Fly Like a… Pig? My First Race Experience.
The day started early, since Nick was running the Toyota 10k right before my race: the Flying Pig 5k. Both of our races were part of the larger event, The Flying Pig Marathon, but we were not yet ready to tackle that beast. We will be in 2013 though, so get excited! Anyway, we made our way from campus all the way down to in front of the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball stadium, where both races were set to begin. Nick pinned on his number, but I was cold, it was drizzling and I like racing shirtless
to show off my incredible 2 pack because I get really hot when I run, so I kept on my sweatshirt. I would have plenty of time before my race to get ready anyway. We had about 15 minutes until the starting gun and Nick realized he needed to use the bathroom, so off we went to the port-o-potties.
Nick was just leaving the port-o-potties when we heard the announcer counting down from 30 to start the race. Noo! We ran up to the back of the crowd and started trying to weave our way forward along the side, but at one point it just got too thick. Nick, being the super laid back amazing guy that he is wasn’t bothered by starting way back with a slower group, and the race started.
Off they jogged across the Ohio river. At first I thought of trying to run over to the other bridge they would cross back into Kentucky on and wait for him to come by, but then I figured I wouldn’t be able to get a good shot of him at the finish line. So down to the line I went.
Even though he started with the slower group, he sped off and got 13th for his division! After the finish he told me he had been a bit frustrated spending the first half of the race weaving through people, but other than that it was great! Hurray! We went back to the starting line and got ready for my race.
After finally lining up at the start, I found myself a bit closer to the front than I had originally intended. Oh well. As we waited I looked around and noticed how young this group seemed to be. A lot seemed to be high school and college aged, and were talking about 6 minute miles, which by the way would be 1:30 faster than my fastest mile. I suddenly felt like I was going to race against a bunch of clones of the Flash. So to get my mind off of things I started chatting with a young guy next to me. It turns out he was in high school, a cross country runner, but this was his first big race. It gave me comfort knowing I wasn’t the only newbie here… even though I was even more of one than him. I hadn’t run any races, let alone cross country. Ever. Gulp. The countdown began.
The gun sounded and off we went. Me being naive about how to pace yourself in a race decided I’d try and stay with the front group for as long as possible and then fizz out. As long as I could average just under an 8 min mile I’d make my goal of a sub 24 minute 5k, right? Not the best sounding idea now that I look back on it but between feeling like the beast of a Yak that I am and the pure adrenaline surging through my veins, at the time I thought it sounded brilliant! Little did I know the 5k is considered the sprint of distance running and soon everyone would speed up. Oops.
We ran down a long stretch of road by the Ohio river that made me feel like I was on some planet made of concrete runways. Especially since there weren’t that many people in front of me at that point and the sky was this crazy purple and bluish color since it was morning and had just been raining. The wet ground reflected it too. It was a very serene place to be running. I got a bit lost in thought, which I tend to do. Suddenly the course sloped down off of that planet and back into downtown Cincinnati. It was at this point that we passed the one mile marker, and as I approached it I started making out the numbers on the counter. 7:10… 7:11… 7:12…
7:13. My first mile split was 30 seconds faster than my previous mile PR. And surprisingly I was feeling great! Woo! Pretty soon after I look over and see Nick snapping pictures on the side so I start yelling about my PR to him like a crazy person. He waived back like he had heard me so I did a little joy leap and continued on my journey.
I was getting passed here and there but for the most part was trying to keep up my pace to stick toward the front runners and get the best time I could (oh that brilliant race plan of mine). The more I looked ahead though the further I realized the leaders were getting in front of me, and after only a few more seconds they were out of sight. “Holy carp,” I thought to myself, “how can they go that fast?” The pace the group around me was keeping started to feel a little tiring, but knowing my legs usually take about two miles before they finally feel good I pushed on, continuing my run in front of downtown.
It was at this point that I began my first experience with what is in my opinion one of the best parts about racing: runner comradery. For most of the race so far I had been hanging out next to this middle aged shirtless guy in red shorts, but he started picking up his pace (or at least it felt like it) and soon I found myself behind him and next to a similarly aged man in a green shirt. “Hey!” he breathed.
“Hi” I tried my best to respond between breaths.
“How’s it going?”
“Pretty well, I think. It’s my first race and I just shattered my 1 mile PR” I was still overly excited about that.
“Cool. What time are you trying to finish?”
“You’ve got it”
We turned a corner into the city and right in front of me was a nice hill. Not a mountain, but I knew it would probably slow me down.
“Eeeh, I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this pace,” I panted.
“Sure you can!” he said, and with that pulled just enough in front of me for me to use him as a pacer. “Wow,” I thought. “my first racing friend: middle aged green shirt guy.”
