Let’s get this part out of the way first: The Great Balls of Fire 5K benefits research into testicular cancer. Great Balls of Fire. Get it?
I’d mentioned in yesterday’s post that I had done a run over the weekend. This one was it, though the matter isn’t as straightforward as that. Between Saturday and Sunday, I had done 6 runs, totaling 17 miles. That’s an ambitious weekend in terms of running, especially with family in town, extra work at the office, and the usual weekend chores and activities.
I had been invited to this 5K by a friend in the running club; her friend’s son has been diagnosed with the cancer, so she had a personal connection. I signed up because she asked me to; I’ve already said how I am not so much interested in running 5Ks any more (though I have two more on my calendar). You’ll recall that I had run a 5K two weekends ago, turning in my fastest performance ever. So my ambivalence to the distance is a little confused.
This race was being held relatively close to my house, and I got the notion that I could run to the 5K as a warm up so that I could run the 5K well. That would give me a 3 mile run before a 3 mile run (and then a 3 mile run home). Brilliant, right? So I enacted my plan, leaving the house about two hours before gun time to give me plenty of time to get there and mill about, looking for my friend (who had my bib and timing chip), and generally fretting. I did manage to get there with time to spare, but my legs were weary. (I had run 8 miles the day before, all tolled). It didn’t seem then like I had made a prudent choice. Adding to my anxiety was the apparent late start of my friend, who finally showed up about 15 minutes before gun time. I pinned on my bib and tied the timing chip to my shoe, and then I felt ready to run.
They herded us all over to the start (about 250 runners) and I told my watch to find itself some satellites quickly, which it managed to do a few seconds before GO time. (Once the watch finds the satellite signal, it will hold it for a few minutes, but if I don’t engage it to use the signal, it will cycle out and I have to find the signal all over again. Thus I try to wait until just minutes before the start.) And then we were off.
I had driven the course the day before, but the map I had wasn’t detailed, and I soon found that what I thought was the starting half mile, wasn’t. That didn’t matter much. What did matter was a mile near the end that was one long ascent. Not steep: only 50 feet of elevation gain. But a mile long. That part of the map and my drive by were correct. (I had also run this hill on my way to the 5K a little earlier that morning.) This hill was ahead of me. I had started out trying to keep my pace relatively slow, in part to marshal my energy and reserve some (for that hill and) for the finish, and I managed to do that. Other runners were passing me, but I was also passing a few myself. I could feel my weariness asserting itself, but I kept going.
The morning was cool. The sun was behind some clouds. But the humidity was high. I was sweating as I ran, and the sweat ran in my eyes. There was a water station at the halfway point, and a pack of guys in front of me decided to walk through the station. Now, this is a valid method to manage a run, but they were in my way. I had to dart around them, then dart back to grab a cup of water to throw in the general direction of my mouth. And then the ascent of that mile-long hill began.
And I met it. I managed to run up the entire hill, and I kept my pace more or less steady all the way to the top. And I was passing people. Most of those were runners who had run out of energy and were walking. (I had passed all of the full-distance walkers long before.) At the top we turned onto a level stretch and the last third of a mile to the finish. I decided to open up a little here and run in the rest of the way as fast as I could manage. That wasn’t a whole lot faster than what I was already doing, but I could feel my lungs complaining, so I knew I was pushing.
If someone were to ask me to design a 5K course, at least one thing I would ensure was that the last thousand feet were straight and flat. This is where a runner can really kick it in and have a fast finish. Somewhere early on in my running life, I learned that I almost always have a last shred of energy to call on in these glorious final stretches. That straightaway was not the case on this run. I had to make three right-angle turns in the last thousand feet, and the final straightaway was only about 150 feet long. Still, I did it, crossing the finish mats at a really great speed, trying hard to look untrammeled for the photographer I knew must be somewhere around. I slowed, turned off my watch, had the chip removed from my shoe, accepted the bottle of water someone handed to me, and then accepted the medal they gave me. I hadn’t known we were to get finisher medals. For something as short as a 5K, a medal seems more like a novelty than a recognition of achievement. (But it will go on my wall nonetheless.)
When I looked at my watch (and later verified the official time) I found that I had run a PR. I had just achieved a new record for my fastest 5K by 44 seconds. I hadn’t expected to do that at all. I really hadn’t intended to, and the weariness in my legs (from my run to the race and from the 8 miles I ran the day before) persuaded me that I was having merely an okay run. But I had done really well.
I found my friends and we hung out, waiting for the awards ceremony. I ate a bagel, but mostly for the salt on the top. We milled about and talked about stuff. And we waited. Finally a young man mounted the platform and started speaking. First he introduced a mother who had lost her son to this cancer. She had inspired the run originally and came back in its second year to encourage and thank all of us. Then came a mother whose son had recently beaten the cancer. This mother was the friend of my friend who had invited me to run with her. This woman had also brought her 17-year-old son onto the stage with her as she shared his story. He seemed like a good sport about it, but I imagine he must have been squirming inside as his mom was telling a crowd of strangers all about her boy’s testicles and how to conduct a self examination and so forth. It got worse, but I won’t go into that.
After this, they began announcing the overall winners and the age group winners. In all of the races I’ve been to, age groups have been divided into 5-year spans. 10 to 15 year olds. 15 to 20 year olds. And so on. For some reason, this race had divided the age groups in 10-year spans. Thus an 11-year-old runner had to compete with a 19-year-old-runner. There is virtually no way a youngster that age could run as fast as a trained late teenager. As it turned out, the 19-year-old male winner had a full beard and stood over six feet tall. My friend came in second in her age group, but had the groups been divided by 5 years, she would have been first in her age group. That was a disappointment. My other friend got second in his age group and would have gotten first if the breakdown had been more traditional. (I got ninth in my age group, and had the breakdown been different I would have gotten seventh. Not stellar but certainly better than last in my age group, which was a position I had defended for a long time.)
Soon after that, we split up. And that’s when I had to engage the third part of my brilliant plan. I had to run home. Three miles. On weary legs. I could have begged a ride from my friend, but I had already boasted about my clever plan to her, and I didn’t want to look like a quitter, especially about running. So I bravely gave her my medal and asked her to keep it for me until we met again at our usual Wednesday night run (which is why I don’t have a photo for you today) then turned on my watch again before trotting away.
Wow. I did not have the energy in me to run another three miles, especially with a huge hill waiting for me in the last mile. Libby said she would come get me if I asked, but I was too proud for that too and just kept plodding along. I stopped a few times when I found some shade and rested. Then pushed on again. I finally made it home, sweaty, exhausted, and gasping. And after having completed the fourth fastest three miles I had ever run. So my legs continued to surprise me, just as they have for the last two and a half years.