There are many things to learn as a novice runner.
For example you really have to think twice about a 5k "fun run/walk" that includes an elevation chart with the course map.
The hill wasn't any hill, it was one of those killer hills that come at the end and make you understand the Gatorade commercial where you watch that Ironman runner just collapse in painfully slow motion. (OK, he's in slow motion - not the camera speed or race going on around him, so it's really that much worse.)
I managed to shuffle up the freakin' thing without dying.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
The other day I decided I should do a race this weekend, so I checked cool runnings and found this race not too far from my sister's house. I called to see if she was up for it and she figured "why not." Then my niece decided to join us after the Boston Triathlon was cancelled due to Ernesto.
We get to the race and register. The schwag bag had a piggy bank in it... OK. We dropped stuff at the car and morph into the mob starting to form at the start line. I ask my niece if I should go with funk or rock-n-roll cowbell for pace music. She say's cowbell, so I set the player for the cowbell list.
It's a local race and there are around 300 people there - many with jog strollers. I quickly move to the back of the crowd because I know I'm slow. I'm cool with that. The guy in the front on the megaphone is saying something but I can't hear him and I take off at my own pace for a change.
About 12 minutes into the race I'm keeping an eye out for a mile marker so I can pace myself. Lately I've been going out to fast and crossing the 1 mile point at 11:30 and dying on the back end and I'm a little concerned about time and mileage. Since this started on a down hill, I'm particularly worried. Another couple of minutes go by... nothing. Hmmm... I must have missed it so I say out loud, "Run your race, run your pace," (my latest mantra) to check how I'm doing. I seem fine and I keep running.
In front of me is a teen aged boy and (I assume) his father. It is clear the father is a runner and the boy is a beginning runner. I've been watching them from the start - the kid jack rabbitting out, the father getting him to slow down then the kid walking a bit and then trotting with a slow jog and so on. I'm 18 minutes into the race with no idea how far I've gone when I pass them. I tell the kid he's doing great - keep up the good work and I keep on running.
Finally, after 26 minutes I see a water station. The people there are saying "great job - just one more little hill and about a mile to go."
Umm... I've seen the elevation chart - one little hill? I don't think so. I keep going. In front me now is a woman who is obviously a seasoned runner with a little kid. She's running backwards to keep an eye on him and looking for someone following behind me. The kid is a typical little kid with two speeds: wicked fast and wicked slow. I pass them and keep on going as the hill starts to get steep.
Now here's the kicker, I run with my music turned down pretty low because I need to be aware of what's around me. That's just common sense for the most part. This means I can hear what's going on around me as well and I hear this lady say, "See, that's how you run a race. You pick someone you know you can beat and you stay with them to run past them at the end. Right now you should beat the lady in the yellow shirt."
Do I say, "Thanks a lot" or do I ignore them. I remember: run your race, run your pace and keep plodding along.
As she and the kid pass me she says to me, "Keep on going, you're looking good... just like Heartbreak Hill."
Aha, an opening. Remember, she knows I'm wearing earbuds but she doesn't know I can hear her. So I say, "This is steeper - I train on Heartbreak Hill." She gives me that "oops" look. "I live in Newton," I continue, "I run Heartbreak at least once a week and this is much steeper."
She suddenly notices some friends stopped on the side of the road cheering for folks and decides to say hi while the boy looks confused - does he keep going or wait for her? I decide to power past since I can see the top.
At the top my sister and niece jog out to say, "You're doing great - wait til you see your time." I look at the watch and I see I'm around 36 minutes. Not bad.
That's when I notice, on the ground in white is a little mark that reads "3 Miles."
They had painted the mile markers on the ground.
Just as I get close to the finish, someone wants to pull out of the general store near the finish line. A race person is trying to get them to stay put until I can get past them. I finish (according to my watch) in 39:22. That's about right - a 13 minute pace, I'm happy.
When I got home, I double checked on line and found that my official time was 38:36 for a 12:26 pace. It's also 1 second faster than the ESRI/UC 5K - so now I have a new PR of 38:36.
Oh yeah, the kid beat me by one second. While I was busy watching for cars, they were busy employing their strategy of beating the woman in the yellow shirt. I guess whatever works for you - just remember folks, while we all employ that strategy to a certain degree, please don't be inconsiderate enough to say it in earshot of the person you're trying to beat. Words can really hurt and just think about how you'd feel if you heard someone saying that about you on a bad day.
Fortunately for me, it was not a bad day.