Chasing The 5k PR
Part 3 (of 3 parts)– Turkeys Trot and Reindeers Romp!
Posted Friday, 24 February, 2006
Winning a race is not something many runners get to experience in their lifetime. I dare say that 99% of the runners who sardine their way into the starting area at a road race have no grandiose notion of breaking through the victory tape at the finish line.
My wife Natalie (also known by her nickname Scat) has never concerned herself with winning races. She calls herself a turtle, says she hated gym class, and was always the last person picked for any athletic endeavor. In the 8th grade a heat-seeking softball found its target (her nose) even though she and her friends had taken great pains to conceal themselves in the farthest reaches of the outfield. During a kickball game she literally ate the infield dirt when the big red ball got tangled up between her feet as she dashed down the first base line.
If there's a crack in the sidewalk, chances are Natalie's toe has tripped over it, causing her to crash to the concrete, sending her limping home with bloody knees and palms like the Confederate soldiers in Gone With The Wind.
As she told me one day, "I run for all the non-athletes and the girly-girls who were never any good at sports."
Sounds like a good reason to me.
So Scat doesn't step on the starting line expecting to outrace everyone to the finish line. That's for jocks, not for self-proclaimed turtles. Her goal is a 5k PR, which she has been chasing for several months, but so far with no luck. It's been hot. It's been humid. It's been hilly. But guess what happened along the way? The tortoise won the race! Scat flew down the monster hill at the Flight of the Vampire 5k faster than all the other women for her first overall victory. She walked around in a state of shock for days before it finally sunk in - a victory for the girly-girls!
But while The Vampire was a big improvement over her other fall races, it still wasn't a PR, so the quest continued. However, we were now into the middle of November and quickly running out of time. She was also racing past her peak, but I told her to keep trying as long as she felt good. We had two more races to go so she decided to hang on and give it a couple more tries. Attagirl!
So, the Turkey Trot 5k was next up on our 5k PR bus tour. This event is named for its proximity to Thanksgiving Day, and for the winning trophy – a 20 pound frozen turkey! The TT 5k is an all-women's race, with a moderately rolling, double loop course that straddles the sister states of Tennessee and Virginia. I was excited because number 1, I didn't have to race, and number 2, I could go out on the course and cheer for Scat and keep track of her progress.
Scat gobbled up that notion in a hurry. "I don't want you out on the course," she ordered.
"Why not? I can jog out to the middle of the course and see you come by twice. Then get back for the finish. It will be great."
"No. You make me too nervous. You'll be checking my pace, and telling me I started out too fast." Well, she had a point there… Ok, so I resigned myself to loiter around at the finish line and wait patiently.
It was frosty cold the morning of the race, which was just about perfect running weather for Scat. For everyone else, it was teeth-chatter time as they warmed up in layers and sweats. Not Scat… just before the start she stripped down to her black racing shorts, black UnderArmor top, and Nike shades. Finally, she put on her leopard-pattern gloves.
"You're not really going to wear those, are you?" I asked.
She glared at me through her dark shades and didn't say a word.
"Uh, I think they're great. Good luck. Love you!!"
When Scat took her place on the starting line, a little girl looked up at her and said, "I bet you're fast!"
The race started and Scat worked her way up near the front of the pack. Go girl! Then they evaporated from the starting area and left me to wait. And wait. And wait. I paced around like an expectant father. I glanced at my watch every few minutes, mentally picturing where she was on the course, and what kind of pace she was on. This was killing me! I should be out there. I bet she went out too fast. For a brief moment, I seriously thought about sneaking out there. Maybe she wouldn't see me. No, Hank, you promised. Stay put.
I kept my eyes entranced up the road, watching for the blinking blue lights of the lead police vehicle. After what seemed like weeks, a slim black figure streaked around the final turn, and emerged in the distance. I couldn't tell who it was, but whoever it was had a huge lead. As the frontrunner approached, I noticed she was wearing black shorts and a black top. Could it be? Then as she got within about 100 meters, I confirmed the identity - it was Natalie!
"That's my wife!" I shouted to the police officer directing traffic at the corner. He just looked at me like, yeah, big deal. "Go Natalieeeeeeeeeeeee!"
Wow! She breezed by me and quickly through the finish – 1st female, 1st person, 1st creature. Chalk up another win for the girly girls! She was pretty excited and told me all about the two loops and how a police officer, who escorted her on his bicycle, parted the sea of slower runners on their first loop as she passed by on her second time around.
I should have been out there!
On the way home, Scat called her mom to tell her the good news. All I could hear coming from the other end was "WE GOT THE TURKEY!"
As good as her race experience had been at the Turkey Trot, it fell just a little short of a PR. She ran a very good time considering the bumpy course, so we were upbeat and ready for the next challenge. We were also somewhat apprehensive because this could be her final chance.
A few weeks later we were on the road once again to Charleston, SC for the Reindeer Run 5k. This race was originally supposed to be for fun since they allowed dogs, and Natalie had planned to run it with Cornbread, our little Terrier. But I told her that she probably should run this race on her own because the course was very flat - a good opportunity to finally grab that PR. So, I offered to run with Cornbread.
Scat had mixed feelings because she and Bread are inseparable and do many training runs together. Scat attributes much of her improvement over the past year to her "Bread runs," so she was looking forward to racing with her, but after giving it some thought, she agreed it would be better to go it alone.
I kept Bread over to the side at the start since it was a big race and I wasn't sure how she would react to the huge crowd. I had only run with this dog one time, and she just about killed me. She is like Superdog – Everything she does is warp speed. She eats fast. She barks fast. She jumps high. And she definitely runs fast! After the starting gun we meandered our way through the crowd, and after about a half mile, started to find some room to run and hit a groove.
I was hoping that we would either not catch Natalie, or if we did, that we could sneak by on the side of the road so as not to disrupt Natalie's race. But my worst fears came true… Cornbread spotted Natalie up ahead.
That dog took off like she was chasing a squirrel! It was all I could do to hang on to the leash as we were now in a dead sprint. We pulled up alongside Natalie and I tried my best to keep Bread running straight ahead. But there was no way I was going to be able to keep Bread away from her beloved Momma!
"Bread, c'mon, let's go. Let your momma run." Bread tried to jump up on Natalie but I yanked her away. Natalie kept running and somehow stayed focused. I knew it was killing her not to just stop and let the dog jump up on her and lick her in the face. But we had a race to run!
I figured my best bet was to get ahead of Natalie so maybe Bread would forget about her and just run. So I tugged on that leash and tried to get away. Bread turned back to her Momma. I tugged again. Bread took a few steps and turned back again. I yanked again. And again, and again. I'm sure the other runners thought I was abusing our poor little dog.
We finally put a gap between Natalie and us, and Cornbread eventually settled back into her groove, but not without a few more backward glances. The rest of the race was uneventful, but we did draw big cheers at the finish line as they announced that Cornbread was the first dog!
I now turned my attention to Scat. Surely she couldn't be far behind. After about a minute, she appeared cruising toward the finish. My eyes darted to the big clock. Then back at Scat. She was going to make it! She finally got her PR!
It had been quite a journey. We had run through record heat, over mountains, through the dark of night, and in the frosty air. Along the way she hit some lows, some highs, and even won two races. In the end, on the last race of the year, she finally got that evasive PR.
"Hey Scat, can we go home now?"
See you on the back streets.