Saturday, September 25, 2010

Panic leads to a personal best

Next year, I’m going to double-check what time the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure starts.

I’ve been preparing for the 5K race for about year, curious if my daily running and dropping the 60 pounds could help me smash my previous best of 26.58. That came in a small church race last year.

I’ve been running between six and eight miles a day for most of the last year, and I’ve been hitting 25:30 in practice runs, so I was hoping to at least hit that mark.

I thought the race started at 9 am, so I rolled up to the Rivertown Crossing mall around 8:20 thinking I'd have plenty of time to stretch and get ready. But I pulled up and saw that they were already herding racers to the starting line. It started at 8:30!!! My heart sank. Then I started to panic.

I found a parking spot at the Meijer store next to the mall, and sprinted all the way over to the far parking, where the race starts. I got there just as they where they were starting the National Anthem. Stuck way in the back, I was behind the walkers, people pushing strollers, people walking their dogs and much older folks.

I tried weaving and moving up, but it was slow going, even as the race started and people started moving. Luckily, the race was based on chip time. A chip is attached to the sneaker and records only the time between when you cross the starting line and then the finish line, as opposed to the actual start of the race, which is called gun time.

But there was still a ton of congestion as I approached the official start, and breaking out of the pack seemed tougher than an obstacle course.

OK, I might have jumped over someone's dog. I apologize for that. But really, why are you bringing your dog to a race? Is that the best place for Fluffy? If he needs a walk that badly, take him around the block where he's not gonna get jumped over. But I digress.

Most of the first mile was a divided four-lane street with a grassy median, so I tried to find a clear route by going on the side, popping up the curb and on the median to pass people, especially people pushing strollers, which are too large to jump over. After clearing the dog, the thought did pop in my mind.

Turning the first corner onto a two-lane street, I tried again to stick to the far side. Sometimes the sides offer some room to air it out, and sometimes people head over there and just stop dead. I was weaving around people like a running back looking for a hole in the line.

The RunKeeper app interrupts the music at every mile so a voice can tell me the distance and the pace. At the end of the first mile, I was running a 7:13, which I have not done since college.

With the racers spreading out, there was a little more room to run in the second mile, and tried to keep the pace and even make up some time. I did notice I was passing a lot of people, and there were not a lot of people passing me, which is unusual. I credited that to starting in the back and just moving past the slowest people. But the end of the mile, the app announced I was at a 7:09 pace.

Having run this race five or six times in the past, I have a good idea where the mile markers are and how much is left. I started to feel like I was running out of steam.

Usually I'm totally into the music, and I put a lot of thought into the race playlist, with fast-paced, inspirational God rock. But this time it I was so angry at myself and focused on trying to get around strollers, dogs and walkers that I wasn't really listening. But as I was losing energy, the Newsboys song "Stay Strong" came through the headset. It's kind of been my personal anthem this past year through some difficulties and the weight loss effort, and the message came just when I needed it.

I decided I was going to try to keep the pace best I could, even if it meant dropping at the finish line and crawling over to the people handing out bananas and Panera Bread bagels. And I could see the finish line off in the distance. At the three-mile mark, the app said the pace was 7:14, and I was thinking that there were three seven-minute miles in there and I might be doing pretty good.

Usually there is big clock at the finish line, but not this time, at least that I could see. Crossing the line and looking at the iPhone, the app read 22:49. No way. The race of my life.

Seeing this, I bounced -- not crawled -- over to the bagels and bananas, and even had some yogurt and other samples, then waited for preliminary results to get posted.
I saw the "Males - 46-50 category," and started at the bottom, because I'm usually somewhere in the lower third. I couldn't find my name and wondered if the chip malfunctioned, since I crossed the finish line on my way into the race when I was running to make the start and heard a beep. Good thing I had the app to know the time.

But I kept moving up the column, and there I was, near the top! I was No. 8 out of 55 in the age category. They had me listed at 23:00.47 for the chip time, and 26:33 for the gun time.

Overall, I was No. 127 out of 2,276 timed runners -- there were 5,600 participants overall when the walkers and dog people are included – No. 99 out of more than 600 males. That time is about four minutes better than the personal best, and two minutes better than my goal.

I don't know if my panicking added adrenaline, or weaving around people actually conserved energy that I used later, or if I would have done even better had I not screwed up the start time. Maybe it was the inspiration from wearing my Faith and Fear in Flushing shirt for the race, calling on the powers of Tom, Gil, Casey and Jackie, whose retired numbers were printed above the 3353 on my pinned-on bib.
Whatever the cause or inspiration, I'll take it!

Now, all that said, run in a Komen race if you ever get the chance. It's a great cause, and very emotional as you see all the breast cancer survivors in their pink shirts, and all the people running with names of loved ones who are fighting the disease, or who they have lost. Lots of tears, but a lot of nice tears. There are people in that race who are celebrating a lot more than beating their personal best, and it keeps things in perspective.


Dan said...

That's great stuff. My personal best race in high school came when I was eager to finish up so I could leave and get to a birthday party for my girlfriend -- having my mind on something else apparently took it off of how I felt, so maybe that's what you had. By getting there (almost) late, you were dwelling on that and didn't think about how you felt.

MGIF said...

Great running and blog! You should be proud of your time(finishing time) and the time and effort 'to find the cure'