I didn’t fall asleep until 11:30 on Tuesday night. After a long day at the conference, I wasn’t sure I’d run in its 5K fun run/walk at 7 a.m. the next day. Plus, I had two drinks at dinner, and I try not to drink the night before a race.
Wednesday morning my eyes popped open at 5:50. And I couldn’t go back to sleep. So I splashed cold water on my face, brushed my teeth, and stumbled into my running gear. I nixed my plan to run to the starting line, 1½ miles away: I was afraid I’d get lost. So at 6:20 a.m., I ran ¾ of a mile on fairly-empty streets to the race buses.
Race participants were still waiting for the bus. Some of the women had a full face of makeup on: mascara, eyeshadow, blush, the works. I could even see where their foundation stopped on their jaws. Apparently, they were walkers.
Even so, I don’t know why they bothered curling their hair and putting on makeup. By the time they finished their walk, their carefully-applied cosmetics will have melted and slid off their purty little faces.
The out-and-back race started at 7 a.m. at Fairmount Park, a picturesque green space near the Philadelphia Art Museum bordering the Schuylkill River. It was already incredibly hot and humid and dark oppressive thunderclouds rumbled overhead. I was still sweating from my run to the buses, so I sipped a bottle of water and stretched my legs, which were tight from a Monday kickboxing class.
Outta My Way: I sidled up to the front of the pack. I estimated that half of the 200 race participants were walkers or joggers, so even though I don’t have a blistering pace, I figured I wouldn’t get run over by the super-fast runners. At the starting line were me, a half-dozen other women, and 30 guys, all jostling each other slightly, lines of sweat trickling down our faces.
The morning rush-hour was heating up along with the temperature, and several cars honked at us. Then the starting horn sounded and the front pack surged ahead, amped up on testosterone, enthusiasm, or both. I ran for awhile next to a guy listening to his iPod. Then two women loped by in long, fluid strides. I found out later that one was on her college cross-country team and the other was a high school cross-country coach.
But I had the trail pretty much to myself. The jackrabbits were 15 yards or more ahead of me and the rest of the race participants were way, way behind. This was my first 5K, and I wasn’t sure how to gauge my speed so I wouldn’t peter out at the end. I kept a pretty good clip, pushing it, but didn’t go all out. Now I know that on 5K’s, you need to push it as hard as you can without keeling over. Then sprint at the end.
About a dozen early-morning rowers skimmed their skulls on the river to my left, the swish of their oars audible over my measured, though labored, breaths. It sure was hot. Sweat was running into my eyes, my arms were tight, and my legs felt lethargic.
But I didn’t take any water at the turnaround. I didn’t have any time to waste.
I saw all of the slower runners and walkers after the half-way mark. Some cheered me on, and I heard one woman say, “Look at that little girl go.”
“Little Girl?!” I thought incredulously as I ran past. That’s twice someone’s said that to me in 24 hours (see post below).
The last mile: I strained to increase my foot turnover. My legs felt like dead weight. At the last quarter-mile, one of the race volunteers stood in the middle of the path and yelled, “Almost there! Only a quarter-mile on a straight-away! GO!” I smiled wearily, but belatedly kicked it to the end, a bit lightheaded and my eyes a bit unfocused.
“You all right?” someone said after I stumbled over an orange safety cone after the finish line.
“Yeah,” I mumbled, grabbed a bottle of water, and drank it in one go. I was incredibly thirsty all of a sudden. I wasn’t the only one affected by the heat and humidity: The woman who placed 5th – the high school cross-country coach who passed me earlier - threw up at the finish line. A race volunteer had to jump back so he wouldn’t get splashed.
My final time: 24:38, which equals a 7:56-minute mile average pace. I placed 7th among women, and 23rd overall. Not bad before 7:30 on a workday morning and my first cup of coffee.
After the race, I was going to channel “Rocky” and run up the steps of the Philly Art Museum. But work crews for Live 8 had already built an elaborate soundstage and scaffolding in front of it, foiling my plans. I ran the ¾ of a mile back to my hotel with another runner after the buses dropped us off.
“Hey, 866!” a guy or two yelled. I looked down and realized I was still wearing my race bib. I am such a running geek.