Thanksgiving morning. All across the United States there is the smell of Turkey cooking in the oven and homemade pies cooling on kitchen counters. Thoughts of sleeping in a little bit later, Football games to watch and time spent with family.
For some of us however, Thanksgiving morning means running and racing. I don’t think there is another single day on the calendar that has more “race days” on it than Thanksgiving morning. 5K’s, 8K’s, 10K’s, 10-Milers, Half Marathons and Marathons in every small town, county and city.
This year Dawn, Landry and I traveled for the Thanksgiving Holiday to visit with Dawn’s family in Pittsburgh. For a few months leading up to the trip I was looking for a small local race that I could run in Thanksgiving morning. It would be a nice break from marathon training and a chance to “go fast” for the first time since the IBM Uptown Classic in October. Or at least go as fast as these 43-year-old legs can go.
A few weeks ago I found a link to the 1st annual Hopewell Turkey Trot. It was a run that would benefit the local Humane Society, starting and ending at Hopewell High School. The local high school where Tony Dorsett ran for touchdowns, Paul Posluzney sacked quarterbacks, where Dawn and her sisters graduated from and where Dominic V. D’Eramo Jr. played football and ran track.Seemed like a great place for me to race.
To my surprise Dawn told me a week or so before the trip that she and her sister Kim planned on joining me for the race. It would be Dawn’s first race of any kind. Could it be that “the bug” was going to bite my wife as it did me a little more than 5 years ago? Afterall, I was just going to run one marathon and be done with all this craziness in 2006.
Now I’m lucky if I am not planning two or three marathons ahead at a time.
The weather forecast for Thursday morning was not looking too great, but I was hoping that the rain that was predicted to hit the Aliquippa area overnight would slide on by and we would have a dry race day.
So much for that.
The race was scheduled to start at 9:00 a.m., just a 10 minute drive or so from Dawn’s parent’s house. I woke to the sound of wind and rain hitting the window of the bedroom. I had a feeling that I would be racing alone on Thursday as the conditions out there were pretty brutal.
38 degrees, 15 mile per hour winds, windchill of 31, with a steady, sometimes heavy rain falling.
Dawn let me know that she and Kim were out, frankly I couldn’t blame them one bit, so I started to get dressed for the race.
Body Glide applied liberally EVERYWHERE, tights, under armour cold gear, ear cover, running ball cap, two pairs of gloves and my Brooks T6 racers. I thought about wearing my heavier Asics trainers for a little more “height” and protection from the wet streets, but I opted for the lower, lighter, speedier shoes.
I made the drive to the high school, picked up my bib and got back in the car to try to stay dry and warm as long as possible. I got a text from Dawn telling me that my father-in-law would be making his way up to the track to see me race. I told Dawn to let John know that he should stay put, that it was pretty miserable outside, but to be completely honest, I was glad that he was coming up for the race. It is always more fun when family is there to greet you after a tough run.
A few minutes before the gun I went down onto the high school track and ran a quick 1/2 mile warm-up. The football stadium and track at Hopewell High School recently went through a $5 Million renovation and the facility is absolutely top-notch. The nicest track I have ever turned laps on without a doubt.
I went out onto the field turf football field and ran a few strides over 60 yards or so. My feet started to feel wet and cold as all of the rain had worked through my race flats, my running socks and was now chilling my toes.
Whatever I thought. You’re already wet, what’s the difference now?
We toed the line and listened to the race instructions. Being at the “1st Annual” anything can be a little stressful as races are challenging to put together. Course Markings, Course Volunteers, Water Stops, these things just don’t happen naturally. They take a lot of planning and I wondered how well put together the event would be in its first iteration.
I cozied up to a couple of young runners who looked like they were going to go out fast and decided I would try to run the first mile somewhere around 5:50 or so and go from there. With the rain, wind and what I imagined would be a hilly course, a PR was not going to be something that would be very realistic. I did want to run well however and see how close we could stick to the leaders.
As we readied for the gun I thought about my somewhat ill-advised 10-mile trail run less than 24 hours earlier. I wonder how my legs will feel I thought, and a moment later the horn sounded.
Mile 1: The race started with a quick lap around the track and as we reached the top of the first straightaway and made the turn I knew exactly how my legs were going to feel. TIGHT. My quads were fighting back a bit and as I got into a nice lean and increased my leg turnover I could tell that I left a little bit of speed out on the Montour Trail on Wednesday.
I settled in behind two college runners in third position and made my way out of the track area, onto the surface street and up the hill behind the high school. I felt relatively decent and as the rain and wind whipped at the runners I just tucked my head down a bit to keep the bill of my hat below the wind. The next two turns were well-marked with volunteers pointing out the route.
In fact each and every turn of the course not only had a large Black and White arrowed sign pointing the way, but there was a volunteer manning every corner and turn. What a wonderful way to organize the first running of the event. There must have been more than 20 volunteers working out on the 3.1 mile course. Tremendous.
We kept climbing up the first mile and even though I was pushing relatively hard, I could tell that the first mile would not be quite as fast as our PR effort of 18:12 earlier this fall. At the first mile mark a race volunteer called out 5:57.
Not a bad first mile given the conditions, but the two rabbits up ahead were running strong. We would be racing for third.
Mile 2: The second mile took us around the Hopewell Middle School where my Mother-In-Law Nancy teaches. We hit a downhill stretch finally and I got the opportunity to use some different leg muscles. My quads started to loosen up a bit, but my calves were now working a little bit harder.
We made a tight right turn and I was able to look ahead onto a long straightaway. We were about to go up, up, up. All those hill repeats began to pay off once again and I was actually cutting into the lead that runner number two had over us. We were still 20 seconds or so behind him, but we were close enough that we could hear his footfalls and it helped us push a little bit harder.
We hit mile number two with a split of 6:15. Not too bad a mile given the hills and wind. One more to go.
Mile 3: The third mile was a mixed bag. A little bit of climbing, a little bit of rolling downhills and before I knew it we were running back through the parking lot to the football stadium. I glanced over my shoulder to see if anyone was chasing as I had not heard any footsteps behind me for almost a half mile. I couldn’t see the fourth place runner behind me and knew that we would not have the kick to catch runner number two. We would be pushing around the final 400 meters just running for time.
I came through the final lap on the track feeling pretty good actually. The mile would close out at 6:12 pace The final 1/10 came with me pushing across the line back under 6:00 at 5:50 pace.
Total time: 18:41, 6:04 pace, Third Place overall.
My Father-In-Law and I hung around to chat with the volunteers and race Director Brian Bucci. A senior this year at Hopewell High School, he put on the Turkey Trot as his Senior Project. I told Brian that I had been to a lot of races this year and he put on a tremendous event for a great cause.
We even got to take home a little Turkey Trot Hardware for our troubles – always a bonus!
21.1 miles logged in Pittsburgh this week. Some were fast, some were slow, some were warm, some were cold. Some made me smile, some made me sad and a couple this morning made me realize what a gift this thing “Life” that we sometimes take for granted truly is.
No matter how tempting it can be, no matter how warm and snuggly those covers feel on a cold, wet day. It’s always wise to get out there and do the best that you can. That’s what those initials on my shoes were telling me this morning.
I’ll never regret going for a run or racing, but I will most certainly regret the times that I don’t.
Thanks for the reminder Dom. We finished about 10 seconds behind a Freshman on the Slippery Rock Track Team. Not bad for a 43 year-old marathoner.
We’ll do better next time. Just gotta keep pushing.