Saturday, March 18, 2006

Post Race Analysis

The Irish Jig 5K. It was a highly anticipated race by me and my fellow Foxtrotters. The Foxtrotters are my running coworkers and I, aligned for the first time today to devastate team competition in Division 2, the under 500 employee category. After weeks of intense mental and physical preparation, the race arrived this morning.

The weather was ideal - chilly, but sunny and calm - and quite a crowd had gathered in and near East Grand Rapids High by 8:30, a half hour before race time. After tracking down our defacto team manager, I obtained my race gear: number and safety pins, commemorative t-shirt, and most importantly, my timing chip, which would be tied into my shoelaces and record my time from start to finish. I decided to leave the ipod behind and get the full race experience.

I hear "10 minutes to race!" from a loudspeaker somewhere near the start line. I see my teammates for the last time before the race and do some warmups.

"5 minutes to race" One more easy wind sprint.

"2 minutes, runners!" I move to the front third of the two thousand bodies assembled behind the start line.

"1 minute!" I Look down, is my right shoe a little loose? Is my race chip tied securely enough? No time to check now. I hope for the best and prepare to start my watch.

I don't hear a clear "Start!", but I could see the front runners begin to move. I followed suit. The first quarter mile is a stampede. I'm at a quick pace to begin in this crowd. Near the curb, I'm forced off the road and to the sidewalk. I hear a scuffle and turn my head just in time to see a body go down in the middle of the asphalt. For the next 4 minutes, it's like navigating rush hour. Slow people are drifting back from the front, quick people are pushing up from the back. It's a mad dash.

Traffic doesn't really settle until nearly a mile in, but that's a guesstimate, since I never saw the first mile marker. It was 8:38 into the race when I looked down at my watch and realized that I must have passed it. I had managed to maintain the quick pace I started with, but it wasn't easy. Since I missed the marker, I didn't know for sure, but it felt like I was moving right along, and I wasn't alone. The front of the pack had disappeared shortly after the start, but I felt like I was among some good runners. My pacers were all types, but none too heavy. I was most evenly paced with a 5'7" Latina with an incredible physique. There were plenty of times I wanted to stop, or at least slow down, but I didn't want to drift back. I wanted to keep up. Did I start too fast? Could I sustain this pace?

I was working, but I felt mostly good. Quitting smoking two weeks ago paid dividends and I reached new aerobic heights and never struggled to catch my breath. A slight incline, and the blonde girl in front of me falls back. The streets of East GR are clean, and neighbors, especially neighbors with kids and dogs, have come out to watch. I wonder what those dogs must think, seeing all these people running up the street. Wouldn't that be kind of a mindf*ck for a dog? I thought of the Independence Day Fireworks I saw driving west on i-96 and the deer at the road's edge, staring at the sky. Keep running.

I see the 2 mile flag. It's huge! How'd I miss the first one? I pass it and look at my watch. Fourteen minutes? Could that be right? I realize how fast I'm moving, and it's faster than I had planned. No choice now but to keep it up.

It was then that I started to welcome the suffering, embracing it. I invited suffering in for dinner. I wanted to find out all about suffering and his friends, pain and misery. This is really a suffering contest, I think to myself. This point comes in every run. It's when suffering starts to taste good.

I look down again, 19 minutes and change. At my pace, the end must not be that far off. It's solace, at least.

A rift is slowly growing right in front of me. I'm not keeping up, but I'm not getting passed either. Just keep going!

There's the 3 mile mark. I'm under it in less than 21 minutes! This is a personal best pace and then some.

I look up and see that the road turns right up ahead. The finish must be close, but I need to see it before I'm comfortable really pouring on what little I have left. People are cheering for friends on the sidelines, but I hear the message: "Kick! Kick! Kick!!!"

I pick it up a few notches, turn the corner, and there's the finish, 75 feet away, a tapered chute like a bottleneck is swallowing runners in front of me. I give it what I can, but I can't muster much of a boost. I hold my shell open so that my number is clearly visible. I hear the high note struck by the computer reading the timing chips as they cross in front of me. I look down and see the clock as I cross the finish line: 22:09

I felt dizzy for a second as I tried to push through the finish traffic. I'm asked for my chip, and I almost fall over. I stop and breathe and bend down to untie it from my shoe. You can have it.

I grab a water, get my bearings, and move back to the finish to cheer my fellow Foxtrotters. I hadn't seen any teammates since before the race. After the last of us crossed the line, it was up the street for some Guinness. It was a day late, but sweeter from the age.

My final time by the chip was 21:49. Not bad, 'eh?

The Foxtrotters order their beers after the race.


Blogger Laba said...

Congrats! Sounds like you had a great race. I find "races" to be rather addictive (although I only compete against myself). Back in '02 , I went on a race kick that extended over 10 weeks (1 per week, generally on Saturday). Runners are a weird, but fun breed. I'm preping for two trail races in April, one is four miles and the other is five. Let me know if you're interested in running them.

8:25 PM  
Blogger J.Knecht said...

Laba, coming outside chicago soon there's a 5k and 10k touring F.L.Wright homes. One can run both if one is so inclined. Sounded like fun to me and I had actually thought about approaching you with the idea.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Laba said...

Yeah, I'd like to learn more!

9:29 PM  
Blogger J.Knecht said...

Whoops. I screwed up and was looking at an old magazine when I read this. Apparently it happened in October, but maybe it's an annual thing.

10:53 PM  

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