So why such a dismal response? I don't think that there's any particular lack of desire to help out Cocoon House (though apathy is always a problem). But obviously there's a lack of desire to run 5K's and 10K's! And it seems like most people don't even consider the alternative of walking. (Especially, I suppose, in a small local race like this one. The bigger, more publicized ones get a better walker turnout.)
I'm not even trying to imply that people are lazy, or some such thing. I think there's just a general feeling that you can only do a 5K if you are a "fast" runner; if you are slow or are a walker you will stick out like a sore thumb. I certainly felt that myself for most of my life. When I ran regularly in high school and college, I would have died before signing up for a road race, which I was sure were all populated by track stars.* In my twenty subsequent non-running years, I wouldn't have dreamed of walking a 5K, even though I was willing to walk many more miles than that all over London.
All that changed in June 2006, when I picked up a brochure in Starbuck's for the Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure. A couple weeks later I ran my first 5K, and haven't looked back since.
Since then I have firmly felt that running events are a great activity for runners and walkers of all ages and abilities, including families with kids. Many of the runs even have short races especially for children.
But, you know, this opinion is not widely shared in the community at large.So I wasn't surprised when I arrived in Arlington Saturday morning and didn't recognize anyone. (The people I did know arrived later.) After sitting in my car for a few minutes reading Runner's World and drinking my latte, I headed out for a warmup run. I wanted to do a 1.8 mile warmup so I could give myself credit for eight miles total for the day.
The run course was out and back on the Centennial Trail. I jogged out about .85 miles (measured by Garmin) then turned back. Yes, I know that would be only 1.7 miles; I doubled one block to hit my mark. I primarily do the warmup to loosen up my legs. It doesn't do much to pump up my heart rate, as I learned in the beginning of the race (plus it would slow down while I waited for the start anyway).
Just before 9:00 I spotted Corey (formerly of my firm, until she abandoned us for another job a few weeks ago!) and her friend Meghan, who were running the 5K. They've been training to do sprint triathlons, and will be doing the Danskin tri on August 17.
As we were milling in the starting area, I eyeballed my "competition." Actually, there weren't very many people doing the 10K (turns out there were 20), and I was a little worried about being last. Not something I normally have concerns over, but if there are few enough competitors, the odds get all messed up! I didn't identify anyone who I could rely upon to be slow, but I did spot a woman in my age group of whom I told Corey, "She's going to beat me."
We all gathered near the start line and they started the race old school—"ready, set, go!" It started about five minutes past nine but I didn't care because I had my Garmin! (Which I would glance at constantly throughout the run—the curse of Garmin obsession!)
(I just used three exclamation points in a row! Apparently I am very excited!)
Without really intending to, I found myself keeping pace with the woman in the grey. It was pretty clear that despite my warmup, I was not warmed up enough for the pace we were going. I was breathing hard like the last three miles in a 15K (I have experience with this). In fact, our time for the first mile was 8:27—really fast for me in the beginning of a 10K. (I don't know why I can go out even faster than that in a 5K and not have the same problem. It's a mystery.)
By miles two and three I had adjusted (although we had also slowed a bit). Frustratingly, my shoe came untied somewhere in mile two. I tried to run on but finally had to stop for a moment and retie it. I'm not good about remembering to double knot my shoelaces because my shoes hard ever come untied. (They did once in the last three miles of the Portland 15K....) I retied as fast as I could and soon managed to regain the ground I had lost by stopping. Hopefully it only added a few seconds to my total time.
As I mentioned earlier, the course followed the Centennial Trail, which in this part of Arlington included a section of paved trail independent from the street, a gravel portion which parallelled railroad tracks, and a street section in which we followed the sidewalk along a main street. At most of the cross streets there were volunteers who stopped cars from crossing our path as we approached. But as we were nearing the halfway turnaround point, we came to a minor cross street that was unguarded. I was running along with my "competitor," and there may have been one or two other runners nearby, and I saw a car approaching the intersection, apparently planning to make a right turn. It seemed to be moving awfully quickly for a car that intended to actually stop, and I suspect the driver had his head turned looking for oncoming cars from his left, but not pedestrians coming from the right.
