All of us need a little kick in the pants every now and then.
Friday afternoon was one of those days for me.
Early in the morning Dawn had visited with her Doctor and we learned that little miss Landry was perfectly content inside her Mom’s belly for the time being. With her due date still 6 days away, it seemed like it would be a safe bet that I could participate in the NOCC Balance 5K on Saturday morning.
The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition race is in its third year here in Austin and I had never participated. It had also been 4 weeks since I raced and I felt like I needed another challenging workout before we head into September and really start zeroing in on the IBM Uptown classic.
When I went down to the packet pick-up on Friday afternoon I started to think about what I could reasonably expect out of myself for Saturday morning’s race. I had a tough week of training already. A 10K tempo run on Tuesday was followed by 8 miles on Wednesday and 9.25 miles of hill repeats on Thursday. Certainly I would not describe my legs as “well-rested”.
My mind was excited for the opportunity to race, but my heart did not seem to be in it. Was it too soon after Dom’s passing to be racing for a cancer society? Was I still feeling sorry for myself after the events of the previous week in Pittsburgh? Tough to say really, but I knew something just was a little off as I was driving home.
I decided to log on to Dailymile for some much-needed motivation. Dailymile is a tremendous website for athletes. Whether you are a runner, cyclist or triathlete - Dailymile is a place where you can share your workouts and races with friends. I often describe the site as a “Facebook for Runners” - it is free, easy to navigate, and a great place to keep track of your training.
Where it truly excels is the community of athletes and just how supportive and positve everyone is. Wheter you are a first-time marathoner, an elite amateur runner, a cyclist, walker, trainer or just an average Joe or Jane trying to get back in shape – there is a great support group waiting for you every time you log on. Simply tremendous.
I snapped a quick photo of my bib and uploaded it to the site. I posted that I would be racing on Saturday morning, asked any of my Austin friends if they too would be out there and made a comment that seemed very innocuous:
“Racing tomorrow – won’t be a PR with this week’s training – but looking to run well and have some fun. Have a great Friday everyone!”
First to the rescue was my friend Bob from Riverhead, NY. Bob told me not to sell myself short on the PR. That I had been “running well” and I should not be surprised if I “Nailed a beauty”.
Less than two minutes later my friend Winston from Wichita, KS chimed in saying: “I’m with Bob. The way you’ve been hammering it, it’s about time you reaped some big rewards soon. Go for it, Joe!!!“
You may remember Winston as he is the runner who walked up to me waiting outside the bus at 5:00 a.m. on Boston Marathon morning who asked, “are you Joe?” We had never met in person to that point and Winston recognized me out of a sea of marathoners awaiting our trip to the start of the Boston Marathon. We chatted the whole way from Boston to Hopkinton, a bus ride I will never forget.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was from my friend Jim in Wells, ME who wrote: “Last pre-Landry race Joe … make it good one. I will not be surprised by a PR at all – particularly if the weather cooperates. You hammered those hill repeats again and have just been running and cross training so consistently that I got to believe a PR is entirely possible Saturday!”
Jim has been training for his first marathon in more than 15 years this year. I draw such a great amount of motivation from Jim and his dedication to not only his training, but to his family and friends.
In just 5 minutes I realized just how short-sighted I had been. Get it together, it’s race day for crying out loud!
My response: Thanks guys! This is why Dailymile is so great, you have me all thinking about a PR tomorrow . I guess it would be kind of fitting with everything that has been going on and will be going on soon ….. screw it. Go big or go home.
I walked downstairs, pulled out my Run for Dom Race singlet, pinned my number on my shorts and grabbed my Brooks T6 racing flats from the closet. I didn’t know how much bounce my legs were going to have on Saturday morning – but we were certainly going to find out.
Race Day: I pulled into the parking lot about 1 hour before the race start and threw on my trainers for a quick half-mile warm-up. My legs didn’t feel great, but they didn’t feel bad either. We’ve run and raced on worse I thought to myself, let’s check-out the course.
