We run tempos and 400m intervals and runs of 8+ miles, we are running 20 or more miles a week together, we’ve had great runs and crappy runs, we’ve run in rain, snow, wind and sleet. But the moment I knew with firm certainty that Clark, my new running buddy and protege running his very first race, was a RUNNER for real and for always was when he announced at Mile 4: “Boy, I sure am glad I was able to poop this morning!”
The New Runner Guy Clark (for the backstory on him see my two previous bloops) and I have been planning and training for this race for a couple of months. I mixed training with him along with my own marathon training, and it resulted in both getting him ready and helping me stay motivated and add mileage.
Clark crashed on our couch the night before, since he lives about 20 minutes in the opposite direction of the race. While sitting around the evening before, DH kept reminiscing about a few of his racing glory days, but he was happy to go to bed and know he could sleep in till the cows come home the next morning (He's planning on running a spring 5k with me, though!). We runners were up bright and early to get some food and coffee choked down and head to the Peninsula.
Race nerves are so much easier to squelch when you are with someone. Clark and I are like siblings; we banter and joke and hurl insults. Today, him being the newbie meant we could cover all the “first-time” jokes nicely (just relax and follow my lead, I’ll be gentle with you, start slow so you don’t blow up early, I’ll let you finish first since I’m the experienced one, etc. etc.) like a couple of degenerate 12 year olds, laughing hysterically and snorting coffee first thing in the morning. But like actual siblings, we’re also fiercely loyal and close. Clark is the kind of friend I could call any time of the day if I’m in some dire need and he would drop everything. And I would do the same. I was
majorly a little annoyed that he was so darn calm, though. I AM NERVOUS AND ITS MY 62ND RACE! HOW ARE YOU NOT NERVOUS?!!! He shrugged and kept saying coolly, ‘I’m not nervous’… what is there to be nervous about? What’s the worst that can happen?’ FINE, YER NOT NERVOUS, YA IRRITANT! Kidding... I was impressed and just secretly a little jealous. He wasn’t nervous, I could tell. Relaxed as an old man on his front porch rockin' chair. He wasn’t doubting our sub-50 goal, either, asking me what splits we are running to accomplish it and commenting on the pleasant morning and the beautiful Bayfront views. I chalked it up to his years of experience in competitive sports like baseball and football, because it was the only way I could salvage my tattered dignity (You Loopsters better never betray me by telling this guy, if I ever bring him to a Loopfest, what a basket case I was at Marshall… Rehoboth… Philly…Wineglass. Okay, all the races. BOOOO!).
Like I said, cool as cucumber (below). And holding the pikermi sweatshirt he borrowed from my DH, one that TOsuperstar gifted him years ago. Fitting to wear for a race, for sure. Though clear and sunny, the cold temps called for layers for anyone spectating.
Prerace selfie in the parking lot:
The St. Pat’s Day 5k/10k is always a fun race. After a long winter, some 300-400 Erie runners come charging out of their treadmilling, espresso-drinking, too-much-pizza-eating, YakTrak-wearing lairs to celebrate the start of spring running and shake off the winter rust. And there was a boatload of rust to shake this year. Punxsutawney Phil called it, March came in like a lion and stayed lion-like, and Erie is creeping up on Buffalo’s record snowfall of just under 200 inches in one winter. We’ve had snow and cold for what seems like an eternity. But here we were: 300+ hardy runners turning out on a morning that was a crisp 25 degrees at race start.
Clark and I ambled into the building where all the race action was happening. Got our packets, put on the timing chips (you need help getting that thing on?), started checking the time to see how close we were to race time. People were trickling in steadily now, and every couple of minutes I was seeing a running friend. The great thing about the local scene is that no matter how long it’s been since you showed up to race, you just pick up right where you left off: talking about running, racing, training. And the usual sandbagging, just in case your race went to the dogs: I haven’t been running that much… winter’s been rough…life got in the way… dude, I don’t know when I last did speedwork!
The 5k was first! Clark had the advantage of getting to watch a race firsthand before actually running one himself. He had his layers on and was watching the proceedings with interest. He took a prerace pic (FYI, I'm freezing!)...
... then I lined up with the crowd of 300+ runners and we were off with the usual mad 5k mass scramble. I tried to settle into a comfortable pace while dodging people at the front of the race who should have started halfway back.
I don’t know that I ever settled into a comfortable pace, though?! Maybe it was the exceptional volume of winter rust, maybe it was training for a marathon instead of shorter distances, maybe it was the hard speedwork I’d done just 3 days before? But it felt uncomfortable and not smooth the entire way.
Mile 1 came in at 7:04. Perfect. Still uncomfortable, but it would get better and faster, right? We looped back nearly past the race start and people were gathered by the course to cheer. Clark was taking pics, but I could only smile and nod. 5ks are not the race distance where the runner can shout greetings and salutations or swing over for a high-five. But it’s always great for an extra boost to hear a friendly voice when you’re struggling to breathe and feeling the Grim Reaper of Lactic Acid clawing at your calf muscles.
