Some time ago I had decided I wasn’t going to be running 5Ks any longer. It’s just not my distance. I can’t get warmed up enuf in that short distance to turn in a good performance. Or so my thinking went.
I now have three 5Ks on my schedule for the next few months, and I ran one over the weekend that turned out to be my best 5K yet.
This year was the fifth year of Rock the Crossroads, but since I’ve only been in the running universe for two years, I’d never been involved with it before. It takes place in downtown Kansas City, in the artsy Crossroads district, and it’s set in the evening so that everyone can party afterward. A friend from my running club had asked me to join the team she was part of. As I said, I wasn’t keen on 5Ks any longer, but I’m always flattered when I’m invited to anything, so I signed up and began fretting right away.
That morning I had joined my running club for our usual Saturday run and put in four miles at a decent pace, which is to say I pushed myself. Thus I was not sure what kind of run I had in my legs and lungs for Saturday evening. I showed up downtown an hour early, which is always prudent for these things, and began wandering the area. Headquarters for the run was a bar/restaurant known for death metal music, and I walked through it, looking for familiar faces but not finding any. I thought about having a beer to get hydrated, but I wondered about the efficacy of that, and I certainly didn’t want to have carbonated liquid sloshing around in my stomach as I ran. Plus, since there was still an hour before the run, I didn’t want to find myself standing in line for the foul portable toilets at gun time.
The heat of the day had collected in the downtown pavement, and the tall buildings were alternately throwing shade and reflecting heat. The reported temp was 90+ degrees at race time, but I think the temperature on the street was higher than that. Fortunately, a breeze was coursing through the streets. Eventually, I spotted my friend and her boyfriend, and then she introduced me to her coworker, who was our team captain. We milled about, visited the toilets (also prudent), and at least one of us (though not me) had a beer. With about ten minutes before gun time, we all began milling toward the start chute, whereupon I was separated from my group, which was fine since we all ran at different paces. The run only had about 1,000 participants, but even so, the chute was noisy, and I think the national anthem was half over before I’d even heard it. I turned on my watch and hoped it would catch some satellites there among the tall buildings. The gun went off and the herd milled toward the starting mats. I did have a satellite signal as I crossed the starting line, and I was off.
“Start slow,” I told myself. “Start slow.” I ran at what felt like a comfortable, sustainable pace, but when I made the mistake of looking at my watch, I saw that I was going faster than my normal average pace. So I tried backing off a bit, but I’ve never been good at this. Or rather, I can slow myself, but I soon unconsciously pick up my pace (which I did, until the one, long hill at the beginning of mile 2).
The course wove through the grid of streets downtown, turns coming every few blocks. The pavement alternated between decent and dangerous. There was one hole in the first mile, right at a turn where everyone was crowding to cut off the corner a bit, that could easily have swallowed a person’s leg halfway up the calf. I was surprised it wasn’t marked or blocked with a cone. But I rounded that turn unscathed and kept going. I thought I had a decent mental picture of the course in my head, but there were a few turns I wasn’t expecting before we completed mile 1 and came upon the first water station.
I used to disdain the water stations, especially on something as short as a 5K. But my tough experience on my first half marathon last fall taught me a hard lesson, and now I nearly always get a drink. Since the heat was intense this evening, I knew I would grab a cup of water as I dashed past. (No, they didn’t have Bud Light, though I did ask.) Then we turned into mile two and the long, long climb of the only hill in this run.
Did I mention the heat? Many, many people were walking up this hill, which was more than a half mile long. I’ve tried to meet hills at a run and to keep running, however slowly, all the way to the top. Only then might I allow myself to stop or take a walking break. I managed to run to the top of this long hill too, but I didn’t give myself a break after that, knowing that the course was almost completely downhill from that point. I just kept going.
Not long after cresting that hill I came to the second water station and gladly accepted the offered cup, managing to splash most of it on my face, which was fine. I’ve run with rain in my face, but on this run, it was my face that was raining from all of the sweat dripping off it. Yet I was sustaining a strong pace (for my ability, natch), and I was sure heat stroke was running right behind me. But if it was, it couldn’t seem to catch me. I could feel the heat, and I could feel the fatigue of a hard run, but I could also feel the strength to keep pushing.
Just before the last turn and the long, flat straightaway to the finish arch, I spotted one of the other runners in our group that evening. He was perhaps fifty feet ahead of me, and I thought if I really tried, I could catch up with him and we could run it in together. So despite being exhausted and not close enuf to the finish to start calling on the reserves, I stepped it up and soon caught up with him. But then something completely foreign and unprecedented happened to me. I decided to be competitive! I decided to pass him without acknowledging him and then drive on as hard as I could to the finish, to come in ahead of him.
And this I did. I was passing many people on the long straightaway, those who had evidently cashed in their energy reserves too soon, but I was also being passed by others who had held their reserves for this glorious, leave-it-all-on-the-course finish. I came in a minute and a half ahead of my friend (as determined by our official times later), but more importantly, I had beaten myself. I had set a new personal record for running a 5K, by four minutes!
So much for not being able to warm up enuf in a short run, I guess.
I got the medal, I got a bottle of water (quickly drained), and I met up with several of our group in the huge party area behind the bar where a live band was shattering the night and beer was flowing. Except that the instructions for buying beer were confusing and I at first had my self stamped as not being allowed any. Any runner could attend the concert for free, but you had to show ID in order to get the special pink bracelet showing you were old enuf to buy beer. Once I figured that out, I presented my ID (I had carried it in the tiny pocket of my skimpy shorts in case I collapsed on the course and had to be taken to the hospital). Then I got a beer. ($7!) But in the meantime, my few friends had disappeared.
The great race had a bittersweet ending. My friend, who had invited me to run it with her, had gone back to her car to get her ID only to find that a window had been smashed out and her purse
as well as her boyfriend’s wallet had been stolen. This must have been an audacious thief. My friend had parked her car on the course of the run where the thousand runners passed. And even though most of the runners were finished by the time she made her sad discovery, there were still runners on the course coming in who were passing within feet of her car. There were also runners who had completed the course and were returning to their own cars, many with family members beside them. And, of course, there were volunteers and police at nearly every intersection.
Would I run this race again next year? If I was invited perhaps. But though I looked, I didn’t see another person in the crowd that I knew aside from my one friend. I think this run attracts a different crowd, one that will put the excellent party facilities to good use. I’m more interested in the running itself. But next year is a long way away.