Saturday, October 29, 2011

Keeping Up With the Cars and Dashers

For full disclosure, yes, I was beaten by an 8-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, but I’m taking the Dayton Dash as a major milestone on the road to the D.C. Turkey Trot. After weeks of hamstring problems that slowed my training, I needed to see just where I was in this quest. And yes, losing my car for nearly a week because of transmission problems was definitely a buzz kill. Did I tell you how hard it was to run without the right arm and leg I used to pay for those repairs? But I digress.

Last week I was able to complete a 5K on the Purdue TREC treadmill going 5.0 mph. I probably did the last half-mile or so at 5.5 to test the hamstring. While the last mile was a struggle, I made it through – another accomplishment. On my birthday, I would have whined about trying to do one mile at virtually any speed that was more than a leisurely walk. I foolishly thought it was time for a road test.

One of my Weight Watcher friends Sara Behnke suggested the Dayton Dash Saturday at Dayton United Methodist Church. Sara’s husband is an assistant professor in HTM at Purdue and she works in procurement services. They both are part of the loyal, but sleep deprived, 5:30 a.m. weekday morning crew at the TREC, which is where we formed our bond. Dayton, not be confused with Dayton, Ohio, is small town outside of Lafayette. I assumed this would be a nice, small run where I could completely embarrass myself and no one would notice and, more importantly, tell me exactly where I am and how much more will I need to improve before Thanksgiving.

The night before, West Lafayette’s sectional football game with Crawfordsville could not end quickly enough. I was counting the seconds because I still had to make a Walmart run for sweats (remember The Hill), long-sleeve t-shirt and Aleve (better running through chemistry) for the hamstring, knees and what other pain I fully anticipated. Of course, I would have loved the Happy Juice Tony Romo got for his ribs or to find the West Lafayette outlet for the BALCO lab, but neither one was available.

I arrived at Dayton UMC about 8:30 a.m. and immediately noticed, “There’s a lot of cars here for such a small race.” Much to my surprise, there were more than 100 runners at the event. I started noticing people walking with t-shirts from other races they participated in. I saw marathon shirts. Mini-marathon shirts. There was one person who took off a 5K shirt to show off his 10K shirt under it. Needless to say, I was thoroughly intimidated. A few people walked up to me and started a conversation until I told them this was my first 5K race since high school. They immediate gave their condolences and ended the conversation. “Oh, he’s a dead man,” they must have thought. I felt better when I saw Sara and two of her running partners come in so I knew at least one other person. 

An elderly gentleman named Bob walked up to me. With a friendly voice and a smile, he welcomed me to the church and race. He talked about how he had open heart surgery a several years ago and how much he cherished just getting out and jogging and walking as much as he could. Probably sensing my nervousness, he encouraged me just to have fun. After the conversation, I felt better. I thought, “That was so nice. There’s a least one person I could beat here.” Kidding aside, the chat the very much appreciated.

There were several things I picked up on immediately before the race. First, I needed gloves. One would think I would have thought about this before the race with it being October and the D.C. Turkey Trot in November and all. I saw a lot of baseball-style caps. I have plenty of those around the house. I was going to buy my fancy running shoes before this race but Adam the Terminator talked me out of it. He told me it would be a mistake trying to break in new shoes during an actually race and I should break them in by training in them first. So I struck out with my black “Walmart Specials.” More on the sneakers later. Finally, I need a “running” mix on my Ipod. While I do like my music, I quickly found that Barry Manilow, Whitney Houston and Josh Groban were woefully inadequate for the inspiration needed to run down teenagers, hardened 60-year-olds and the “Glory Days” athletes you’d find at an average road race.

As we walked to the starting line, the announcer said, “If you think you’re a faster runner, you may want to move to the front of the line, so you don’t have to run over anyone.” I didn’t make it an issue when he looked right at me when announcing the second part, but the inference was clear. We were off and running and actually the first mile wasn’t so bad. In fact I found an older couple to follow behind and get into a nice comfortable pace. The Terminator warned me not to go out hard since this was only going a gauge and not suppose to “really” be racing. When the first couple of elementary school kids passed me, I did get a little offended.

“Where are your manners?” I wanted to say to them. “Aren’t you suppose to at least say ‘excuse me’ or something to make me feel a little better while you’re leaving me in your dust?”

Along this endless country road, we had run up the I-65 overpass. Whoa. No one mentioned an overpass! Needless to say, that was my undoing and died halfway up. OK, I was able to go a little more than a mile before I started walking. I’ll just go about 200 meters, get my second wind to start jogging again. I was getting close to the halfway point where we would turn around and repeat the course, so I wanted to look good to the people giving out water, so I started jogging again. The good ole right hamstring started to tighten up, which left me walking again just before the turnaround.

By this time, a mother was jogging with her young daughter. She would jog ahead, and stop and waited for her daughter to catch up. Yes, even they passed me. By this time, pride took over. I knew if I wanted to finish this race with any kind of dignity, I had to stay in front of them. So with tight hamstring band all, off I went.

It was off and on like that the entire race. I knew they would send out the cadaver dogs out to find me if I didn’t finish soon. About 800 meters out, the hamstring started to feel a lot better and I raced in like I almost knew what I was doing. I crossed the finish line never looking at the clock and by the time I thought about it, it would have been impossible for me to guess. I thought surely I was in the 40-minute range. I finished yes, but I was hoping for better. The race, though, taught me a lot of lessons. 

Back in the Dayton UMC gym, I hovered over the poor timer girl like an impatient editor waiting for a reporter to finish a deadline story. Feeling my heavy breathing over her shoulder, she finally posted the times and I was actually surprised: 35:36.9. No, that’s not 35 hours, but 35 minutes. The kicker was I was second in my age group and actually received a medal. I asked if there were only two in my age group. Actually, there were two others, so I felt special.

I was one hurting puppy the rest of the day, but finally a time to beat and another reason for my wonderful Washington D.C. lobbyist daughter to yell at me for. I’m a month out now and it’s on. Turkey Trot or Bust? It’s still in doubt.

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