I set a new personal record – a PR, to those of us in the biz – in the 5K on Sunday morning. But I didn’t realize it for more than 24 hours, time I spent wallowing in mild disappointment about what I considered to be an uninspired result.
And that was the moment I realized that I’m not the athlete I sometimes believe myself to be. And that the training I’d done – running at least a couple of miles for 135 days in a row – wasn’t as intense as it could have been.
Of course, there were extenuating circumstances. For starters, it was warm and humid by September in Sioux Falls standards. At least, that’s what my buddy – a legitimate runner – told me. As you know, I’m all in on natural heat yet I’m more than willing to blame Mother Nature for slowing me down.
More importantly, I’d ingested nothing but menthol cigarettes and grain alcohol in the 12 hours leading up to the Miracle 5K. While that’s not true, it might as well have been. For the third year in a row, the college football team that I cover played on the road the day before the race meaning rest and proper diet would be in short supply. This time, I got home about 3:30 a.m. after a 320-mile drive, got to bed by 4:15 and got up around 6 to the sound of crying kids. If they weren’t my own flesh and blood, I’d have ignored them, gone back to bed for 45 minutes.
The drive home wasn’t all that bad – good weather and nothing but straight-line freeway; the measures required to stay awake during the drive is what did me in. I ate salty sunflower seeds, so many that I’m still wiping away bits of dead gum days later. And I drank a bunch of caffeine, a soda with an energy-drink chaser. This stuff is a necessary evil for a traveling narcoleptic and a recipe for disaster for a runner. I had a case of the dehydration (hat tip, Bobby Boucher) from the time I woke up and was desperately parched in the minutes leading up to the race. I hoped the espresso-flavored gel that I brought along would help – it didn’t. Neither did forgetting my pace watch or running out of time to create a music playlist or getting caught up in the emotion of the event.
The reason I run this particular 5K is because it benefits the Children’s Miracle Network, an organization that helped out my family during the premature births of two sets of twins. For three years, we’ve used the day as a fundraiser for an endowment we’ve set up through CMN in honor of our late daughter, Breley. That weighed heavily on my mind, much more so than last year for whatever reason. There’s a part of me that likes that – it’s like an annual father-daughter date, one of the many activities we never got to do. But there’s also an element of self-loathing. I found myself buying into cliches during the race, fighting through fatigue as a way to honor her; noting that the pain of the final mile was nothing compared to what she must have felt in her final moments.
That feels trivial and bugs me to no end, wearing me out even more. Training runs of the same distance are significantly easier due to the lack of thinking involved.
In the end, I clocked in at 23 minutes, 15 seconds. That’s down a few seconds from 2012 which was down a few seconds from 2011. Although that means I’m not as fit as I sometimes pretend to be, I’m not yet regressing, either.
Old-man grumbling aside, the best finish of the day belonged to my daughter, Kailey, the 3-year-old twin of Breley. She begged her way out of a stroller down the home stretch so that she could walk – and then run – to the tape. Maybe next year I’ll be her wingman.