A couple of weeks ago, at the tail end of a hard run, an older neighbor waved at me and waited for me to stop. He looked distressed and I couldn’t understand him with my headphones on, so I whipped my ear buds and out and slowed down. In a heavy accent, gesturing wildly towards his face, he admonished me, “Don’t run with your mouth open!”
“Oh,” I panted, trying to smile politely, “I try not to.” I wondered why this old dude was in his lawn coaching me on breathing technique.
“You catch-a de pneumonia!” He warned.
“Yes sir!” I agreed before running on.
I knew he was just looking out for my welfare, but I was a little peeved. First of all, I was way more worried about impending cardiac arrest than I was about a smidge of fluid in my lungs. Secondly, it was a breezy and beautiful day with temps in the mid-50’s, so I felt that catching pneumonia was unlikely. Thirdly, Gramps was totally bringing down my average minutes per mile. Not cool!
I thought about my neighbor quite frequently today as I ran downtown through the great city of Louisville, Kentucky. I was wetter than I have ever been in my entire life. Bitter cold rain beat down on my face. I had given up on my glasses long ago, so I could see the shapes of the runners around me, but not their faces. “It’s a good thing he can’t see me now,” I thought. Catch-a de pneumonia indeed.
Today I participated in the Humana Vitality 5K race- my first 5K ever, running or walking. Right about the time I committed to training for Powered with Pride in June, the opportunity to do this 5K for free through my employer came up. I signed up, but knowing I would be nowhere near ready to run the whole thing by March, I didn’t get too amped up about it. At first, I thought I would run as much as I could, just for fun. Then, I badgered a good friend to sign up, and only convinced her to do it under the promise that I would walk with her, every step of the way. I decided I was totally fine with walking the whole way, that it was more important to be supportive than to see how fast I could do it. Plenty of time for fast in June.
Unfortunately, my friend got sick this week and by Friday, we knew she was not going to be able to make it. As I was trying to graciously let her off the hook, I realized… I no longer had any reason not to at least try to run, as much as I could. My emotions were mixed- disappointment that my friend was feeling poorly, happy that I had an excuse to buy some real running pants, and queasy with nerves about running in an actual race the next day.
My wife and I shipped our kids off to other family members for Spring Break, so I assumed that given this rare opportunity, she would want to spend the morning sleeping in and enjoying the peace and quiet. You could have knocked me over with a feather when she said she was coming with me. She seemed equally surprised that I was surprised. “I’m not going to miss your first race!”
“But you didn’t say you wanted to come, so I didn’t want to assume,” I protested lamely.
“I just thought you knew I was coming!”
I tried to tell her that it was going to be too early, too wet, too cold, and too boring for her, but there was no talking her out of it. She’s great like that.
I can honestly say, I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so excited to get out of bed at 6 AM on a Saturday morning. I made a big pot of oatmeal and broke my no-distractions-while-eating rule to make a fresh playlist for the race. I drank my coffee while I slapped on my running clothes (yay new pants!) I could hear the rain beating against my bedroom window and wondered how cold it was. I had been hoping that dire predictions of a cold, nasty day were just pessimistic talk, but when I opened the door and felt the chilly breeze on my face… I had to question myself.
Who gets up before sunlight, on a precious day alone with their spouse, in the freakish cold, to run a race they have no hope of winning or, if we’re being totally honest, even running the whole length?
I guess I would have turned around and got back in, but I couldn’t picture telling me wife I changed my mind after she helped me pick out new pants and all. Plus, Humana had already paid my entrance fee and another friend was holding onto my number for me. Sometimes people say that I’m an inspiration, and I like that. Who wouldn’t want to be inspiring? I have to laugh every once in a while though, because it is no great inner strength or motivation that gets me going some days. If I was relying on my motivation, I would have gone back to bed! A lot of times, it’s just circumstances like these: other people are rooting for me, counting on me, waiting for me.
The half hour or so before the race was a blur of trying find my friend (and my race number) and get lined up. I was happy to see some familiar faces, but a lot of ( more sensible) folks stayed home. Still, there was a pretty good crowd at the starting line. My wife says I stretched my neck up at the perfect moment as she was trying to take my picture.