I had a hard time finding any runners who had run this course before, so I asked one of the race volunteers. It turned out that the course was a little different this year and would only have a short “out and back section”, less than 1/2 of a mile. So it really was a large circular course which makes the race fun and interesting – however tough to predict the terrain as you really only see each section of the course once.
The race had close to 950 runners and walkers, which is a big, big turnout for a little Saturday morning 5K. I saw quite a few “teams” who were running and walking in memory of a friend or family member who was taken from them by ovarian cancer. Quite a few people asked me what “Run for Dom” was and if I was running for someone.
Each time I let them know that yes, I indeed was running for a good friend who passed away August 15th from stomach cancer. I will always be running for him I told each of them.
Just like that it was time for the star-spangled banner and we were in the starting corral ready to go. I did not see any familiar faces at the start, so I began the search for my “rabbit” to get me out fast. It was time to Go Big or Go Home.
Mile 1: We fired out of the chute and I was running in the top 5 from the outset. I knew that we were going out well under 6:00 min./mile pace – and that was fine with me. To come in anywhere near my PR of 18:12:48 I was going to have to run a fast first mile. Three of the runners started to pull away at the .50 mile mark. They were young, strong, confident and I was no match for them. But number 4 …. we had a shot at him if we could stay close enough.
We hit the 1st mile mark and as I glanced down at my watch I had turned in a 5:43 first mile. Runner #4 was just five or six strides ahead of me. Time to go to work.
Mile 2: We started down an incline early in mile 2 and it seemed to last close to 1/2 of a mile. I saw the leaders up ahead make the turnaround and the course turned back uphill. I knew that would be the start to mile 3 and that uphill stretch would come at a time where my legs were starting to hurt a bit.
It was better to push the pace now and use all of that hill training I had been doing to carry me back uphill on tired legs I thought. I lengthened my stride just a bit and gobbled up some ground on runner #4. I gave him a quick nod as I went by him on the left and pushed hard to open up some room between us. At the beep mile 2 came in at 5:59. PR territory, but it was going to be close.
Mile 3: As I started up the hill into mile 3 I started thinking about all of the hill work that we had been doing lately. This is exactly the time when that training will show up I thought. I kept my eyes focused ahead, went to my arms and tried not to lose too much time to the hill.
I was back on the flat section of the course and glanced down at my watch. Only 3/10 of a mile to go, we’ve got this I thought to myself. At the beep mile 3 came in at 6:07. With a PR of 18:12:48 it was going to be ridiculously close.
Finish: I will say this about the final 1/10 of a mile. It hurt. A lot. Thankfully it was over quickly – we had closed with a pace of 5:16 over that stretch to the finish. I don’t have a lot more than that in these legs of mine. A great feeling of satisfaction came over me as I came through the chute, I didn’t leave a thing out on the course. Just the way it’s supposed to be.
Final time – 18:12:06. A new PR by this smallest of margins, just 4/100 of a second.
The result was a 4th place overall finish – and my 1st ever Male Masters victory at the 5K distance.
I couldn’t help but think of Bob, Winston and Jim and how I was going to receive my virtual “I told you so’s” when I got home Saturday and posted my race time.
I am so thankful for my good friends who took the time to get me focused on the things that are important. It wasn’t about the 18 minutes and however many seconds that I was out there on the course. To them, they didn’t want me to give anything but my very best effort.
That’s a lesson that all of us should try to remember when we think about the way Dom fought courageously throughout his cancer battle. I stayed around the race for close to an hour watching all of the runners and walkers finish, paying close attention to those “teams” that were out there for thier loved ones.
I might have been at the race all alone on Saturday morning. But there is no doubt that my “team” was there with me every step of the way. Pushing me to do my very best to honor my good friend Dom.
Bob, Winston and Jim - I really can’t tell you how much you helped me today. Thank you all so very much for the reminder that when it comes to racing, there really is only one way to go about it.
Go Big or Go Home.