Saturday morning was overcast and cool, but not cold — 50°F with a chance of showers. I cooked oatmeal for everybody, made sure to drink some water, and made doubly sure to visit the bathroom. The morning felt leisurely and the boys were excited to head out as I put on my shorts and laced up the timing chip. We walked the three blocks from home to the starting line, the boys holding mini-races the whole way. I raced around with them; a three-year-old’s sprint is just about right for a warm-up walk.
When they called the runners to the opening corral, I tried to find a spot not too close to the front, but not too far back, settling next to a woman with her daughter in a jogging stroller. I still wasn’t nervous (this was, after all, a no-pressure “fun run”) but when the starting gun fired, I began to wonder if I would be able to stay within myself. This was my first time running with other people; I had to resist the temptation to let somebody else set the pace for me, whether too fast or too slow.
About a half-mile into the run, I found myself pacing with two other runners, a man in his early 70′s and a woman probably around my age. She came up from behind and I let her pass, but I stayed within a couple yards for probably a mile. Then just before we left the park, I pulled ahead and didn’t see her again.
After cresting the hill out of the park, I started to feel done. I considered walking the final mile. I gave up on my goals. 28 minutes? Forget it. 30 minutes sounds good. Even 35 is okay. I’m doing this for me, nobody is going to grade me on my time. But I kept running anyway.
Another quarter mile down the road, there was a water station, so without stopping I grabbed a cup, poured it in my mouth and tossed the empty into the can. I didn’t feel it go down, but it must have helped.
Down the street, two right turns, and up the hill for the home stretch. Thanking volunteers as I went by, I looked over my shoulder and saw two men my senior, one of them the fellow I had been just ahead of in the park. I gave them an encouraging shout, then set my sights on the final push.
As the finish line approached, I saw my wife and sons cheering me on. I gave them a wave, crossed the timing mats, and turned a cartwheel. I’m pretty sure I didn’t endanger the older gentleman who finished 5 seconds behind me.
After grabbing some snacks for myself and the boys, my wife asked how I did. I confessed that I had no idea; there was a clock at the finish line, but I didn’t even look at it. I didn’t wear a watch; I had chosen to leave my iPhone at home. I told her my goal had been 28 minutes, and she said she was pretty sure I had done that.
Competitive Timing has computer stations at the finish line where you can enter your number and print your unofficial time. When I looked at mine, I said out loud, “No way.”
Chip time: 25:31.7
I didn’t actually do a dance. I am quite honestly at a loss to where that performance came from. 8:16 per mile? That’s like a week three pace. This feels really, really good.
- Enjoy the crowd. It wasn’t just the run that was fun, it was seeing other people (including people in costume), thanking volunteers, giving high fives to the 10K runners on their second lap.
- Don’t worry about passing, or being passed. At first, I was afraid to pass — what if I pass them, then slow down and they pass me later? But then the answer was clear: who cares. Everybody’s race tells a different story. I’m writing only my own.
- Don’t watch the clock. I didn’t bring one. It wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.
- I can keep going. Five kilometers didn’t exhaust me. I’m not ready to jump right into a 10K, but I can see now that I have more within me.