We continued on our way up this short hill when I saw an older looking man seeming to have a hard time. He quickly slowed down to a walk. Inspired by green shirt guy I made a quick detour over to him as we approached, “You’ve got it, come on!” I tried cheering, my huge goofy smile still plastered to my face from the PR. He looked up, smiled and started running again. We got back up to green shirt guy and right behind me I heard a super deep “Thanks!”. I replied with a “Yep!” and on we went.
The back part of the race took us further in through the city. We passed our one and only water stop, and, not thirsty but hot, I poured a cup of water all over my head. A deep chuckle came from behind me. Our group of three continued on into an area of road nearby the spaghetti junction of I-275. Trying to keep my mind off of my now aching calves I looked around at the beautiful old buildings. Sure they’re run down, but who ever said beauty can’t have some character? This part of the race was a bit of an out and back so I looked to the right and saw a good number of people in front of me, with only a couple of women. I still couldn’t believe the speed these people could keep. We must have passed the 2 mile marker right around then – I wasn’t paying attention – because that’s when green shirt guy piped up.
“Eeeh.” I managed to get out. This pace was on the verge of kicking my butt.
“Well it’s mostly downhill from here, but if you want a 24 it’s gonna be a sprint”
Great. I thought we were on target? What had happened to that godly 7:13 pace? Maybe the calf pain was catching up with me. My thighs were starting to ache too. Going downhill was nice at least, and it gave me a chance to let some of the parts of my legs rest that had been sustaining this uphill battle. I could tell green shirt guy had slowly been picking it up because I was having more and more difficulty keeping pace. Determination and adrenaline won out though, and I could hear old deep voice man huffing right behind me. That mile seemed to go by quickly as we got to the riverside street again and turned for home. I was so excited, expecting the finish line to be right there and had sort of forgotten about mile three. Nope. In front of us was another stupid incline. Not enough to really be a hill, but enough to get on my nerves. For a second I almost slowed down and called it quits. My legs were screaming at me and every logical neuron in my brain was trying to figure out why in the world I was still running. But as we continued along I caught sight of the 3 mile marker. I was so close, I couldn’t give up now! Not with my new race buddies! I willed myself on, trying to keep up with green shirt guy. I wanted that 24.
Finally the finish line lingered into sight, and we were close. I sped up a little out of excitement, now next to green shirt man. It was almost over! Yes!! I squinted at the clock above the line looking for my sub 24 time.
23:20. My stomach sank. I had 40 seconds to get my butt all the way across that finish line. I suddenly felt this surge of fear and energy as I let it rip and started on an all out sprint. I kept it up for about 5 seconds before I absolutely felt like I was dying. I fully expected to lose balance and fall flat on my face. I couldn’t hear the crowd, couldn’t see any other runners. It was just me and that clock, and I was not about to let it win without a fight. I just kept sprinting, hoping for the best, and as I got closer to the line I looked down. The last time I had seen was 23:45. 15 seconds. Was I fast enough? Was I going to fall on my numb legs? Would those women in pig suits hanging around the finish get out of the way?
I crossed and stopped my sprint, and as you can see from my wonderful post race pic (courtesy of Nick) I was just feeling great. I thought I might roll over and die.
Marathonfoto caught me finishing too.
I looked up in time to see green shirt guy finish followed by deep voiced old guy. I felt ok enough to get my finisher’s medal and grab a banana, gatorade and some fritos. Yum. Green shirt guy, feeling winded as well walked by and we high-fived. I told him thanks and as he left old deep voice man walked up. “They just took my picture!” he tiredly exclaimed. “I’m 50 years old and just won my age group. Thanks back there.” I congratulated him, still a bit in shock from the whole experience. We shook hands and then I left the finishers area. On my way out the young guy I had talked to just before the race waved me down. Apparently he did a sub 18. Holy carp.
I quickly met up with Nick who I figured I had missed seeing at the finish line in my craze of pounding out pavement. It turns out he had found a nice spot to take pictures above the finish line, and got me and the clock as I finished:
My first race was a lot of fun, challenging, and a huge learning experience. Don’t start a distance race sprinting, don’t be shocked if you do, and sometimes encouragement from fellow runners is all you need to keep going. There were others helping each other along, and it took my experience with green shirt guy to realize that they also could have just been strangers. This hidden humanitarianism of the running community that I had stumbled upon was so inspiring to me. There’s so much more to this sport than just running, and it made me re-think my approach to racing. Sure a good time is great, but this whole idea that those around you aren’t just competitors but a support group to be a part of was very influential. The idea reflects well onto life as a whole.
Oh and by the way, the reason I didn’t see a lot of women in front of me? I got 21st out of the women overall, and 4th in my division. Yeah. That’s right. This Yak is a beastly running machine! I felt like I could take on the world…. as soon as I could feel my legs. For the time being I was looking forward to a nice warm gluten free cinnamon roll and cuddling up with Nick to watch the Derby. =)
In what ways have other runners encouraged or inspired you during a race?