Sunday, May 11, 2008

Prairie girl heads for the hills

Saturday was the Race for the Cure in Peoria, which is a really big deal there. I don’t remember when I started running the 5K, but I did it my junior year in high school (on the morning of my prom), and several years later I actually skipped my own college graduation to go home and run it. This year was the first time that Rob and I are both injury-free and in the US, and we were both going to do it. So we headed to Peoria on Friday night and got up bright and early on Saturday for the race.

I didn’t feel too well in the morning, and could only manage a couple bites of Clif Bar in the car ride over. I was a bit distressed because I didn’t have any of the “In Celebration Of” or “In Memory Of” pink papers to pin on my back. In years past, they either placed these pink sheets of paper in your registration packet, or you could pick them up on the day of the race, and you could write the names of people for whom you were running. On race morning, my mom tried to help me look for a booth with these papers, but the crowds of people were so thick that it was to no avail. I was a little upset that these pages hadn’t been more readily available. Rob’s aunt Sharon passed away not so long ago as a result of breast cancer, and my mom’s cousin as well as my own cousin are both survivors. I finally had to resolve myself to run without the names of these women on my back and to just keep thoughts of them with me.

Rob and I warmed up by running about 2 miles at an easy 9-minute pace, but even that felt tough. At least moving around in the 40 degree temperature was better than standing and shivering in the cold. Besides, I didn’t have very high expectations for this race: its more about the cause than the actual run. And don’t forget the hills. Peoria is hilly. Being a flatlander prairie girl for the past 10+ years, I am completely unaccustomed to hills, and I do not enjoy running them.

After the brief warm-up, I made my way through the throngs of people to the start line and tried not to get trampled while waiting for the race to begin. Although both men and women were running, all women were to start first and then the men’s race would start 10 minutes later. Finally the sirens blared and we were off and running. The start of a huge race like this is always mass chaos. That first bit was downhill, which I actually don’t like in a 5K. After standing around for 15-20 minutes, taking off at full speed downhill tends to make the legs feel like jelly. I actually welcomed the long uphill that soon began (all the way up University to Northmoor) and took up most of the first mile.

When I hit the mile 1 marker, my watch said 7:26, and I thought grimly, oh well, what did I expect at a hilly 5K when I am not feeling well to begin with. After the first mile, we entered a twisting, turning, residential area that was rife with constantly undulating hills. The only good thing was that this part has asphalt roads, which is infinitely kinder to the joints than concrete.

I was really grateful to the race volunteers for pointing me in the right direction at all the turns. After the first mile, I was mainly alone on the hills. I’d had passed everybody that I could, and there was a pack of people way out in front that was too far ahead for me to catch. Around 10 minutes into the race, I heard sirens again and thought that must have been the signal of the men’s start. The next time I looked at my watch (going uphill around 12:24) I thought, I hope I’m about half done now. Then I hit the mile 2 marker at 13:59 and wondered how I had gotten myself on 7-minute pace with such a slow start.

The great thing about a 5K is that its over so quickly. Powering up the hills, cruising down them, feeling like you are trying to suck in oxygen through a straw when you really need gallons of it. You just need to keep your wits about you and remind yourself that any discomfort is purely temporary. At 19 minutes into the race I thought I still had at least 5 more minutes of running before it would be done. But it was up and down a few more hills, and all of a sudden I rounded a corner and saw the National City Bank—pretty much at the finish line. “You’re almost done!” an elderly man on the side of the road cheered as I ran past. How is this possible?, I thought. But there I was, thundering towards the finish line and the clock hadn’t even reached 22 minutes. I saw my parents clapping and waving as they caught sight of me. I crossed the finish line and I finally glanced down to stop my watch at 22:05. I couldn’t believe it. Its a tie for my fastest 5K ever—a time I haven’t come close to reaching in years. All of a sudden I felt like a million bucks.

I weaved back through the crowds to Rick and Nan, where we waited for Rob. By the time the men started finishing, it was getting really congested. With only a 10-minute gap between the men and women’s races, the fast men were coming through at the same time as the majority of the women. Picture a mass of women, running around 9 or 10-minute miles, as men who are running sub 6-minute pace try to run through them. That seems to spell total disaster. Rob didn’t complain too much about it, but I really hope they change that for next year. Rob finished in a time of 18:25 despite all the chaos at the end.

We hung around for a while at the festivities, and then Rob rode home with Rick and Nan. I’m on the taper for this marathon, but I was still supposed to do 12 miles. I ran back home at a nice, easy pace, and then ran a few miles around my parents’ neighborhood; I figure it was around 10 or 11 for the day, which is good enough.

At any rate, it was really good to spend mother’s day weekend with my family and also to run my best time (or at least tie it) in a 5K. I usually say that I hate 5Ks and I always say that I hate hills, but I am somewhat reconsidering those statements.

Thanks for reading!


amypfan said...

Note to readers: What Melissa did not state here is that Rob won his age group, or at least that's what my dad and the Peoria Journal Star tell me!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you got second, in your age group. meli!!! and 12th overall!!!!! congrats,, to both you and rob. way to go!!!!!!! At least it wasn't RAINING this year!!!!!!!! GOOD LUCK at the Madison, WI, marathon!!!! May the weather be good, the wind behind you and no hazards along the way!!!! luv and hugs, foxy mama

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