Monday, April 27, 2009

Running down a dream - because I should be sleeping

Melbourne Causeway_0011
The Melbourne Causeway, photographed at sunset, a more appropriate hour for a 5K run than sunrise. For this photo, I stood under the highest part of the bridge. It slopes down on both sides, making for an interesting race course.

I run every morning. Of course, my "morning" is the early afternoon, when it's bright and hot and I've had time to eat my cereal, drink my tea and read a chapter of a book. It's certainly no 8 a.m.

So when a co-worker asked me a month ago to join FLORIDA TODAY's team for the Melbourne Art Festival Flamingo 5K, the insane start time of 8 o'clock was the only pitfall. It didn't matter that it was my first competitive road race - a difficult course that tracks up and down the Melbourne Causeway twice. Running five kilometers isn't a problem - uphill or downhill - unless it's at a time when I'm usually asleep.

Saturday morning came, and I lined up with other runners supposedly similar to my speed. Five years ago, when I was playing baseball, I could run a mile in just more than five minutes. Since then, I've gained 50 pound and lost 50 pounds. My speed isn't what it used to be, but I figured I could run one mile in about seven minutes.

The race started. For a quarter of a mile, I ran in front of a FLORIDA TODAY co-worker I lined up with. But in another quarter of a mile, he zoomed past me. He was gone. I was alone in a pack of strangers.

Partway up the causeway, the one-mile clock showed that I was holding an approximately seven-minute-mile pace. I was passing more people than were passing me. But my breathing was heavy. I knew it wouldn't last.

At the halfway point on the beach side of the causeway - where runners turned around and headed back up the causeway - I missed my only chance for water. The three people handing out cups were not enough. I did not want to wait in line.

The last half of the race was the most horrific. Not for my rapidly decreasing stamina, but for my eyes. I saw hundreds of people trailing me. There were 70-somethings, 7-year-olds and men with harnesses carrying their 7-month-olds, their bald heads bobbing with their fathers' hard steps on the pavement. That's what made it horrific. Can't that cause SIDS?

I reached the top of the causeway for the second time and saw another terrifying sight: My co-worker had already reached the mainland, beginning the last stretch of the race. My legs kicked into overdrive.

In the last half-mile, runners broke down. They started walking, panting, trying to catch their breaths. Why stop now? "A little more, a little more," a runner beside me said. I quietly told myself the same.

Spectators cheered for everyone. "Great race, guys!" they said. "Keep it going. A little more."

I could see the finish line. Then, I saw my co-worker. Just as soon as I wondered how I caught up to him, I was passing him.

I crossed the finish line at 22 minutes and 3 seconds, a per-mile pace of 7:07. It was good enough for 12th place in my age group and 105th overall, out of nearly 1,500 runners. And our FLORIDA TODAY team was ninth of 44. Not bad for my first time.

But the best thing? Free stuff. A T-shirt. Crackers and cheese. Bagels. Wraps. Bananas. Grapes. Chips. And for those who like to drink after a 3.1-mile run at 8 o'clock in the morning, beer. I chugged four bottles of water.

I could do another 5K, especially if it's at a more reasonable hour. The only expense would be a new pair of shoes: The ones I used Saturday were missing most of the heel (left), which makes my first 5K a more impressive feat.

I returned home at noon, when I usually start my day. I picked up my morning routine: cereal, tea, book. But something was off. To restore normalcy, I went out and ran another 3.1 miles.


Anonymous said...

Clever headline.

Wordnerdy said...

You know sings that song in the headline? That's right, NORTH Florida's own Tom Petty.

Andrew Knapp said...

That's right, Wordnerdy. I knew that (he did the Super Bowl when the Pats lost, remember?). And the last part, "I Should Be Sleeping," is sung by Emerson Drive, which is a Canadian band.