Saturday, January 1, 2011

Race Report: "First Run" 5K

A running life is one of unexpected contrasts.

Runners, seen often as lonely, pitiful and trudging along a side stretch of roadway clearly intended most especially for those encapsulated in their lavish comfortmobiles, I see myself differently and have in truth made lasting and meaningful relationships with new friends, and this sport has brought my family closer, through years of races which they have either supported, or occasionally, participated.

It was a couple weeks ago I sent a text to my sister to let her know that during the end of her holiday visit to us from Nashville, I was planning to run a 5K race at the stroke of midnight bringing in the new year. I just wanted to let her know right away that I was going to be party pooper and not be at whatever family get together was being planned.

A few days later she wrote back asking if she could join me. "Yah!" I answered. That would be awesome. Soon everyone she was traveling with wanted to run too and after that my boys and Lynda wanted to join us. What started off as the completion of a goal for myself, to do 5K, 10K and half-marathon before the end of the year (okay, I was technically over the self-imposed deadline by a second), this had turned into an EVENT!!

We gathered at our house and prepared in the traditional pre race manner--cheese crab fondue and pork ribs! Ugh! My indulgence of crap food, end of the year binge continued to the bitter end. That made about as much sense as eating a big bowl of clam chowder before going 3 miles out to sea in a small fishing boat the day before. Not too bright, but I never claimed to be.

It was below freezing outside so we decided not to arrive at the race too early. We parked in a garage and walked about 6 blocks to the World Trade Center in downtown Portland. The organizers had arranged about a half dozen "mushroom" heaters around the covered patio area so it was possible to huddle together and keep semi warm before lining up in the chute. About 20 minutes before midnight I excused myself and started jogging around the block to warm up a little.

I went to the start line in time to find the boys and we moved to the front of the pack. They had both been trash talkin' me all week, saying how any 15 or 18 year old could kill a 50 year old in a 3 mile race. No training required on their part, just utter youth. To prove it they wanted to be with me at the beginning. The race director moved some cones and we all shuffled forward to official start with about 2 minutes before 2011. I got my watch ready, wished the boys luck (they would need lots of it) and tried to remind myself of my race strategy as recommended by John Ellis: go out strong, hit a stride and race the last half mile or so. The countdown started and...

Happy 2011! Oh wait! RUN! And fast too. I knew I needed to run a 6'45" pace to meet my goal of a sub 21 minute finish. I really questioned my ability to pull this one off. My running had been inconsistent the last week and I had filled in the gaps in my exercise program with plenty of holiday eating and drinking. I just felt heavy and lethargic, not exactly where you want to be before lining up at the head of the pack at a 5K trying to set a PR. But there I was sprinting across the starting mat and running the half block of Salmon Street before turning north onto Naito Parkway.

Now trust me, I'm not an expert on what 6'45" feels like, and with my pace man (Randy) absent, I was on my own figure it out. Hmmm, that's where technology enters the scene. I had cleverly set my watch to display "average pace"so all I had to do was run like an idiot, check my results on the display, and adjust. First time I looked down at it it said 5'50" something. Good, I can slow down after completing the first section of my strategy--good aggressive start. Now just find a pace that felt 6'45"ish, or a little faster, if I could.

The boys were just ahead of me. They were wearing the same white long sleeved "First Run" T-shirt that all of us had put on. My sister and I had gotten them earlier that day at packet pick up and it was an easy thing to decide that we all wear them to show our unity. The boys also wore new running shoes that we had gotten at Fred Meyer a few days earlier. All they ever wear normally are the much in style high-top basketball shoes, and they don't work well with their flat bottoms on a road for running. So they got new running shoes for a 3 mile effort.

I passed the boys at about third of a mile out. It was a special delight to pick off the mouthy 15 year old who had been mixing in a plethora of condescending chuckles with his claims of assumed running superiority. I didn't say a word. I just pulled past and let my ever disappearing self do all the talking. G o o d b y e suckers!

I had no time to gloat. At this pace I was anaerobic before I had run the length of a football field, sucking wind almost right away and slobbering like Secretariat on the final stretch of the Preakness before I even saw my first illegal firework explode just a short distance ahead. Quick peak at my watch: 6'15" pace. I judged I might be able to hold this speed if I was lucky. After all, I'm tough and this was only 3 miles. Simple an exercise in mind over matter. I'll just beast my way to the finish. I came to a spot where they were separating 5K runners from 1.5 mile walkers and estimated I was about 1/4 through the route. That lifted me a bit because it seemed so soon. Maybe I would be okay? Hell yeah!

The road curves to the left a bit and leaves the high rise area of town and becomes an area of older brick buildings which have been restored into condos and quaint shops. It was about here that I got passed on the right by a guy in faded jeans, work boots and and yak hat. He ran just ahead of me for about a minute before abruptly turning hard left into my intended path going quickly to the sidewalk and shouting "screw this! you people are nuts!" and I realized I had just been had by a merry prankster. Good one! And that lifted my spirits too.

I was really working hard now and looking forward to the turn around point. The lead runners were coming back on my right side and I recognized some of the people I had lined up with and resigned that I probably should not have been so near at the start. Oh well. I made the turn myself and became curious how far back the boys were. I saw them in a few minutes, looking fine and still running together. Some of the New Years party goers made comments to us as we ran past their celebrations. All of the things I heard were good natured fun and it added to the atmosphere of the race. Things like "why don't you give that up and come in and have a drink?" Hmmm! You really mean it??

I heard Lynda yell at me and waved as we crossed each other. I was happy that she had wanted to do this race but now felt a little sorry that she was struggling "alone". I came once again to the split and felt some relief in assuming I was 3/4 finished but was also able to look down the straight road ahead and saw police car lights that marked the area near the end and that still looked very far away. I thought this would be a good place to employ the third stage of my strategy and push for the finish - but I was already to maxed out to push for the distance I could see before me. I'd have to hold off awhile longer. My ability to push harder just wasn't there.

A few times I caught myself starting to wander mentally, for just a few seconds here and there, but quickly pulled myself back and kept my focus on my pace. A street light came up and I used it to look at my watch again: 6'38" now. Damn, I'm slowing down! I checked again a minute later: 6'41"!! Dammit! Should have not been so cock sure earlier!

Okay, it was time to push for the end. I need to hold this pace to the end. It's going to hurt, but the opportunity is now. Go with everything that's left! There was an older guy just ahead of me and to the right. I used him as someone to pick off and so to find a new pace. After I went by him he tried to take me back but couldn't hold it and faded.

Ahead now I could barely see runners turning right and heading to the finish. To my delight I found that the police cars were actually blocking traffic several blocks beyond the end of the race so I had a shorter distance to run than I was expecting. That inspired me to find even a little bit speed and I added an extra step to my gait.

Back onto Salmon Street and all the hoopla, bright lights and arch just ahead. There were three mats laid out across the street and I wasn't sure which one was the finish line. I figured it best to consider the last one the true finish and just kept going to make sure. Stopped my watch at: 20 minutes 43 seconds.

A new PR, 43rd overall and 5th in my division. 2 seconds faster I would have been 3rd!

The boys came in together a short time later and I am so proud of them! They both want to do more races and maybe even train for them! Lynda did good too and the the girls from Tennessee completed their races with big smiles on their faces. My sister did the 1.5 mile walk with one her 67 year old friend Betty who had been an inspiration to me all week long. Betty went from sledding trips on Mt Hood to whale watching miles off the coast and everything in between and never slowed down. I gave her a big old hug when she got done.

It was a fun night. You see, running really isn't a lonely sport at all. It's a place where family and friends come together and sometimes do something extraordinary. Happy New Year!

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