Monday, March 14, 2011

Running My First Road Race

I've been running in various degrees of frequency since 1980 (and boy are my legs tired!), but this past Sunday, March 13, 2011, is the first time I entered and ran an actual road race.

It was called the "Ras na hEireann USA", or in English, the Race of Ireland and USA. That pretty much says it all right there. And the kicker of it was, I wasn't even the one who initiated joining it; that particular honor fell to my lovely wife Carol, who's been getting into the whole running thing, much to my joy.

We signed up a while back, and trained faithfully for it. Thank God for the gym this winter, because otherwise we'd have been in sad shape (in more ways than one).

We decided to get a hotel room on Saturday night in Cambridge, and that way we wouldn't have to worry about driving down on Sunday morning, especially with the advent of Daily Savings Time, and springing forward to lose an hour.

So, with not much to do on Saturday night, we decided to go into downtown Boston, hit Fanueil Hall, and partake in a little decidedly non-Weight Watchers fare. In keeping with the spirit of the Irish road race, we went to an Irish pub at Quincy Market. Naturally, Carol and I each had to drink a Guinness. Come on, it was practically mandated by law!

Next morning, it was up early, hit Dunkin Donuts for some pre-race carbs, meeting Adrienne there as well, then off in her Mini-Cooper (named "Sheldon") to Somerville and the road race.

The forecast called for sunshine and low 50's. So naturally, it was gray, chilly, and mid-40's. Ah, March in New England! Once we assembled at the starting line, we were pumped and ready to do this. Carol had gone, in less than a year, from not running at all to being in a 5k road race. This would be the first race for both of us.

Encouraged by Carol's suggestions on the matter, I decided to try for speed. I actually went up to the 7-minute mile pacing area of the starting line. It then occurred to me that no one was next to me. I turned around and saw the mass of humanity that would eventually number 5112 runners. Somehow, I was at the front of the pack, and I mean the REAL in, I was somehow the leader. I relished the feeling, because deep down I had this suspicion that my leading the pack would end as soon as the starter's pistol went off.

I was right. As everyone around me did the human equivalent of a jackrabbit start, I was more like the freight engine that starts off slow and builds up a head of steam. But in the interim, several hundred people proceeded to shoot by me. I was literally buffeted by runners passing on the left and the right.

That was when I realized that I didn't have a good rhythm. I had deliberately not brought my iPod with me, feeling that the sheer energy and camaraderie would carry me through. But this run happened to be my very first outdoor run since last November, right before the weather began turning to crap. So my first exposure (so to speak) to outdoor running this year was in the cold, with no tunes, and in the middle of my first freaking road race.

As my brain busily handled several tasks at once, namely trying to figure out a good running/breathing pattern while trying to figure out what/why/how the freaking Hell I was doing out here, my legs began falling into something resembling a good rhythm, and I actually found myself beginning to not only catch up with, but overtake some of my fellow racers.

I had been told that running on a treadmill was different than running outdoors. Now, while I conceded that there may be some truth to this, there was a Hell of a lot more truth to it than I thought. This past winter was the first time I ever actually spent the "off season" on a treadmill. And while I was indisputably maintaining my fitness level, burning calories, building up leg muscles this winter, the treadmill is definitely different, and now I was trying to re acclimate myself to the way I've always run for the past 31 years! During a road race, no less...

I tell you, when I saw that finish line, my heart leaped. I could've sobbed for joy. I put on an extra burst of speed, scrunched my face into my best "determined runner on the verge of triumph" look (hey, there were lots of cameras there...), and streaked across the finish line!

As I walked my cool-down and got my participation medal, I backtracked to the finish line, moving through the crowds of spectators, so I could see Ade and Carol finish. First came Ade, then a few minutes later came Carol. All of us had run the course without stopping, without slowing down to a walk. We ran it all.

Now, after all that, came the truly great part of the race: the post-race party. The Irish bars along the route were all holding the post-race festivities, including live Irish music and of course, beer.

Problem was, the lines getting into the bars were huge. So we eventually decided to just find ANY place that could get us out of the raw cold, and into a warm comfortable place with a drink in our hands. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant (which as it turned out was also the final destination of at least a dozen other runners!), so while I had beers, the ladies had 'ritas.

It was still a half-hour wait, but the alcohol made it easier. The weirdest moment, though, had to be when this girl and her two friends came up to where Carol and I were sitting and told me that I bore an uncanny resemblance to Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live. Although it was clear to them that I wasn't Armisen, it still didn't stop the girl from asking to have her picture taken with me. So hey, why not?

After a terrific meal, it was time to head home, back to Nashua and the cat, who we were sure was incensed at our absence over the past almost 24 hours.

As we drove back, Carol and I were kind of sad that it was over. We had worked so hard to be ready for it, it was fun, we succeeded in our goal, was over. Now what? Well, Carol mentioned a few other races we might be interested in, ones that are a lot closer to home...

Looks like we're back in training!

Carol finished 4325 out of 5112, with an 11:19 minute mile.
Ade finished 3636 out of 5112, with a 10:30 minute mile.
I finished 837 out of 5112, with a 7:55 minute mile. I finished 22nd out of 109 in my age group.

Next year, I plan to do better! Heck, we all plan to do better. That way, we'll get to the pubs faster, and not have to deal with long lines. Hey, we have our priorities straight!