year old males with incurable blood cancer." I held off saying it. No sense in dampening their enthusiasm.
I got to the race about a half hour before it started, which gave me time to warm up, listen to some music, etc. Isabel let me out of the car by the entrance to the parking lot where all of the activity took place, across the street from the starting line. As I got out, more very enthusiastic volunteers yelled at me, "The starting ine is THAT way!," pointing in the opposite direction from where I was walking. "THAT way!" they yelled some more, as I kept walking. "Yes," I said, "but the bathrooms are THAT way." Very enthusiastic volunteers, though I don't think many of them had actually volunteered at a race before.
There was no line at the port-a-potty, which was nice, and I did a brisk walk and jog around the parking lot to warm up, listening to some music. I felt fairly serene. I usually try to take this time to pick out people that I can probably beat, and then target them during the race. But this time, I thought to myself, You know what? Just enjoy the run. Don't worry about the time, or who else is running. Just run and enjoy it.
I walked with the crowd to the starting line, with about 10 minutes to go, listening to more music and enjoying my serenity. And then I saw someone I know. We chatted a few minutes, nothing too heavy, and then I thought to myself, Damn. I need to beat him. I can't lose to him. It wouldn't be horrible if I didn't -- he's a great guy, and would never hold it over me or anything. But I need to beat him. So much for serenity.
The start went off fine. The starter didn't have a bull horn, so I couldn't hear any of his instructions from the middle of the pack. (There's a pattern here. Lots of enthusiasm for this race, but lots of little details that will need to be worked out for the second running next year.)
A field of 300 runners is a pretty nice size. Not too crowded, but enough people that you aren't likely to be left alone along the route. The were a lot of newbies, which is also OK for a race of this size. I heard a couple of "This is my first race!" comments for the first quarter mile. And at the start, a trio of college girls jogged in place and said, "We should look like we know what we're doing!" (which meant they should probably be conserving energy instead of jogging in place). I didn't see anyone that I felt like I should make sure I beat, but there were some possible candidates (including the three jogging-in-place college girls).
The route was nice and flat...for the first three minutes. Then that "hilly" comment from the web site started to come in to play. But here's the thing: "hilly," to me, implies that there are a bunch of hills. It does NOT mean "One continuous hill for a mile." That's what I was thinking at first, anyway. We hit one long, medium-steep hill. Lots of folks dropped off to the side to walk about half way up. Here's where I started to think about passing people, which I did. They included a dad and his 8 year old son. I could hear dad lecturing his son about taking it easy, but the kid was basically running in slow motion, trying to hold himself back.
The hill was kind of horrible. At the crest, it leveled out, and then was followed by another small hill, and then a small downhill, and then another hill. It sucked. the first two miles was just hill after hill. I tried to keep my pace consistent, but going uphill so much feels like things are going very, very slowly. There was a water stop at the halfway point, and I looked at my time: about 18 and a half minutes. This was not going to be my best race. in fgact, it could very well be my worst.
I tried to stay upbeat about it (there was no sign of my friend anywhere, so I'm pretty sure I beat him). The 8 year old passed me at one point -- I hadn't remembered passing him. that happened two more times, with him zipping past me, and my not remembering passing him. The third time, I watched him. He was passing me, and then running along the sidewalk in the opposite direction, going back to his father. The kid was basically running the race twice, running ahead, then back, then ahead again. I stopped looking at him because he was making me tired.
The final mile was, they promised "downhill." And it sort of was, for about a half mile, and then it was uphill again, and then flat for the last little bit. As we were nearing the finish, I could see about six people in front of me, including the trio of college girls, who were clearly struggling. I still had a little left in the tank, so for the last 200 yards of so, I sprinted. I passed them all, and finished in a very decent time of 31 minutes and 57 seconds. Not too bad at all.
(One quick "back to reality" note here: Isabel videoed that last 200 yard sprint. Now, when you're in the middle of that, you feel like you're going 100 miles an hour. But looking at the tape, I could see just how comically slow my sprinting really is. I think I'm a Harley, but I'm more like a moped. It's quite humbling.)
One more "things they need to change for next year" note: they had no water at the finish line. We were supposed to walk the quarter mile back to Health Expo for water and snacks. I just walked in the other direction, to the car. After sprinting as hard as I did, I just wanted some water. Not having it right there is, to me, a pretty big mistake.
But overall, it was a nice race, and I was pleased with my performance.
The race started at 9:00, I took a half hour, plus the walk to the car and the quick drive home, I was home by 9:55. Which was great, because my 11 year-old-daughter had planned to go to the hair salon at 10:00, so Isabel was able to get her right into the car and drive her there.
A pampered 11 year-old girl, off to the hair salon? What is, this, a Real Housewives of Connecticut episode?
My girl had an appointment to get her ponytail cut off, so she could donate it to Beautiful Lengths, and it could be made into a wig for a cancer patient. This is the second time she's done it. She was 9 the first time, and she's spent two years growing it out, with the specific purpose of donating it again. She's cute as heck with short hair, but that's just a bonus.
I heard someone say once that, when all was said and done, he didn't want to be judged on his own actions, he wanted to be judged on what kind of people his children became.
By those standards, I am more than prepared to be judged. On all three of my kids.
That's the best birthday gift of all.