Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Lucky Number

Race day!  Today I raced the Wrentham Lions 5k New Year’s race.  Starting off the year with a run seemed like a good idea, but it also meant forgoing all the New Year’s festivities.  I purposely hadn’t pre-entered for this race so that I would have time to weigh my options, see the weather forecast, and if at the last minute I decided to party like a rock star then, so be it. The weather forecast called for unusually balmy temperatures, highs in the 50 degree range.  With this promising forecast, I started leaning towards running and decided I would behave myself, not go out for New Year’s Eve, and avoid alcohol and vegetables the day before the race.  That, of course, got blown out the window when I met up with Ron for a few beers late in the afternoon, and then followed it up with some champagne later.  (But for the record, I did not consume one single vegetable after noontime, so I wasn’t a total failure).  I looked online at the entry form and…what was this?  An all you can eat buffet after the race, which happens to be at a BAR?  Are you kidding me??  I’m IN!
                I truly enjoy running races.  There’s something so satisfying in completing a race, especially under extreme circumstances.  If it’s unusually hot, unusually cold, or falls on a holiday, there just seems to be something extra sweet in crossing that finish line.  But for me, my very favorite part?  My very favorite part of running a race is getting the unusual freedom to run smack dab in the middle of the street.  It’s such a special treat, and while many people prefer to hug the curb, I march down the middle like Moses, and pretend all the police officers at every intersection are holding back throngs of traffic just for my benefit.
                I used to run most of my races alone, but lately I’ve had some family and friends join me, either running with me, or supporting me at the finish.  Today I had a small entourage, and I have to admit it was pretty nice.  Chris, a friend of mine, said he was going to try to keep up with me but we agreed that we would run our own pace and meet back at the end if we lost each other.  I also made a little wager with Chris, that the loser buys the winner a Bloody Mary.  I felt my odds were pretty good at beating him, but I also realize that if he gets in better shape and ups the ante, I’m gonna be screwed!  It’s great having support and having friends cheering you on, but it also comes with added expectations.  If I don’t run well, and I’m alone, then no biggie.  But suddenly with my mother waiting for me at the finish line, I start having visions of me crossing the finish in 26 minutes and her saying, “what took you so long?  Did you get lost?”  And what if Chris started running with me, and I was having an off day?  I wouldn’t want to let him down either.  So much pressure!
                When I got to the race location – which did I mention, is a saloon? – I headed toward the race-day registration table.  I filled out my form and noticed the stack of racing bibs in front of me.  The next one in line was 111.  Seriously now, what are the odds of that?  Bib number 111 on 1/1/11?  That had to be a good sign, right?  Suddenly, I was worried that someone else was going to get that bib so I made sure I was front and center of the woman signing us in.  I said, “Is this really my bib number?  111?  That HAS to be the lucky number!”  Fortunately she saw the significance of this number and showed it around to everyone.  She handed me the bib like it was a piece of fine china, her face growing serious, and said, “I expect great things from you”.  I nodded solemnly and promised not to let her down.  Uh oh.  More pressure!
                Waiting for the race to start, Chris and I took a half mile jog just to loosen up.  We compared iPod playlists, which as it turns out were similar.  I thought it was funny that he took the same approach as me by creating a playlist just long enough to finish the 5k – roughly 30 minutes.  After we were all warmed up, we killed some time checking out some of the other runners.  This is one of my other favorite race day activities.  I love to see the diversity of the runners.  You can usually spot the hardcore runners.  The “Elite” of the local running club, if you will.  These guys run in Daisy Duke shorts, tanks no matter what the temperature, compression socks, and usually pretty ugly racing flat shoes.  A step down from that is the avid runner, sporting all the right gear, the tech shirt, the running pants, maybe even a Garmin stop watch, and sneakers by Asics, Brooks, Saucony, Nike, or New Balance.  Then there’s the group, God love them, that are here to support the local Lions club, hoping to raise enough money to end blindness.  They most likely have never run to the end of their driveway, let alone 3.1 miles.
                After some pre-race instructions by the race staffers, we were off and running.  After they said “Go”, I didn’t see Chris again for the next 31 minutes.  He had said he would try to keep up with me, and there was a chance he was just staying behind me, but I wasn’t going to spin around looking for him.  Plus, I got swept up in all the movement up front, combined with the slight downhill right at the start, and before I knew it I was clocking a 6:30 pace.  Luckily at the half mile mark, a long gradual hill appeared, and it kept me honest.  I was forced to slow down and chip away at the hill, which seemed endless but in reality was probably less than a half mile.  It really sucked the life out of me, and even once I reached the top, it took me a fair amount of time to get back up to speed.  My only goal in this race was to come in around 24 minutes, because that would be a decent 8 minute pace.  I started wondering if I would be able to make the 24 minutes because of the time lost on that hill.  Then I remembered the lady that registered me.  I couldn’t let her down.  She expected great things from me!  I powered through the rest of the course, and spotted some horses trotting along their fence line, excited by all the action.  The last couple minutes of the race were difficult because the road was two-way traffic, and there was very little room to pass anyone.  I glanced at my Garmin and was shocked to see that I was already in the 24’s.  I crossed the finish in 25:08, and noticed the distance was actually 3.2.  They had added a “bonus” tenth of a mile.  I’m sure the Wrentham Lions Club doesn’t see this as an issue, but for runners that actually track their PR’s, this throws a bit of wrench into my stats.  Nevertheless, it was a good race, and I grabbed a water and stuck around the finish line to cheer in everyone else.  Chris finished in 31 minutes, and firmly secured my free Bloody Mary.
                My entourage escorted me into the restaurant where we dined on an excellent breakfast buffet.  The only problem with a Lions club organizing a race, as opposed to say, a running club, is that it’s a bit of a mess.  It took a long time for any of the results to come in, and I’m still not 100% sure of my formal finishing time.  Of course, in order to get the results, we had to endure an endless procession of raffle winners.  I contemplated leaving before the medals were issued (as I’ve done in every other race), but when I asked my mother what she thought the odds were of me placing, she said she didn’t recall seeing a lot of traffic in my age group come in ahead of me.  We stuck it out, listened to all the different age groups, and when it came to my age group, 3rd place – no, 2nd place – no, 1st place – ME!  Me?  Sorry did I just space out for a second?  Was that really my name?  I had, in fact, come in 1st place in my division.  Never having been in this position before, I wasted no time whatsoever in embarrassing myself by struggling to get out of my seat, and then walking around in circles trying to figure out how to get to the staircase to go upstairs to receive my medal.  By the time I reached it, I think they were announcing the “older than dirt” category, and I had to explain who I was and why I was trying to steal a medal.  I headed back downstairs with my new award, got the obligatory pictures taken, and headed out.  Not ever having won a running prize before, I was completely out of my element.  Prizes were for those people.  The people with the short-shorts and compression socks and racing flats.  Not the middle aged, New Balance wearing, undersized beer guzzlers like myself.  My only explanation to this fluke is that it had to have been the number.  111 on 1/1/11 was indeed the lucky number, and I lived up to the Registrar’s expectations.  I did great things today.  But next time, I damn well better hit 24 minutes.  J

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