I want to run more 5Ks this year than I did last year. (Not necessarily run them better; just run more of them. That’s easier.)
So I dragged myself to Lehigh University’s lovely Goodman Campus this morning for the Centennial School 5K, my second race of the year.
It’s not a very big race, and it’s cross-country — both of which I like, or claim to like. And it was a gorgeous morning for a race, dry and sunny but not humid.
Alas, I did not rise to the occasion.My legs felt weak and heavy for most of the first mile, which I thought I ran OK at best.
Then I died on the second mile, which, mentally and physically, was as weak and craven a mile as any I can remember racing. If this had been the French Foreign Legion, I would have been dragged behind Fort Zinderneuf and dispatched to the merciful angels with a single shot.
At the end of mile two, I even stopped twice for five-second walking breaks, just to catch my breath and try to find a rhythm. I haven’t done that in years.
Then a funny thing happened. I looked behind me after the second walking break, and there still wasn’t anyone within 500 feet of me. (This is a hazard of smaller races: You sometimes end up in a pocket where the person behind you and the person ahead of you are both distant blips, and you have to generate all your motivation yourself instead of having someone else to inspire you forward.)
I thought to myself: If there’s no one you can hand this race to, you might as well claim it for your own.
Surrender not being much of an option, I tried attacking. And I ran one of the better, stronger third miles I’ve ever run, complete with kick at the end.
It felt good. I was, within reason, even proud of it.
In the end, I finished ninth overall and second in my age group, in a time of 24:42. That’s about 30 seconds slower than the road race I ran in March, but considering how lousy I felt, I think I salvaged a decent time by my standards.
I had two epiphanies afterward that left me feeling good as I walked away:
– A couple minutes after the race, I thought randomly to myself, “I’m 40 years old, and I can still break 25 minutes in a 5K.”
For the non-runners in the crowd, that’s really not very impressive. I know any number of 40-year-olds (and older) who could roll out of bed at 6 a.m. on New Year’s Day and break 25 minutes in a 5K.
But, for a guy who was never much more than a middle-of-the-pack runner in high school, I am pleased to still be challenging myself and racing at some modest competitive standard all these years later.
There are a lot of people my age who — thanks to injury, slack or some other reason — can’t run a 25-minute 5K. It pleases me that I can, and I am resolving to keep that up as long as I can.
– The guy who won my age group finished eighth, one place ahead of me.
I was a little frustrated about that for a minute. I think I ran a stronger third mile than he did, but I’d given up so much ground during my lousy second mile that I couldn’t catch him.
I talked with him a little bit after the race — one of those hey-buddy-nice-run kinda chats.
I told him I’d never run this race before. And he said, “I ran districts here when I was in high school.”
I imagined the guy driving home with his first-place certificate, thinking to himself, “I’ve been running this course since I was 17 and I can still kick its ass when I want to. Yeah, I’ve still got it.”
That thought made me feel better; I didn’t mind having lost. If I can contribute to somebody else’s not-old-yet moment, that’s as good as having one of my own.