Sunday, April 22, 2012

Cosmic Jokes - Umstead Coalition 4 Mile Run

Sometimes I think running is some sort of cosmic joke. And for some reason, I don't quite get the punchline. Take the last couple of runs I've attempted. On 4/20 I did something sort of like a painful, old man shuffle for 4.2 miles for the 12athon in honor of Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker's series of books (If you haven't read these, do yourself a favor and pick them up. Hilarious genius.). I won't call it a run, because that would be insulting to an actual run. It was awful. Every step felt terrible and disjointed. My limbs seemed to move as if they were attached to 4 different, goofy, white-man bodies, all trying to dance wildly to totally different music, at weddings on 4 different continents. But without the warm, sweet glow you get after 2 glasses of champagne. When the run ended, I was happy not to have dislocated a hip.

Change the scene to one day later. The Umstead Coalition has an annual charity Run/Bike/Walk event each Spring for Umstead State Park. The last couple of years, I've had conflicts and missed the race but this year I was determined to make it out. I had planned to take my entire family, but Ryan, my oldest, wasn't feeling great, so it was only me in the car as I pulled into the grassy field next to Umstead.

I had no expectations for the 4 mile run itself. I was there mostly to experience the event for the first time and to catch up with some of the local Godiva folks. I was treating the event as more of a social occasion than a real race. For anyone who knows me, that's a very fine line (maybe even an imaginary line). I'm not really a "racer."

Checkin was easy and I had a race bib and a great Umstead t-shirt in a matter of minutes, so I spent a good bit of time wandering through the various tents and running into friends and acquaintances. I watched the bike riders roll out 15 minutes before the start of the walk/run 4 mile event, but then decided to head to my car to drop off some stuff, including my camera, which was running low on battery charge (should have checked and charged it before the race!!). By the time I got everything settled and had a drink of water, they announced a 30 second countdown to the start of the 4 mile run. Crap! It would take more than 30 seconds to walk from my car back to the starting line. I was forced to jog back to the starting line! Running before a race? Sacrilege according to Scott's Book of Slacker Running!

Strangely, he didn't have Fat Tire beer in that bottle. Pity.

I just managed to tuck around the side of the start line, next to the notorious, dastardly AC and his dog Dooright, when the race started. Hey, this was new! I was starting at the very front of the pack for the first time ever. Usually, if I start too far forward, I simply get trampled for about 10 minutes until I assume my natural pack position in the final third of the runners. But for some reason, watching the absolute joy of the dogs and the pack of kids who sprinted out like their feet were on fire, I just let it rip right from the start. If I blew up in 1 mile, so be it. This was fun!

Luckily the out-n-back course is basically an elongated V shape, so the first mile is down hill. I was flying. I hit the 1 mile mark in about 6:45. Crazy, insanely fast for me. My fastest mile ever (post high school cross country team) is 6:30, set at last year's Magnificent Mile.

I hit the long, steep, winding Corkscrew Hill to the turnaround thinking, "Well, that was fun! Time to start walking." Strangely though, I was able to keep a decent pace all the way to the top and hit the turn at about 15 minutes, where I caught up with the amazing Shannon who was running with Jeffery the 3 legged lightning bolt. Shannon wanted me to stop so she could get a picture, which I was happy to do.

Shannon and Jeffery - a 5 legged speed machine, near the finish.

But then I thought, wait, Shannon is supposed to be running hard to beat AC, who had snarkily named her dog-human pairing Team Coprophagia. So, I told her not to worry about the photo and to chase down AC and Dooright (the Dick Dastardly and Muttley of dog-human racing).

I shot back down Corkscrew Hill, even managing to pass a few people and hit the mile long grind back up Reedy Creek Bridal Trail to the finish. I glanced at my watch. Holy William Shatner! I might finish in under 30 minutes! A 29:XX 4 miler would be phenomenal! I could envision myself bragging about my 29 minute 4 miler to all my other slow running buddies. But then the self doubt brigade made the usual charge through my brain, assaulting my cerebral cortex with excuses and misgivings.

"Slow down! Under 35 minutes will be a fine time for you. You're tired anyway. Remember yesterday's craptastic run? You simply can't run fast. Hell, you wear slippers you goofball!"

Maybe I'm right about me. Maybe I can't run fast, or even moderately quickly. But the one thing I have learned in the past couple of years is that I don't know squat about running. Every time I think I have something figured out, I discover that I don't even have the right question in mind. Why should today be any different? What gives me the right to think I know anything about my own running abilities. Ignorance can be bliss. I embraced the thought of failing at failing, and pushed harder up the hill.

Cresting the small rise before the finish, I glanced at my watch. I had only seconds to break 30 minutes. It was going to be very, very close. I was hyperventilating and could only manage a stumbling jog across the grass to the finish line. I watched in agony as the seconds ticked away. I was urging my dead, wooden legs to move faster, only to slow more and more. With one final, gasping push, I lunged across the finish. 30:00 on the nose.

Running is a cosmic joke. I am the punchline.

After 4:14 of gasping and weeping while lying in a fetal postion in the grass,
I took this picture.