I was never an athlete in high school or college.
Okay, okay, I know my sweet fiance is going to have a problem with that statement. I was never a competitive athlete in high school or college (or earlier). I swam on the neighborhood swim team when I was little. I’ve been a downhill skier since I was three years old, and have cross-country skied some in the last handful of years. And until fall 2010, while I ran to stay fit (not to mention sane), I wasn’t a competitive runner. I didn’t run cross country or track – I never had the confidence for it. Now, I’m still a mid-packer, but the speed gains I’ve made in the past year – purely competing against myself – have given me a new feeling: that of an athlete.
My dad, on the other hand, has been a competitive athlete pretty much all of his life. Since he was pretty young, he’s been a competitive swimmer. The last couple decades he has swum with the Ohio Master’s, and is competing in the Senior Olympics this summer in a few events. Our family definitely has a competitive gene, and apparently it is alive and well with me. But more than anything, it’s made it so my dad is one of my biggest fans.
My dad drove out to cheer me on at Spring Thaw in February – a 10 miler I was using as a training run for the Pittsburgh half. It was the first time he had seen me race, and having him there cheering me on gave me an unbelievable boost. So when Father’s Day rolled around and he planned to drive into Pittsburgh, I mentioned that I was running Man-Up 10K, the annual Father’s Day race for prostate cancer (which took my Granddad’s life after a 20-year battle, in 2009). This time, instead of a leisurely 10 a.m., the race was at 8 a.m., so he’d have to get up at the crack of dawn. I gave him an out – mentioned I was running it, but if he couldn’t make it that was perfectly fine. It was going to be extremely early after all.
But he came anyway.
We both woke up at 5 a.m. – in separate cities – as I got to work eating my oatmeal and hydrating and waiting for the pouring rain to ease (it did… temporarily). It was warm and muggy as I drove to the race site and picked up my packet, and even got a kind stranger to pin my “in memory of” bib to my packet. I love runners.
At about 7:40, my dad arrived, just after I had finished my warm up. I gave him a big hug (and my phone to hang onto – I just joined the smart phone train and hadn’t gotten a spibelt yet to carry the thing!). And of course snapped a couple photos.
I got lined up at the start, chatting with my dad intermittently as I tried to calm down. I get kind of amped for 5- and 10Ks, and with my reduced mileage volume and lack of speedwork, I wasn’t sure I could hold my PR pace (7:40), let alone push harder than that. But I didn’t count on the huge boost I got from my dad’s presence.
The National Anthem was sung – beautifully – and there were some speeches made about the cause, followed by the releasing of the doves.
Butterflies fluttering in my stomach, telling myself to just relax and have fun – it was just a race – I then got a HUGE shot of adrenaline as half a dozen dudes on Harleys lined up at the start and started revving their engines loudly. Normally I hate this, but it was like it revved my own internal engine.
I could hear my dad cheering and clapping, listening to the crowd chattering excitedly, and the echoes of the guttural growls of the Harleys, and a few seconds after they drove off, the gun sounded, and off we went!
I took off like a shot, and soon found myself a few steps ahead of the sub-40:00 group (a 10K with pace groups!). Oops. I started to ease off the gas, even as I felt good. I knew I just had adrenaline pumping through my veins and if I didn’t back off this pace, I’d rapidly burn up and eventually blow up. I eased way off but still clocked 7:22 for the first mile. (it bears mention that last year my Garmin measured 6.15 on the USATF-certified course, which is unusual for a sanctioned course – usually GPS devices measure long. They moved the start back this year which appeared to fix the issue, especially since my watch was beeping shortly before each marker, a very good sign of accuracy)
About a mile in, I came abreast of a girl in a pink top and we silently paced off one another. She ran like a metronome for the next almost two miles, clocking even 7:35s and taking the pace pressure off of me (and perhaps I was doing the same for her). She eventually dropped back shortly before the halfway mark as we turned onto the slightly cross-country-esque section, which was harder than I remembered from the previous year.
Just after the 5K mark, I felt the first few drops of rain. I’d been dumping the water cups from aid stations down my back to keep cool, so I welcomed that the humidity had turned to a little rain. I felt the pace of it start to build as we went on, and my pace dropped for the middle couple miles into the 7:40s, but I kept pushing.
By mile 5, it was pouring, and I could barely see my watch. In the last mile and a half, the 5Kers joined up at their turnaround, which made for a crowded trail, running on the crushed limestone path along the river. A couple times I barely squeaked past runners or walkers, and at one point totally dunked my left foot in a puddle – though somehow I never tripped over anything, which is amazing since I couldn’t see through my rain-soaked glasses.
We hit the final mile and were back on sidewalk, dodging geese and little ones, as I tried to ignore my bleary watch and push as hard as I could. I had told my dad that he should grab his umbrella from his car and then walk back to the finish (a straight out-and-back from where he parked), and was glad I did. I kept my head on a swivel as I strained to find him in case he didn’t spot me at the finish, but soon heard him shouting my name, a big grin on his face. I kept pushing all the way across the line, keeping the clock under 47 minutes – a new PR.
My Garmin measured 6.17 so it was a little better, but I still think the course is a little short. Either way, with my previous best being 47:36, it was a PR no matter what, and now I have set the bar pretty high.
I got a big hug from my dad, and a post-race, totally soaked picture courtesy of another runner.
Getting up at 5 a.m. on his day off, driving 2+ hours, and standing in the rain to cheer me on in a race that lasted less than 50 minutes?
Now that’s love.