There was this little kid whom I fell into step with just before we hit the spectator section. He was gritty. He was fast. He also kept surging, falling, surging, falling. Probably 5-6 times. Surge ahead with an impressive kick, then slow down. I’d reel him in slowly, bearing down behind him, and he’d keep glancing over his shoulder. I’d pass him. Within 30 seconds of being passed, here he comes again, steaming around me with his legs churning, face red and breathing loudly. Ughhh, I wanted to put him behind me… but at the same time, I admired the crap out of his fortitude. Lots of little kids, you pass them once and they shrivel up like worms on a hot sidewalk. Not this one.
Mile 2: 7:05. CRUD. It was just one second slower, but I was not feeling better. And the hardest part was coming up ahead, where the turnaround takes you back to the course. Into any wind coming off the Lake, and a slight uphill. It’s mentally the worst stretch of any race here on PI; that .5 mile section always gets me in the grumpies like OOOOOOF, KILL ME NOW!
Every step was now a cruel reminder of why I love/hate 5ks (all hate at the moment) and how I haven’t been training to race 5ks. But, I was still managing to pass people. I passed at least 6 women on the course, and probably just as many dudes.
And that’s the story, all the way to the finish. Pain… slowing slightly (Mile 3 was 7:09, grrrrr)... and THAT DARN KID!!!!!! I mustered up a little bit of kick to the finish with a 6:15 pace for the final .16. I’d seen the clock from a distance coming into the final turn, saw the 22:xx and knew my goal of sub-22 wasn’t happening. Oh well. I focused on pushing to the finish line. My legs and lungs were screaming in perfect-pitch unison, my head was throbbing with every step, and I was only vaguely aware of Clark, a red blur standing at the side of the course, yelling ‘something-something PEEEEEEEG!’
22:13. Not my fastest 5k. But still, my 4th fastest (21:35, 21:46, and 21:52 were my faster ones) out of the 24 5ks I’ve completed, so there’s that, I guess. Along with 31st place overall (of 332 participants), 5th female, and 1st (of 21 total) in the 35-39 AG.
Oh, and that kid beat me! By a few seconds. What a little
My head stopped throbbing and my eyes refocused through the pain fog to see Clark waiting patiently, still carrying the gym bag full of all our stuff. I had a brief moment of panic… how the heck am I going to be able to pace this guy to a sub-50 in 30 minutes when my legs feel like jello right now? But after some water and sitting down to catch a breath, things returned to more manageable and runnable state. It was racetime soon! AGAIN! YAY (this was MY first time doing a double, btw)!
For Clark, almost go-time for his first race EVER!
He left to do his warmup and visit the restroom and I chatted with more local running friends that were popping out of the woodwork to run the 10k.
We joined the crowd at the race start. I was so excited to get rolling. A little nervous about my pacing duties. Jittery. Probably more so than Clark, who was calmly watching the crowd and stretching and helping me out of my warm-up sweatshirt because I was shivering uncontrollably from the chill of sweating and standing in the barely-30 degree temps. I usually like to help undress, he joked impishly, and our laughter cut the race nerves down right where they were standing. Our plan was set, our splits were in my head, and our goal of sub-50 hung there in front of us like a carrot. I had faith in Clark, he was putting his faith in me, and this was a team effort. Then we were lining up, we were on our marks, we were OFF!
For not having felt very good during the 5k, my legs were fine now! Huh. Maybe I should run a 5k warmup before actually running a 5k? However, it also helped that I was running a minute per mile slower than I was for the 5k. Definitely less painful.
People were shooting past us like torpedoes, but I held back. I could tell Clark was itching to run, with the typical eagerness of a first time racer. Slow down, I said. We’re running 7:30s…
2 minutes later: Slow down… we’re still running 7:30s! It was an effort to slow down. Which is a good thing.
Less than a mile in, we were coming up behind a running friend, Juliann. I knew approximately what her goal pace was and I knew she was a very consistent runner. We would hang with her for awhile.
Mile 1: 8:07. A little faster than our intended 8:15, but I could tell Clark was completely relaxed with the pace. He hung off my shoulder, occasionally switching sides.
Mile 2: Another 8:07. Still feeling good, or at least I was. Clark said he was too. I kept asking, checking. He had a relaxed stride, even breathing, and was inquiring about splits at the mile markers. Good. We came up behind Brianne, another running friend. She had told us before the race that we would probably catch her, first time runner or not, so now she glanced over and said “Told YA!” She’s a triathlete, so if this were a swimming or biking race we’re be left in the dust. We also passed Karen, my running friend who is the RD of my favorite spring 5k.
The first turnaround, and Mile 3: 8:00 flat. A little ahead of schedule, but good. Then I sensed Clark, restless, chomping at the bit. He pulled up beside me. “What was that mile? Are we picking it up now?” I chuckled inwardly. We’re not even halfway… there’s a lot of race left, I told him. Patience was really important right now. He listened, fell into step. I was tempted to let him loose, just to see what would happen but nope… we all know how those end. It was important to me that his first race be a positive one, not one where he falls apart at Mile 5.5 because the pacer took him out too fast. Julianne was still ahead, keeping her consistent pace at a nearly-8:00 pace.
