Today, I ran my first race in 17 months. My last race was the 2012 Portland Marathon. Yeah. It’s been awhile.
Closed-off streets and on-ramps made getting to the race start line difficult. However, we made it in time. Jonathon pinned on my bib, and with a kiss for luck, I was on my way.
I ran a St. Paddy’s Day 10K in Tacoma. Me and a bunch of other crazy folks dressed in green, tutus, wigs and sparkles gathered at the start line. Some folks rocked shamrock socks. Some had jaunty, glittery green tams. Babies in strollers and dogs on leashes joined us, too. The overcast day started out dry and in the 40s.
This Irish-themed race encompassed three different runs – a 5k, 10k and a half marathon. I knew I wanted to do more than a 5k but less than a half marathon. I opted for the 10k. I’ve never raced this distance before today, so whatever I would get would be a PR.
I took time to get in line to use the portapotties. I saw no one I knew. I chatted up the couple in line behind me, an older guy with a full grizzly white beard and his spouse, a shorter gal with long brown hair sporting glasses and a cane.
“Boy, there are a lot more people here than last year, ” he said. “This race has really grown.”
Locals. They knew the scoop. The man addressed me.
“There’s Super Sonics guy,” he said. He nodded at a tall guy with a sign saying “Bring ’em back!”. The Super Sonics used to be Seattle’s professional basketball team. They relocated to Oklahoma in 2008. Good luck, buddy. That ship sailed.
“I wonder where Gumby is?” he asked. I guess there’s a guy who wears a full Gumby costume each year. Gumby didn’t show today. Perhaps Pokey fell ill.
The course started out flat, then quickly turned steeply downhill. I remembered this was an out-and-back race. That “back” would hurt in the last mile. We ran along Tacoma’s scenic industrial waterfront. Big ships and gray water.
I really ran my own race. I didn’t compete with anyone else. I didn’t let anyone else’s competitive nature get to me. I guess it helped that there were no mile markers until the 5k turnaround. Then after that…nothing until the 10k turnaround. Long before I reached the turnaround, I spotted a 10k runner going past me on the right. He flew. His feet had wings. Cheers erupted from the lumbering horde. Then another, and another came into view. They looked like they were built for speed. Their legs churned the damp air and they cruised along. I thought to myself, Great! I’m almost to the turnaround, too.
But I wasn’t. It took me another 15 minutes at least to get there. I couldn’t see anything past the runners in front of me. When I finally reached the turnaround, it seemed anticlimactic: just a few orange cones to run around to get to the opposite side of the street.
Then, a little head of me, I saw my start line friend. He labored along, a little hunched, ahead of me. I sped up a little to catch him. Deep in his music, he didn’t notice me. I gently tapped his arm.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Ain’t dead yet!” he replied. I had to grin. Isn’t that the truth?
“How about you?” His voice held genuine concern. I’d told him I hurt my back and this was my first race since then.
“I’m fine, ” I said. And it was true. I felt good.
We figured we should see the 4 mile marker soon. It loomed up suddenly. Great! Just over 2 miles to go. This race actually came to 6.2 miles, as a 5k is 3.1 miles. But who’s counting? I passed my friend and kept going.
Another hill, back up the overpass we floated down. Then another smaller one. I had to walk a few of those hills. But not the whole time. I paced myself. Then, the last steep hill to the finish. Brutal!
I could see the finish line. Hurrah! I sprinted to it, smiling for the cameras. Why not? I didn’t get queasy. I didn’t trip or bonk. I made it. I felt good.
Once back home, I stalked the results page until my time posted: 1:03:12, averaging 10:12 minute miles. I’m happy with that. I came in 22/51 in my age division, 298 out of 547 overall. So, smack in the middle of my (very large) division and a little past the middle of the overall 10k racers. At least I didn’t come in last. Not that I would have minded.
I found what I hoped to find, a reservoir of confidence in myself. I thought it had all dried up over the last year. I figured the frustration and pain of a long-standing, persistent injury and not finishing my one and only marathon sapped it. But it turns out a remnant remained. And I found it. Thanks be to God.