As he sped up to the crosswalk I said—believing it was a rhetorical comment—"Please don't hit us"—but the last word turned into a little scream as I realized the car was not stopping. I may have jumped aside, or the car stopped at the last second—I'm not sure. All I remember clearly was putting my hand on the hood of the car, as if to stop it myself. To people behind me it may have looked like the car impacted my leg, but I am quite sure only my hand touched it.
Since this was a race there was no time to stop and even see whether the driver of the car looked shocked, so I just ran on. I think some people behind me yelled at him to watch where he was going.
Moments later we reached the halfway point, which was also a turnaround to retrace our steps back to the start. Although there was a water station, I wasn't thirsty and didn't want to take the time to stop. The woman beside me did stop, and I thought this was probably good luck for me. If we were running the same pace, I would probably (probably!) be able to maintain my lead after the water stop.
And so it was—for about a mile. But somewhere around the end of mile four, beginning mile five, I heard voices just behind me. Female voices! I glanced back, and there she was, along with another woman that I had seen as I started the return route. They had both just about caught up to me!
And then they passed me. They had managed to pick up the pace while I had settled into about an 8:45 pace that I seemed stuck with. I had some hope that I could speed up and catch them, but it was not to be. Maybe it was the knowledge that I had no chance of catching up, but mile six was my slowest mile of the race, a good 20 seconds slower than any other.
As I neared the finish we took a left off the Centennial Trail to run through the finish line. Before I rounded the corner a volunteer shouted "You're under 55 minutes!" WHAT? I had planned to finish under 54 minutes, with hopes of sub-53. After all, my time in this race last year was 53:17, and I've been generally faster this year than last. Also, my last three 10K's were around 53:30 and all of them were much hillier than this course (which was flat).
But regardless of my disappointment about where I was so far, I certainly did not want to finish over 55 minutes, so I picked up the pace and pushed in at 54:34. That made me the third female, and second in my age group. The overall female winner was in the 50-year-old age group.
I don't want to overplay my disappointment at my time, because I'm really pretty philosophical about these things. I accept that some races will be faster, others slower (which doesn't prevent me from picking apart each and every one!). Unlike many of the blogs I read, where the writer expects and seems to achieve a new PR in every race, I find that running races is a great exercise in humility (almost said humiliation, ha!). I ran my first half marathon at Whidbey Island last spring, and had a great time of 1:54:30. I foolishly thought that was my baseline, and subsequent half marathons would be at least similar, if not better. Well, I didn't break two hours again until this July. And I still haven't broken the Whidbey PR. Maybe in one of the three half marathons I have lined up for the rest of the year.
Same thing with 10K's and 5K's. Anytime I think a good time (pace) guarantees a better time in the next one, I am bound to be shown up. I try to do my best on any given day, but I try not to have too many expectations, or to be crushed if I don't meet them.
The bad thing about a small race—you might finish last (I was 10 out of 20 overall). The good thing—you'll probably win a ribbon! I got the second place ribbon for my age group. Corey and Meghan got third and second in their 5K age group (20-29—their last year in this non-competitive age category before they hit the cutthroat thirties!).
While I was waiting to pick up my ribbon I pretty much ate back the calories I had burned by dipping into the post-race goodies. After a few noble (and very refreshing) orange wedges, I had a mini-old-fashioned donut and then, I regret to say, a mini-orange cranberry scone. Luckily, the awards began before I could grab a mini-pumpkin scone!
The good thing about winning an award is it makes you feel like a real runner! The bad thing is standing around waiting to get to your category. Do you know how long it takes to announce three places in every age group, male and female, 5K and 10K? Plus some door prizes? Well, a long time.
Well, that is the end of the River and Rails story. No PR, but the top three female 10K finishers were all over 40. Take that, children!
Here is a picture of me with the ladies who beat my ass! (From left to right, #2, #3 me, #1.)
*In the small local races, you will usually see a few track stars... but don't worry, you won't see their skinny legs again after the race begins!