For the first half mile I was weaving between old women who were walking from the start while trying to focus on my calf and 'listen' for any sign of pain. I had to fight to resist the urge to get up on my toes and speed up. It didn't help that the first mile of the race is all uphill. I like to get way up on my toes and pick up my knees for hill climbing, but in this case that just wasn't an option.
|Wooo! You go, girl!|
I managed to climb that entire hill of the first mile without pain. I was surprised. I don't mean to be negative, but let's be serious here, my blog is "OMG FML" so clearly there is an element of the negative here. I was fully expecting my calf to blow out right at the start.
I can't tell you how difficult it is to slow down in a race on purpose. I not only had to monitor my breathing and try to hold a steady pace, but also monitor my calf muscle for pain and constantly fight the urge to go faster.
The first mile time they called out at me was 11:33. That's pretty awful, but considering that lately I have averaged 10 minute miles it is better than I expected. And yes, I'm aware that 10 minute miles is awful, too. I used to run an entire 5K in around 18 minutes. That was a long time ago, back when I was skinny and actually trying to gain weight (muscle). Now I'm fat and trying not to roll like a bowling ball down the race course from being so fat. I'm the guy other runners see pass them and think to themselves "oh hell no, I'm not losing to THAT guy." I inspire people to speed up. It's not glamorous, but somebody has to do it.
Every time the group circled back and I had an opportunity to see the runners ahead of me passing back in the opposite direction I looked for the guy who first challenged me to run this race. It was 2 or 3 years ago and I was shocked when I actually beat him in this race. He runs all the time, bragging happily about how many miles per week he runs. He'll run 6 days a week, averaging 5 or 6 miles at a time with each run, and then show up early for every race. I ran about 3 times prior to last year's Cotton Row and averaged about 3 miles per run. I'm just not into it like I used to be. Running alone doesn't do it for me. I need a team. When I ran with a team I was into it. By myself running in the dark along my neighborhood streets I'd just rather be home watching TV or in a gym lifting weights. With a gym, if you establish a habit and always go at the same time, unless you go to a snobby gym, you will eventually make friends there and no longer feel as if you're exercising alone. With running, unless you find a group to run with, you'll always run alone.
Getting back to the guy who challenged me to run this race, I did not see him at all during the first mile. I actually began to wonder if he had missed the race for some reason. All week prior to the race he had been emailing me giving me a hard time about the probability that my injury was going to keep me from running. Now here I was running the race, injury and all, and he was nowhere to be found.
On the 2nd mile, as the pack turned around in another cul-de-sac, I finally saw my friend. He was wearing an olive-drab green shirt and plodding along without much appearance of enthusiasm. He was the same distance ahead of me that he likely was when the race began. He always gets as close to the front of the pack at the starting line as he can. I always start at the back. We end up starting with him well ahead of me before I ever get across the starting line because of this.
When I saw him the thought of speeding up to try to beat him briefly flashed across my mind. I had to remind myself that this was a 'test' race for me, a sort of rehab event and that the worst possible thing I could do would be to speed up and reinjure my calf in the process, forcing me to drop out and increasing the likelihood that I would still be hurt by the time the next race I'm signed up for comes around - the Cotton Row. So I noted that my friend was running and then tried to put it out of my mind and focus on my pace and my injury. "Don't go after him," I reminded myself over and over.
During the 2nd mile I couldn't help but notice that I seemed to have gained a little on my friend. Shortly after, though, it appeared as if he had pulled away and was back to the original distance ahead of me as before. I tried to use that to tell myself that chasing after him was a stupid idea and would only get me hurt. I was, after all, running more or less flat-footed in order to keep the pressure off my calf. Flat-footed running is not conducive to speed and catching other runners. It's what fat people, old people, and injured people do and I was running that way for a reason. "Don't go after him."
|Run Rabbit Run!|
With the third mile nearly done, it became apparent that I was going to catch my friend. I began to think about what I should do. If I got directly behind him and slowed down until the end, I could surprise him and pass at the finish line. He wouldn't have a chance to react because he wouldn't know I was there. But that would require me to sprint. If there was a sure way to blow out my calf and reinjure it, sprinting in an effort to beat my friend, while slowing down in the meantime and ending up with a worse overall time than I otherwise would have was it. I had been reminding myself all race long that going after him was a stupid idea and now I was considering the stupidest idea of all, sprinting at the end just so I could beat him at the cost of hurting myself.
I plodded up to him. I had my head down and was focusing on my pace and my calf. I didn't look at him. I was adopting the old childhood "if I can't see you then you can't see me" strategy in my attempt to sneak by.
I did pick up the pace a little bit simply because the finish line isn't far beyond the 3 mile mark and the race was nearly over. I hoped that my friend was as tired as he appeared to be and didn't have any gas left to speed up after me with. That's when some fool came sprinting up to me and quickly slowed down just before passing me, hanging back just out of my sight and drafting me. It wasn't hard to guess who that was.
At the final stretch, with about 100 yards to go, my green-shirted friend stomped into a flat-footed sprint and blasted by me, running like a man chasing his 4-year-old who is about to walk out into traffic. His form wasn't exactly textbook for sprinting, or much of anything else, but he was winning anyway. I fought the urge to sprint after him. I knew if my calf held up I could catch him and win. But I also knew that the odds of my calf holding up were slim to none and limping across the finish line, having NOT beat him because I got hurt, would be a hugely idiotic mistake. I put my head down and continued to hold my plodding pace all the way to the finish. He had beat me by mere seconds.
But I had finished the race without aggravating my nagging calf injury when I hadn't even expected to be able to finish the first mile and that was a small and important victory for me. It was all I came here to do and I had done it.
After the race I went and found him and we watched the rest of the runners come across the line. We never directly discussed our little competition on the last stretch. I was surprised by that. I fully expected him to give me hell for losing to him. And all the while I was thinking to myself, "I was injured and only half-trying and still I could have beaten you. I'll cream you next time!"