A PERFECT DAY FOR A RACE. Candy Cane 3 mile race.
That's what I thought anyway. The weather was in the upper 30s, a stiff breeze, and partly sunny. Pretty nice for December. Today was the annual Grand Rapids Running Club's Candy Cane Run. A couple of weeks ago, when I started seeing some mileage improvement, I put it in the back of my mind to run this thing as a goal to move up to the 3 mile level, on the way to the 4 mile level needed for the New Year's morning race. I had been able to comfortably run 2+ miles on the treadmill for the past week, so I figured I could do this. The only caveat was if the weather was icy or sloppy, I would forget it. I slipped on the ice a week ago (didn't fall), and it reminded me again of the previously broken ribs and shoulder.
This race used to be run on a college campus about 2 miles from my house--very convenient. The last time I ran this was probably 3 or 4 years ago, during a developing winter storm, so it was terribly windy, icy, bitter cold, and slippery. I wish I could remember my time, but I would guess over 30 minutes easily.
This year, a different race director took over, so the race was to be held at the Veterans Facility just on the outskirts of town. I had never run there before, so didn't really know what the course would be like. I wondered if it would be some trails, since part of the grounds includes the old soldiers' cemetery that runs next to the highway. I couldn't imagine they would pave that whole thing.
Before the race started, I saw quite a few people I knew, so it was like old home week, visiting and catching up. Everyone was so glad to see me they all had to hug me (ouch!) or pat me on the shoulder (again ouch!). There were also quite a few people I didn't know, since the Running Club membership has grown so much over the past few years, thanks to the infusion of new blood into the club by the current and recent past presidents. A lot of the newcomers though were young high school cross country runners, since their coaches were avid runners and used these off season races to keep the kids in shape.
I also saw the Stripper, the woman who seemed to think it was okay to completely change in transition during triathlons. One good thing I have to say about her is she is good, whether running or doing tris, especially for being 52. And she is the only woman I know who has 6-pack abs. She was warming up with her daughter, who must be 14 now, and who is also an outstanding runner and fledgling triathlete. The bad thing I have to say about this woman is no matter how much someone struggles through a race, she NEVER gives one word of encouragement. If you can't keep her pace, you are dismissed as being not worthy of her time.
So before the race, the club president makes all the usual announcements, gives course directions, and then says the reason why we are running here today is because of the vets, who make it possible for us to run anywhere, anytime. So true. For that, I am humbled and grateful.
This is a 3 or 6 mile race--3 miles for all kids and age group women, and 6 miles for all men and open division women. Naturally, I was doing the 3 miles. My only real goal was that I could do the whole 3 miles without walking, and my hopeful goal was to finish under 35 minutes. My one reason for picking this low-key race--no chip timing here and you get a popsicle stick when you finish with a number on it--was even if it turned out I came in last in the 3 mile race, there would still be enough people doing the 6 so I could blend in and not be last overall.
We started on a countdown from 10 and I started my watch on go. Off the crowd went, in full race mode, while I went along at an easy enough pace, but still one where I was trying to keep up with some people. I started close to the back, so I was going to have to make my way up to the front of the back of the pack to not be last. And I really wasn't. Of course there were walkers and I did eventually pass even the slowest runners. I could never catch up with the sled dog one guy was running with or the next woman in front of me. I considered myself middle of the back of the pack, a new title I thought up for myself that day.
I ran alone. And the course did go through the cemetery, as I had guessed, so after climbing the hill to the burial grounds, the paved path went to gravel. The cemetery was established in 1886, and I suspected some of the gravestones were that old as well. It was very quiet running through here, past all the gravestones lined up in silent rows. There were no mile markers, and no one calling out your time at any place on the course, so I decided not to look at my watch until I finished. I didn't want to get it in my head that, okay, you've run xx minutes, so its okay to walk if you want. No, that wasn't the plan today, so I figured it would be better not to look at my watch.
I was really surprised they could get a 3 or 6 mile course out of the grounds, but soon found out 3 milers had to do 2 loops, and the 6 milers had to do 4. I was okay going past the start for the 2nd loop, but I have to wonder how strong I would have been going around 4 times. So it was easy also to do the math for distance. I figured each loop was 1.5 miles. I still resisted looking at my watch and just plugged along, back up the hill to the burial grounds, through the cemetery, past the start, and out to the main road, then down the sidewalk in front of the facility, and back up the driveway to the end--finally. I was really starting to feel the distance by what I figured was the beginning of the third mile. I felt like I do in every race--a little sick, definitely winded, and wishing it would be over soon. I had been lapped 3 times by the male front runner by the time I was within a half mile of finishing. I also was gaining on another woman in front of me. She looked like she was slowing way down, but I still couldn't get close enough to catch her. I was close, but there wasn't enough distance left to overtake her. The Stripper and her daughter cruised by on their cooldown, and as expected, she ignored everyone in the back of the pack. She really ought to teach her daughter some humility here and compassion for others.
I finally came to the finish line and was glad to be done. I was winded. I took a peek at my watch and was fairly happy with the results: 32:44. So I did better than 11 min. miles! I'm not sure how much longer I could keep going, but I suspect if I had to do another mile I could have gutted it out somehow.
I had too much to do and decided I wasn't staying around for awards. Besides, the likelihood of me getting anything in my age group was pretty low--two age groups that dominated in the women's race were the 19 and unders and the 50-59s, and everyone in my age group was ahead of me. I was happy with my effort and my time, all things considered.