I promised something about the wonders of DC in the spring, and I’m getting to it. But I just have to relay the story of last weekend’s 5k in Houston to celebrate the opening of the new stadium for the Dynamo (our major league soccer team).
So Dana and I get up at 4:40 AM and leave the homestead in Galveston at around 5 last Sunday to try to get to the 7 o’clock start on time. I mention this because it sets the stage for why we were snippy with each other: no amount of coffee and running mix music in the car can make up for having to get up at before dawn, drive an hour, find parking, wait in line to pick up your registration packet, and get to the port-a-john fast enough to drop your pre-race nervous poop.
Anyway, a few minutes before the race, Dana lets me know that she has some issue with my previous post and its well-constructed (or, uh, whiny and elitist) arguments for having staggered starts at the beginning of races. I’ll let her post a more eloquent comment on this if she wants, but the gist of her response was that (1) dodging is part of the game, so suck it up; (2) I ought to be encouraging more people to run because their interest is what allows road races to exist; (3) if I have a problem with crowding, then start doing triathlons … they are much less crowded. All good points, but I won’t concede that any of them are inconsistent with race organizers starting some faster people 5 minutes before everyone else.
Anyway, as normal, I didn’t push to the front of the crowd (much), but with Dana’s points in my head, and my grumbly half-formed responses to them, and having been a bit rushed overall, let’s just say I started the race in a less-than-optimal mood. Physically, the first steps made me feel like a mobile bag of goat crap, but at least I was no longer stewing. To my surprise, the dodging wasn’t awful, though the first quarter mile was crowded with lots of teams and people with kids (this was a run for the opening of a soccer stadium, after all). About 3/4 of a mile in, I was able to separate enough to find the space to run without worrying too much about other people, and the goat crap feeling was starting to go away.
But the running gods are, like the golf gods, a**holes. Around the first mile marker, I was just starting to get a rhythm when, looking down at my watch, I noticed I was at a little over 7 minutes — which is much slower than I wanted to be going. That was confusing to me, because my pace felt harder than that, but even more confusing was the sudden realization that I had stubbed my left toe and was falling.
Now, this is not the first time I’ve fallen while running, and it sure won’t be the last. It’s not even the first time I’ve fallen this year. But it’s certainly the first time I’ve fallen in a race, with a couple teenage girls who I’d just passed as witnesses. The only positive thing to come out of this little episode was that I actually fell in a minimally harmful way — I think I rolled, or something, because I popped right back up and found myself still moving forward. I won’t lie — it hurt, and a week later my left toe is still really tender, but now I had to finish the race. More to the point, I had to put some distance between me and those teenage girls, because shame is a powerful motivator.
But the running gods are, like the golf gods, wonderful. Despite having four separate places on the left side of my body that felt a little bruised (and bleedy) it didn’t seem like there was anything seriously wrong, so on I went. And damned if this wasn’t me at the end of the race:
For context, that’s me (sporting the sweaty Rorschach test on my shirt and the dubious upper body running form) in a footrace to the finish line with the kid in the red to the left. I was trying to pass him at the end, but he managed to speed up enough for us to tie coming in. Turns out that shame is a pretty good motivator after all. It also turns out that the running gods thought that one relatively minor fall was penance enough for my previous blog post — I actually ended up winning my age group for the race. Seriously, you can check it for yourself here, just go look under the “male 35-39” category (they haven’t posted the results in the “fell like an idiot” category yet). To be fair, dividing age groups up into five-year increments is unusual, and that makes it easier to place in your age group, but I’m still surprised and pleased.
(I like the above picture because of the guy in the background. What’s he looking at? It’s a mystery on par with what the Mona Lisa is smiling at. I also suspect that is pretty much what I looked like right before kissing the pavement (rule one of injury prevention: look where you’re going)).
Several lessons occurred to me after this 5k. First, I still don’t know how to run a decent race. I ran the first couple miles in a little over 7 minutes each, then ran the last 1.1 miles in under 6 1/2 minutes. It’s like for the first couple miles I’m just trying to figure out what I’m doing out here in shorts and running shoes … then in the last mile it occurs to me that I might want to run fast because, you know, it’s a race. It is possible that the miles were mismarked (Dana backed me up on this possibility) but it’s more likely that I just haven’t figured out how to concentrate enough to maintain my focus and attention throughout the discomfort of racing.
The second lesson is that I need to figure out how, and how much, to warm up. Running from the car to the starting line doesn’t count.
The third lesson (if it’s not obvious from the picture above) is that I need to drop some weight. They tell me it’s easier to run faster and longer if you weigh less … perhaps that’s worth a little empirical research. Fortunately, summer is coming, and for those of us who don’t eat barbecue, it’s easier to eat well.
The fourth lesson is that I am an incredibly lucky man. When I met her at the finish line, Dana took about 30 seconds to catch her breath and down a bottle of water. She then picked up right where she left off before the race: giving me shit about my previous blog post. There have been many moments over the last ten years that made me realize that my wife is the perfect person for me. That was one of them.
So that’s it for the spring 2012 season of Under 40, Under 40. This summer is devoted to building up mileage by running in the morning before work and losing some extra pounds. This series will be back in September, when it’s still too damn hot to race in southern Texas, but we try anyway.