She says I didn’t look quite as happy at the end of the race… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
My plan for the race was to attempt Week 5 Day 3 of Couch to 5K (again- 20 minutes consecutive running is still not my friend), walk for some of the middle portion, and finish strong by running the last half mile or so. In reality, I managed to run at a pretty decent pace for the first 10 minutes, then I walked for a few and ran the remaining 5 or 6. The route followed a straight path down the road, and then turned the opposite direction so that in the first half, the faster folks already in the second half would run by in the opposite direction. I decided to stick to the middle of the road and cheer as much as I could. I gave lots of thumbs up, a couple high fives, and tons of whoops and cheering. This was a lot of fun and it kept my morale up, which was very important since I was very, very wet by this time.
I was running with everything I had and still getting passed by speedwalkers and people carrying little babies. That was fine (okay, a little depressing), but at times I did wish there was more cheering going on. I started to wonder if I was breaking some kind of unspoken 5K rule to be As Serious As Possible. Eventually, I got too tired to keep cheering and didn’t have to worry about it any more.
I ran past the cones at the turning point, and then re-started Week 5 Day 3. I ran some more, but I never really picked up speed the way I did in the first half. The rain and cold were starting to get to me. My shoes have some kind of fancy “hydro shield” that makes them water-resistant… but after the first half hour, I had to admit that “water-resistant” is not the same as “water-proof”. I cheered a little bit, but the walkers didn’t seem to need to be cheered much. At some point I heard a lady say, “Now YOU go, cheerleader!” and I liked that. Also, a nice volunteer security officer said, “One step at a time!” Thank God for these people. Maybe not everybody needs or wants to be encouraged in a race, but I was wearing out and really needed it.
I kept trying to check my phone to see how far I had walked, keeping an eye out for that point when I had a half mile left and would start running again. My phone was completely uncooperative (probably due to the rain on the screen interfering with its ability to read my finger swipes) and my frustration was piling up. I knew I had to be getting close to the end, but it was hard to make my legs keep going forward. I briefly convinced them that running meant getting warm and dry faster… but they only sort of believed me.
My pace stayed pretty slow until I got close enough to see the finish line. Actually, since I had given up on my glasses long ago, I couldn’t really see much, but I saw glowing red things in the distance shaped like numbers. I took my (wet) ear buds out and asked the people next to me what the sign said. A woman yelled,
“It says ‘Finish’!” I had to laugh, and clarified that I was trying to ask, what did the numbers say? The numbers said 53 something. Buoyed by the knowledge that I was going to finish in less than an hour, I crossed the finish line at 53:59.
The whole time I was approaching the end, I was scanning the crowd for my wife’s face. Possibly owing to the aforementioned lack of glasses, she was nowhere to be seen. I had no idea that I would need and want to see her there so badly, but my heart dropped when I thought she wasn’t there. Just moments later, as I stumbled to the area where finishers were congregating, I found her, essentially collapsed into her and started crying. I didn’t expect to be emotional over 3.1 miles of run-walkikng, but my relief at finishing was so palpable, so intense, all I could do was weep. I can’t think of too many times I have been happier to see her smiling face.
Lynn led me inside (where I immediately started complaining about how hot it was), helped me strip off my top layer of soaked clothes, and sat me down at a table where my nurse practitioner and her assistant made me choke down a banana. (They were there to hand out information at a booth, not just ply me with fruit.) At some point it occurred to me that my breathing wasn’t so good, and I managed to fish my inhaler out from my soaked pullover and take a couple of puffs. It took a few minutes for me to feel “normal” again.
I had thought at this point, I would be ready to go eat a second breakfast and rehash my race with Lynn, but really I just wanted to cry and go home to pee. So that’s what we did. We got home around 10 AM and I already had over 10,000 steps on my FitBit. When I sorted through my stats on the Couch to 5K app, I was pleasantly surprised to see that even walking part of the last 10 minutes, my running pace for the first 20 minutes was exactly 16:00 minutes per mile- a new best pace! I’m pretty happy with my overall time too. I guess I’ll have to mull everything over and figure out how much time I can reasonably take off by June. It feels silly and nitpicky to think about my next race strategy right now. It’s like planning your next labor right after you pop out the first baby.
Right now, I’m just enjoying my warm, quiet house and the company of a beautiful woman who got up too early this morning, all to be too cold, too wet, and too bored. She didn’t take vows to do those things, but she does them anyway. I’ve learned that while I do run by myself most of the time, I can’t really run alone. I hope someday she picks up a strange hobby that requires great personal sacrifice on my part, so I can return some of these favors.