Run For the Schools 5K: Sunday, standing at the start line of a 5K race on a cold September morn, I started wishing I'd worn gloves. It was a welcome relief after the long hot summer.
This was a local 5K race supporting the schools in the town where I live. A check of the course map had revealed the route to be winding and hilly. Besides a series of torturous turns down little side blocks, the second mile of the route ran up and down the big hill a half mile from my house that I use for my hill workouts.
The gun sounded and we were off. The first hundred yards was uphill and at least forty runners surged past me, many of them school age children. With kid runners who jack-rabbit at the start, you can’t assume they’ll come back to you. They either flame and quickly burn out, or else they are relentless in their high energy level and you won’t be seeing them again. I don't worry about kids in a race.
This race had announced 5 year age group awards. This was my home town and I wanted to win the 55-59 age group.
I looked around me for other men with lined faces. There were some already ahead of me. Plus at least two women, one of whom was way ahead with the race leaders. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her again.
After a quarter mile we were running downhill and no one else was passing me. No other runners would pass me for the rest of the race.
I passed some youngsters who were already flaming out, plus a few inexperienced adult runners who had gone out too fast. The lead group was settling into a long extended train of runners starting to get distance between each other.
I came upon a man about my age on the next long upgrade. We exchanged pleasantries as I passed him, talking about the hills on the course. There’s the big one yet to come, I assured him as I went by. I didn't want to see him again.
I tried to pick up the pace as I passed the first mile. I got into a duel with a runner about my age that I had spent a few blocks reeling in. He matched me stride for stride for a block, then fell in behind me right on my heels for another block. He was hard to put away but I finally got separation.
I came upon a block of four runners, two males about my age plus a younger one who were following what I thought was the second woman. (She turned out to be the fourth woman.) I wanted to take them all, to put these two contemporaries plus what I perceived to be the runner-up woman behind me. I had resigned myself to not catching the lead woman who was far out of sight.
The youngest male immediately ahead had an untied shoelace flopping around. I helpfully pointed this out to him as I drew even and he stopped to tie it. That one was easy, I thought.
We started up the big hill which topped out at milepost two. Its awful vista stretched out before us, 0.4 miles long and flaring steeply at the top where it bent out of sight around a sweeping turn. Fortunately I had run it dozens of times and knew it leveled off just past the curve.
I passed one of the older runners ahead who was slowing down at the sight of the visually intimidating hill. This was the only out and back portion of the route and I watched the race leader come flying by going downhill, followed closely a younger runner. A few runners later, the woman leader came by.
I stopped watching the front runners go by as I focused on passing the other man and the woman ahead of me. Hills are your friends in races if you use them to put runners behind you. I passed both runners. Then the man summoned a burst of energy and charged past me. I followed him around the curve into the cul-de-sac beyond, where he died. I passed him again and thanked him as I went by for letting me draft off him.
I circled around at the top and ran down the big hill. Many runners coming up were walking.
Gaining level ground at the bottom, I passed one last runner who had started walking. I didn’t think there were any men my age in front of me. I was about three quarters of a mile out and I didn’t want to lose any places now, especially to someone who looked to be in his fifties.
The runner ahead of me was stretching out his lead. I didn't foresee picking off any more runners.
Glancing back, I could see that the man and woman I had passed on the hill were gaining on me. Darned negative-splitters, I thought.
I ran on, seeking the finish line. I heard the man come up on me fast. He ran by me in a rush and I kicked it into overdrive to keep pace. I studied his face and he looked like he could be in my age group. Otherwise I would have let him go because he was really working.
We were half a mile out, which was too far out for me to run it in fast. We were both sprinting now. But hey, this was my home town and I thought I might garner an age group award if I could hold this runner off.
I didn’t know if I could keep it up. For two blocks we ran hard, side by side. Then he started talking to himself. "Do it, do it," he said. I knew I had him.
After a quarter mile of this hellish effort, he fell back, affording me the opportunity to slow down a little. Rounding the final turn, I could see the finish banner three blocks away. I looked back and saw that I could hold my place if I didn't falter. I brought it home in 24:16 (7:49), followed five seconds later by the man I had held off who finished second in the 40-45 age group. The woman behind me, a triathlete, finished fourth, one runner further back.
The race’s winner, age 50, finished in 19:24. The female winner, age 40, finished in 22:18 in 7th place.
I was 18th out of 131 finishers, the 15th male out of 64. I earned bragging rights in town for a year as I won my age group by 5:27.
I had run a good race on a challenging course. I felt great all day.
Thanks Rich, for your generous contribution to my commitment to run Chicago for a charity!