A Thanksgiving morning road race has become a tradition for millions of runners. Our local race is four miles, which is about the perfect racing distance for the masses. A little longer than the typical 5K, yet not as taxing as a 10K.
There’s just one problem. Our race starts up the Houston Street Hill in downtown Batavia, Illinois. That stupid hill lasts about 200 meters and lasts long enough to put you into oxygen debt and suffer dreaded the dead leg syndrome before you even get to the half-mile mark.
Distractions of all kinds
Fortunately the course quickly flattens out. But no matter how much I warm up, the initial fatigue is pretty damned distracting. I do run hills now and then. But more then than now. Which means the strategy was to shorten my stride, keep my head down and wait for the incline to disappear.
That’s not exactly what happens of course. You look up to check your progress despite all your best intentions. I’m not saying that staring at your feet as you run up a hill is the best strategy at all. Not saying that. I’m just saying that I knew it was going to hurt and decided to pretend that the climb was shorter than I imagined. Instead, it was like one of those long and horrid runs on a treadmill where you’re on the machine for what seems like an eternity and look down to see the readout and it says. “.85 miles.”
I swear to (and at) myself at that point. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of treadmill running. Not a super fan of indoor cycling either. But this year it appears we’ll have Zwift software to entertain us on both fronts.
Because a few years back at the start of my serious cycling period, I recorded 7 DVDs of Tour de France coverage. The recordings were from the last year that Lance won the race. I reveled in the re-created drama while pedaling away in the large basement. Yet when it was all done after a week or so, there was no way that I was going to go back and watch it all over again. One can talk just so much Tour de France.
Deja Vu and the Gumby Blues
Unfortunately, a little bit of that jaded sensation can creep into in my regular racing and training. Some experiences become so familiar it’s impossible for it not to feel a bit repetitive or even drift into the realm of deja vu at times. I’ve decided to embrace that fully. My days of winning races is long past, but the fatigue feels basically the same whether you’re up at the front of the race fighting for the lead or just struggling to keep the Juggling Gumby guy from beating you to the Finish Line.
In my case this Turkey Trot, the Gumby actually beat me, cracking jokes and talking to the crowd the whole way. He runs 7:00 pace wearing a big green suit that must add at least 20% in terms of wind resistance. Gumby may be green but he gave me a case of the Running Blues.
So the annual Turkey Trot has its unique challenges. I also got beat by full-grown people wearing Turkey costumes and by little gobblers half my size. I told one of them “Way to go dude.” He returned the favor, “You too sir.”
Middle of the Pack
I’ll admit that I’ll never get completely used to being a Middle of the Packer. Ever.
But I have gotten used to running my own race pace no matter what my surroundings are. Using my best yoga breathing techniques, I find the groove that’s best and focus on “running well,” just as I counsel my wife when she’s frustrated by her running. After running the Turkey Trot five years in a row, I know the weather’s always going to be slightly cloudy, a bit windy and chilly. Still, I was hoping that racing a half-marathon a few weeks ago was going to make running a four-miler feel like a cinch.
It doesn’t always work that way. That stupid hill at the start makes sure of that. My legs really felt great in warmups. I even stood just behind the second row of runners at the starting line. I was chatting with a pair of Bradley University women distance runners when lean and fit former neighbor trotted back to the start line and saw me. He looked at me a little incredulously and asked, “How are you running these days?”
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m just up front for old time’s sake.”
Etiquette and pace
Understand this: I don’t like the old and slow folks who start up front and get run over any more than the next guy. But in my case, I know the rhythms of a race better than almost anyone on this planet. I was going to run fast enough not to hold anyone back. Plus the race announcer told us that anyone near 7:00 pace should stand up front. I was just following orders based on my own hopeful expectations.
Unfortunately, I came through the first mile not at 7:00 pace, but 7:19. Then two miles at 14:55. The last two miles slowed a bit as well. As I trundled past my former home that stands at the three-mile mark on the Turkey Trot course, it struck me how many times I’ve run down that street dating back to 1996. The new owner keeps the place shade-shut and sullen. No remorse there.
Keeping the faith
Despite the inevitable fatigue of racing half-fit, I held my own at 7:37 pace through the slog of nostalgia and other mental detritus. I even kicked home the last 400 meters and ran full bore down the damned hill we had to run up at the start. I stopped my watch at 30:37.
Grant you, I was hoping to break 30:00 this year but the universe clearly had something else for me in mind. Trotting across the finish line, I noted that it just felt good to run in my classic LLBean purple top and bright new multicolored cap. A friend gave me that hat in honor of gay rights. I feel like it’s right to let the world know that it’s still a bright idea to love everyone. Jesus said so. The rest of that legalistic crap that people throw at the world is ridiculous, fearful and ignorant.
Time with friends and family
I petted some dogs while waiting for Sue to finish a few minutes behind me. She had a break scheduled in training the last two weeks and this was her break from the break.
We had fun running and rode back home with her sister Julie and beau Mike Czarnik, a stalwart dude who ran the exact 7:00 pace I was hoping to achieve. He’s racing a marathon in San Antonio next week. This was a snappy little tuneup for him.
All that behind us, we checked the results and I’d finished third in my age group. Wasn’t concerned about picking up the award because the large crowd arriving for Thanksgiving celebrations was a reward enough for the day.