My goal: sub-28 minutes. My preparation: seven runs since January 1; that is to say, minimal. I had a hair cut yesterday; I’m sure it will improve my aerodynamics. I am reading The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb, detailing the training regimens of the Brit, Yank, and Aussie who vied to be the first to break the 4-minute mile. Reading about training is almost the same as training, right?
The day dawns sunny and cold, for Tucson, about 47 degrees. I bike two miles to the Lighthouse YMCA, pick up my race number and t-shirt, then stand around for 45 minutes waiting for the start. (Note: the lighthouse is metaphorical; I live in a desert, after all.) I find out about the course: down the street to the Rillito River path, out the path the turn-around point, and back the same way. My brother and his family arrive, a pleasant distraction, and I push my nephew in the park swing. They plan to walk the 5k course and I envy them.
Various singlet-clad sinewy people mill about. I am nervous. I make a second trip to the restroom. I realize that I should warm-up a bit, so I jog 200 yards around the parking lot. The Star-Spangled Banner plays. The announcer and his megaphone provide the usual unintelligible instructions. I realize that I forgot to take one last gulp of water before the race.
And we’re off, north on Columbus Avenue toward the Rillito River and the mountains. The sun is shining, the birds are singing; we are running downhill. We run on pavement, we run on sidewalks. A woman pushing a double stroller runs by me. I try to keep up with a gray-haired gentleman of uneven gait, and he runs away from me.
Hey, here’s a drink station! I grab a Dixie cup of water and choke while drinking it. Hacking and coughing, I carry on. We are on the river path of packed dirt, headed into the sun. I am dressed perfectly, I think to myself, long sleeve performance fabric shirt and running shorts. I’m all about affirmations. At Mile 1, a volunteer helpfully calls out our times: “nine minutes ten seconds,” he says as I pass. I’m on target for my 28 minutes.
About 200 yards later, the first racers run toward me, they are approaching their final mile and I’m not even half-way through my race. I search for the turn-around point, but can’t see it due to curves and undulations of the river path. I’m hot, regretting the long-sleeved shirt. I roll up the tight sleeves and they become tourniquets at my elbows.
At last, I reach the turn-around point, and head back toward the start. I am happy to be running with my back to the sun. I see my brother and his family and do a crazy wave to amuse my nephew. At the Mile 2 marker, I hear my time called out, “eighteen minutes twenty seconds.” So I’ll have to pick up the pace for the last mile. I turn off the river path and start the gradual uphill run toward the finish line. This time, I skip the drink station.
A ZZ Top doppelganger passes me, and I am alarmed by his tube socks and long pony tail. No one passes me on hills. So I pass him back and leave him in my dust. I long to see the finish line, but don’t, because it’s over the crest of the hill.
Yes, I see the finish! I attempt to sprint, but it's more of a lope, I'm seriously gassed. About 100 meters from the finish, I see the clock 27:40, and this is what races through my mind: “The world record for 100 meters is less than ten seconds, is that men or women, and I can certainly run 100 meters in 15 seconds, or can I, because that clock is running awfully fast.” I sprint the last few yards and lunge for the line, coming in at 27:57! My lungs burn, I have to cough, but worry that I’ll throw up. I cough and do not vomit. Thank goodness.
After my stomach calms down, I enjoy the excellent snack buffet, watch my nephew and his pal run in the 200-yard kids race, enjoy more snacks and ride my bike home. I have met my goal, and resolve to train smarter, so I can run a 25-minute 5K in six months. Because 25 minutes would have moved me from 7th place all the way to 6th place in my age group today. A fine first 5K for 2010.