Dr. J on Running

On the Road Again

29 November 2009

George Sheehan once said: “we run, so we can race.” Eighteen weeks into my “Born to Run” experiment-of-one brought my first road race of the season. Marla and I registered early for the Cortland YMCA Turkey Trot to guarantee a long-sleeve T-shirt. On race eve, I checked the weather – an unseasonal 45 degrees – and picked carefully my race attire. We carbo-loaded at dinner, and I retired early to bed.

The Turkey Trot ushered the end of the six-race 2009 Fidelis Care 5K Series in Cortland. Earlier races celebrated Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, a Downtown Run, a Celtic Run and a Pumpkin Run. The Turkey Trot started downtown at the Cortland YMCA, and ran flat out-and-back onto the State University of New York campus. I set my three goals – I always set three goals for a race – at (1) 22 minutes, (2) 24:54 minutes and (3) finish uninjured. Goal one gave me a seven-minute pace. Goal two equaled my first ever 5K at Cazenovia in 1989. While not exclusive of the first two, goal three provided an honorable justification for a slow race.

The weather held up nicely. Dry, cloudy 45 degrees allowed me to race in shorts and a T-shirt, with 264-gram New Balance 505 spike-less racing flats and my lucky red socks on my feet. My strategy called for a fast start – I aimed secretly for a 6-minute first mile, even if it meant fizzling out on the way back. I went for a 10-minute jog at 0830 to warm up for a 0900 start.

Walk-on registrations delayed the start of the race by ten minutes. An inaudible a cappella rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and a three-call start got us on our way. I ran as fast as I could, but realized quickly that my legs turned over too slowly. I struggled to maintain a decent form. I reached half-mile in 3:32 – a bust at best. My fast start turned quickly into a slog, and I reached Mile 1 in 7:24. Goal one became history. I settled into two-and-two breathing, and focused on the tiny shorts in front of me.

The turn-around brought the welcome distraction of checking out incoming runners. I estimated my half-way placement in the top third of the field, and felt a surge of adrenaline. I saw a vision of Marla in the middle of the pack. I reached Mile 2 in 15:02. My oxygen-denied math computed goal two within reach. A young man came up on my shoulder intent on passing me. Pride overtook sensibility. I picked up my pace.

The last mile of the race turned into a determined battle between youth and experience. I reached deeper with every step, and held off several charges from my young challenger. At Mile 3, I called on my muscle memory to deliver a 40-second Manley Field House bell lap. My legs came through, and I crossed the Finish Line in 23:02, one second ahead of my pursuer. I felt good. I felt even better when I realized that I finished 89 overall in a field of 421 finishers – a solid top quarter performance.

A morning-after examination of the race results revealed the winners as Patrick Hughes, 23, in 16:12 and Alexandra Knapp, 24, in 18:20. Jessica Ochs, 27, finished in the middle of the pack in a time of 27:08. The youngest runner, 5-year-old Kyla Cooper, ran 42:43. The oldest finisher, 70-year-old Linda Eberly, ran a respectable 26:11. In all, many more females than males between ages 14 and 49 ran the race. I finished 8 out of 34 in my age group, and Marla finished in the top half of her age group.

Post-race refreshments included hot coffee, hot and cold apple cider, coffee, bagels and bananas, coffee, assorted chocolate bytes, and did I mention coffee? Prizes featured turkeys, pies and breads. I wore proudly a coveted long-sleeve brown and orange T-shirt. On the way home, we stopped at McDonald’s for a steak-egg-cheese-bagel and cappuccino Thanksgiving Meal. For the first time ever, we celebrated Thanksgiving alone – with 420 family and friends – now that our children live on opposite ends of the country in three different time zones.

Dr Kamal Jabbour gives thanks for faith, freedom and family - and the health to run 5K in 23 minutes. Dr. J receives email at kamal@jabbour.org. His RUNNING Column appears in Cyberspace whenever the endorphines move him to write.

© 2009 Dr Kamal Jabbour