Monday, November 9, 2015

Run, Roll and Stroll 5k

I had a feeling about a half to three quarters of a mile into the race that I was going to win. The steep hill which climbs back away from the Cape Fear River on Walnut Street hadn't taken too much out of my legs. And I was able to steadily wind my pace down though the 6:20s per mile into the 6:10s running on a slight upgrade, as the course made its way towards New Hanover High School.

But the principle logic for such heady speculation was that I was leading a small pack of runners, which then fell off to just me and Owen. His breathing had become a little more pronounced and labored as I continued to periodically call out our pace times. As we could see the one mile mark sign alongside of the road I began to pull away from him, but hollered "stay with me Owen." 

Then I was on my own.

I told myself a few times to "just keep it together" and you'll win. I figured if I could keep the hammer down through the middle section of the course I would be ok. Take the slight uphill city blocks hard and no-one will come after you, or if they do they'll have to bleed it out of themselves to catch up.

Those were some of my fuzzed thoughts as the sun continued to throw warmth onto the unshaded areas of asphalt on which we trod.  Hardly immune where we either to the abundance of humidity that permeated the November morning air. And added challenge to test the meddle of even the most hardened and battle scarred athletes amongst the smaller field of runners. It felt more like a late spring race...certainly not the middle of fall. But so it goes in our beloved sport.

And so I followed the kid on the bike. One block after the other. Past 12th, 11th, 10th, 9th streets... dear God get me through to the next block, and eventually back to the river. Then a half block at a time as I'd catch the alley entrances in my peripheral vision. Don't drop me now God I asked. And I got on myself for being a bit too whiney in my devotions. Keep it pure. A low hanging tree branch knocked my hat off. I didn't bat an eye and ran on.

We've come this far to get caught. I was the pursued, like a wild animal in the bush running with all it's might to avoid the ultimate penalty, death itself.  I passed Brenda again at the intersection of 5th street. I couldn't spare the energy this time to acknowledge. I listened though as I went past for her voice again... until I heard "go Owen"... which gave me a sense of what was coming up behind me.

I love the kid too. We joked before the race. We both know he is going to beat me one of these days. Sooner then later. I want that for him. But when he does he's going to have to earn it. And it wasn't going to be today.

Finally I could see the Cape Fear River as the course began to roll down hill towards her gently flowing waters. Blessed river. Just keep following the bike. You'll get there. Just keep taking the pain. Keep following the bike. Another half block, another block. Elaine and her Girls on the Run friends cheering again. God I'm almost at the boardwalk. I can smell the river. It's right there. Follow the kid on the bike and take a left. Watch your step. He called out to some people to make way.

And I just kept following, it was all that mattered. Life right then and there was that elementary. Follow the bike. Down the boardwalk, past some people but it was all a whirling blur peppering my senses. I glanced back, once. I didn't want any surprises. Then we went behind the Hilton. Dam this hotel is big. Takes awhile to get past. I dry heaved behind this hotel years ago near the end of a race going in the opposite direction. I had told the story when me & coach Peyton and a bunch of the kids were warming up. But I didn't think of that gastric occurrence now.

Finally we went through a congregation of spectators cheering at the finish as I heard my friend Colin on the PA system calling out my name. And that quickly it was over. 18 minutes and 45 seconds. Once again I was able to stare down and sort of square up the waves of pain...and mute all the conniving voices which beg and plead for us to slow down. Was it Emerson that said the best way thru it is a straight line?

Owen came in 2nd and Zach 3rd. Was happy and proud. Later I would find out that Paxton was 1st, coach Amie 2nd, and Hannah the 3rd female. A clean sweep for the Cape Fear Flyers Club. Several other of my fellow coaches and our runners won age group medals.

One of the best days out of thousands of days that this sport has blessed me with. I hope and pray the ride never ends. For me, for you... for all of us.