Clark was relaxed, even chatting now and then. The runners, the pace, the views of Presque Isle… Frankly, I’d expected him to have to start working a little harder a little sooner than he did. I was still holding him back a little, though, so I was relieved when he kept talking. It meant he was relaxed. I was having a blast. No pressure on me, except to maintain this pace, which felt pretty good. Yes, my legs were tired, but not race-pain-tired. It felt good to be out here, doing what I loved, with friends, soaking in the camaraderie, the competition, the friendly support and banter. I have missed racing so much!
Mile 4: 7:46. Almost sub-consciously, I’d picked up the pace and started bearing down just a little. It was race time. Hard work time. Pain time. This was where Clark could test himself. I tried to stay aware of his body language. Was he breathing too hard? Was his stride faltering? Was he fading? But no, there he was, glued to my shoulder, a few paces behind. As I took the seconds down, he matched the pace. No whining, no complaining. He stopped talking, mostly, and I could sense that he was pushing now. But not faltering a smidge. My legs were not getting happier, though. That 22 minute 5k was yelling at me.
Then he said it: “Boy, I’m glad I was able to poop this morning!”
I laughed aloud. It was the best, funniest, most fitting thing I’d heard all morning. We have a real runner here, folks. Talking about poop as naturally and comfortably as a non-runner talks about his morning coffee. Next up: nipple chafing. Yes, we need to have The Talk about that, heading into longer races. There is no limit to the interesting conversations when you’re a runner.
Mile 5: 7:34. I was in slight disbelief that we were this far in the race and already dropping so far below our 8:00 flat goal. I knew now that we had it in the bag… but I was going to bring it as far under 50 minutes as I could! I picked up the pace. We passed Juliann; her clockwork pacing no longer satisfactory. We thundered past a couple more people. We’ve got this, I told Clark. It was obvious by now that he was pushing, working. It was starting to hurt.
Mile 5.5: I was glancing down and seeing 7:20s. I was in full-on race mode. Clark asked, his voice raspy, what we were running. I told him. 7:20s. We’re ahead of schedule. Don’t think about it. Just focus on me, follow me. I’ll take you in.
We got to the little turnaround, heading into the nasty grind of KILL ME NOW. Except it seemed shorter this time, mostly because I was focusing on running as fast/hard as I could without losing Clark… steady, steady… keep him controlled. He was breathing hard now, hurting, I could hear the effort in every intake. I could see the pain creeping into his face. But he never complained or let up, and he kept his stride smooth. I was so stinkin proud of him. Hang in there, you’ve got this.
Mile 6: 7:25. We rounded the corner into the final .2. I picked up the pace another notch; we were nearly sub-7 now. Heck, I was hurting now! Clark was tight behind me, giving it his all. Then we could see the clock, the homestretch. I started yelling. THERE IT IS, WE’VE GOT IT, CLARK, C’MON, GOOOOO! KICK IT!!!
And kick he did. He burst into some overdrive craziness and was matching my sprint, stride for stride, almost overtaking me. Uh, nope, not so quick, buddy, so I answered with a surge that overtook him again. He fired back, losing all abandonment and kicking past me. I yelled, “HEY, YOU IDIOT!!!” (in fun, of course!), then remembered that I am, after all, the pacer, slowed up, finished the race laughing… 2 seconds behind him… as he fist-pumped and grinned victoriously. Is that the well-deserved euphoria of a first time race finisher or WHAT?!
48:32 official time. 7:50 average pace, 10 seconds per mile faster than our goal. And for a brand new runner… only 170 total miles since Clark began running a couple of months ago! Also, another 1st place 35-39 AG win for me. And just about the prettiest mile splits you'll ever see.
I can’t even describe how I felt as it hit me that we had just smashed the sub-50 goal by nearly a minute and a half! I gave Clark a few seconds; he was bent over with his hands on his knees. Then he stood up, painfully, and turned to face me, holding his arms out for a celebratory hug, a mixture of exhaustion and elation on his face. This was my first experience with pacing someone I’d coached/trained, and there in that moment, both of us smiling, laughing, sweating, trembling a little with the cold and the pure, hard shot of adrenaline, our pulses still thudding with the effort of that last sprint: it made every minute and every mile of training so worth it. That very first 2 mile run we ran, in frigid temps and snow...The circles around the community park...The speed sessions on the treadmill...The 8 mile long run at the peninsula...The good runs, the crappy runs...The times we ran for speed and the times we ran to get life and complexities and difficult things off our chest. I felt tears prickle at my eyelids… “You’re making me cry a little”, I muttered, and Clark chuckled. I was/am so incredibly proud of him!
This is where it’s at, guys. Running, racing, and then sharing it with others and knowing you brought another person into this fellowship. It was one of the top 5 proudest, most satisfying moments I’ve experienced as a runner. Bringing someone along from first run to first race, to this magical place called The Finish Line. Where you lose yourself in the pain and then find yourself again in the joy. Where problems disappear, life gets put on pause, and a little nirvana opens up. Where you feel just about as alive and free as you’ll ever feel. You fall in love with it, hate to leave it, and keep coming back for more.
For Clark, the more is already in motion. We’re training for a spring half marathon.