On the Saturday of a weekend that kicks off summer, while others were traveling or getting ready for a day at the beach or preparing for some yard work, Glenn and I woke our girls early and brought them to the Lebanon VA Hospital Campus, the site of the 23rd Annual Memorial Weekend 5K Race.
We got to the campus just about 8:30 - meaning on time, meaning with plenty of time before the 9 o'clock start time. The morning was overcast but much warmer than wunderground.com had lead me to believe it would be. Rather than a nice, cool 58* at 8:30, it was closer to 68* - I hoped that it wouldn't warm up too much for the race. The girls were a bit Sleepy and Grumpy (2 of the 7 dwarves) but held it together while Glenn and I got our race packets and looked for our friend, Trevor, who was going to keep an eye on Rachel, Sarah, and Claire while we ran, giving up a kid-free Saturday to watch our kids (Thanks, Trevor!).
The crowd for this race was HUGE! So much larger than last year (the first year I ran this 5K). In fact there were over 500 runners half of whom, it turns out, fall into the "serious/competitive" category (and there went my secret hope of achieving an age group place). Just looking around at the other runners, I knew that there was no way I'd place, which was a long shot any how. Glenn works for the VA, so he said hello to some co-workers, introduced Our Family - Claire soaked up all the attention, Rachel gave a grimace (still too early).
Finally, it was time to move towards the starting area. This race always begins with both Christian and Patriotic elements, which I find both startling and interesting...So, someone lead us in praying the Our Father, someone else lead us in the Pledge of the Allegiance (which I haven't said for several decades and faltered over a few words). A veteran sang the National Anthem, which brought tears to my eyes, not for the quality but for the significance of someone who actively served our country, standing up for the very freedom F. Scott Key described, singing that tune.
Glenn and I took our position in the middle of the pack...and we were off! The first mile loops around the hospital campus, and the crowd was pretty thick since there were over 500 of us. We kept coming up on people Glenn knew, trying to carefully pass some of the slower runners and the walkers. We came up on our first mile so fast and checked our watches - 9:26! Wow! I laughed - I'd never run a mile that fast before! Glenn, who hadn't run a step in 4 weeks due to a calf muscle pull, was doing awesome - all those long bike rides were paying off for the CV activity. And, thankfully, his calf muscle kept quiet. [We'd discussed ahead of time what to do if it screamed at him...when to call it quits, should he finish, walk, whatever.]
We ran for a bit just ahead of or just behind this guy Glenn works with who was running with his 8 year old son (super cute little guy!). It was the son's first 5K, and he had all that youthful bounding enthusiasm and perfect running form, which was a wonder to see, though at about the half way point we didn't see that any more, since the 8 year old way outpaced us.
The second mile is through a beautiful town park called South Hills that Claire & I love to go to for its great playground and huge sandbox. Here's where the moment of reality hits you: those at the front of the pack are already passing you by on their way to the finish line...that can feel a bit discouraging if you think about it too much (which I don't). There's a bit of a hill through the park that slowed us a bit (and I pulled back my pace, since I didn't want to wear out). Our second mile was run in 9:40, a bit slower, but still quite fast (for me).
That was when it hit me: I had the best shot ever in my running to come in well under 31 minutes (my fastest 5K run before being about 31:15, a training run...last year's time on this same course was 32:33). I was going to finish, and look at my watch and the first numbers would be a 3 and 0. How awesome was that!?
Then, there's a long flat stretch followed by a nice long hill...My legs started to feel very tired on that flat stretch and all I could think about was that long hill and how I'd have nothing left. I tried to do the math in my head - my last mile needed to be 11 minutes to finish at 30-something. I could slow way down, I figured. I could stop and walk...The finish felt so far away and I was beating myself up for going out too fast.
Glenn must have realized I was silently struggling (and obviously slowing down), because he kept up a steady chatter for a couple minutes - "you can do this, baby, we're almost done, you can see the finish line, keep going" - and in those moments, he was my savior. I would have done a nice long walk break without his being at my side (oh, then the most discouraging sight: those who already finished, walked all the way back the final 1/2 mile to chat with some of the police out on the course...ggrrrr....cool and calm and chatting away, that's just not right!).
I ran up the hill pretty well and glanced down at my watch. 29:10. Holy crap! I glanced again just to be sure, but yes, there it was, a twenty-nine. And, as tired as I was I thought, "I could actually run this in UNDER 30 MINUTES!" which was beyond any dream I thought possible. I had a tenth to go and Glenn said, "Got anything left in your tanks?" and I took off in a (for me) fast sprint. Arms pumping, head held high, I just focused on that finisher's chute (couldn't see Trevor & the girls...wondered where they were). I crossed the finish line and tore off the little strip at the bottom of my bib (if the field keeps growing, they race will have to go official and get timing chips) and handed it to a volunteer which is how they figure out your final time.
I came to a stumbling walk, heaving, and looked back for Glenn (just behind me) and then realized that there the girls and Trevor were, sitting on the curb just after the finish line. As soon as Claire saw me, she started wailing (she'd tripped over the curb and got a booboo; the sight of her own blood keeps her in hysterics). Claire wanted me to carry her and I was just trying not to collapse or black out...within a minute I was fine, but that last push really took it all out of me.
All the girls wanted pizza, which is what the racers get at the end...I held them back, saying the pizza was for those who ran, not for spectators and they were not pleased with me. It didn't help that another runner let his kids get pizza and they were right next to us. I said they needed to wait, let runners get first dibs, that this was race etiquette...boy, were they grumpy about that. We did let them have some of the fruit & pretzels and Hershey's Kisses, since there was a TON of that.
Claire finally realized she was not mortally wounded by the Incident with the Curb and after chocolate and band-aids, decided that she was going to run in the Kids Race. Rachel and Sarah ran with her. It was a 1/4 mile run and I so wished I brought my camera. Claire had dressed in her running skirt & shirt she wore for her Disney Race, and Rachel held her hand the whole way (Sarah decided she wanted to run fast...). They all got purple race ribbons they were psyched about, even Rachel who sometimes tries to be too big about things.
Then Claire wanted to run in the Mile Race, but we missed the start trying to figure out if Rachel was going to go with her. So, Claire and I tried to catch up with the Milers, but that didn't happen. A full mile is a long way for a four year old, especially without seeing the other runners. She kept stopping to pick flowers for me. Glenn got the volunteers to wait for us, though, so Claire got another ribbon and a prize (Sarah, too, because she ran the last tenth with us).
It was a great day, really. I was flying high about my finishing time (Glenn finished in the same time too, but he has faster finishing times...he was just glad to finish under 30 and without reinjuring his calf muscle). Next year, it would be great to have Rachel and Sarah run the 5K with us...definitely want them do the mile, which they probably would have done if we had talked it up more ahead of time.