I generally try to avoid doing races near where I live. I know that’s weird, but I like racing anonymously. I don’t want to see my coworkers or my neighbors on the starting line because I don’t want to have my race results become part of some ego-fest over the water cooler or in the halls of our church chapel. I like racing for the sake of racing and would like to keep it that way.
Nonetheless, I have a hard time turning down an offer to race for free. So last week, when one of the secretaries downstairs called and asked if I wanted a free race entry into some 5k race our office was sponsoring, I hesitated for perhaps a second and said, “Sure.” That it was only a week away and that I hadn’t been running were immaterial. I can get up on any given day and run less than 22:30 in a 5k, and I know that. Of course, I did get a little nervous when I found out that many, many of my coworkers would be there in the same race. But what the heck—why not have a little fun? My wife and sister-in-law even agreed to race it with me.
So race morning dawned today, and my wife and sister-in-law got all ready to jog the race behind me. As we stood there on the starting line, I started looking around for the fast guys so I could attempt a decent time. I spotted a couple of young kids and asked them if they were cross-country runners, to which they answered in the negative. Then I noticed a bald guy with skinny legs. He looked fast, frankly. So I sidled up next to him, made a little small talk and then asked how fast he planned to do the race. When he said 20 minutes, I knew I’d found my running buddy. It also didn’t hurt that he said he’d been training and coaching a local high school track distance team—so he was in decent 1500-meter shape. I asked if he wouldn’t mind if I tried to stay with him, and he said that’d be fine.
But when they yelled “go,” it was some other guy who took the lead—a shorter, stalkier runner with chiseled legs. I didn’t mind the quick change in plans, and I scooted up behind him to draft. That lasted for perhaps the first half a mile, upon which I looked back and realized the two of us had distanced the entire field. He seemed to surge, and I found myself in no-man’s land (where I spend most of my races). I worked hard to keep him in sight, but when we went around one corner, he disappeared.
Then an interesting thing happened. We got to the point where the 5k and 10k races diverged, and he turned the 10k route. That’s when I realized I was LEADING the 5k!
Unfortunately, at that moment I turned onto a long straight section with no shade whatsoever. My thicker black socks seemed to soak up the heat, and I felt a bit like I was jogging on hot coals. I started to lose it a bit, and that’s when another runner—the bald guy—caught up to me. We chatted for a moment, and I tried to stick with him. But as the heat crept up, I dropped off the back. Eventually, I peeled my shirt off as the sun started to beat down on me. Yuck!
The finish line was surrounded by cars parked by the runners, so when I saw a massive group of parked cars, I assumed that was it. But as I got closer, I realized it was parking for a local soccer game and that I still had at least a quarter of a mile to go—in the heat. I managed to keep it together and run a 21-something, but it was definitely NOT one of my faster times. Too bad. Still, having led the race for two miles and then finishing second isn’t terrible.
After the race, I got to thinking that this is actually my second top-three finish at a 5k road race in my hometown (which I usually avoid). I got to thinking, “I wonder how I’d do if I actually spent a little time running.”
But besides adding another result to my paltry palmares list of small-time race results, I expanded another list today: my “Celebrities I’ve outrun in 5k races” list. Previously, it included only Sarah Palin (who DNF’ed the tri-cities Turkey Trot a couple of years ago), but now it has expanded to include Kaylee and Moses Kinikini of Biggest Loser fame. Kaylee actually outran my wife (hey, Kaylee may have had some weight before, but she hasn’t had three kids), and we saw Moses walking the last mile with his wife as we were headed home.
Best wishes to those guys for winning the at-home prize!