Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Colin Powell Elementary School 5K Redux

The gang post-race.
“So, um, where is the start?” I asked, while surveying the rapidly filling parking lot. Our eyes followed the outstretched arm of our friend who pointed to a folding table and chairs just off the sidewalk.

About two months ago, this same friend handed Mrs. OTBR and I registration forms to sign up for his school’s annual 5K fundraiser. Not ones to turn down a race – and honestly a chance to go out to breakfast – we promptly handed them back to him, check paperclipped to the top.

There was something refreshing about a true, small, local 5K (no more than 125 registrants), that didn’t come with the pressures of packet pickup logistics, starting corrals, timing chips, and that general D.C.-type A aggravation.

Our group of nine shifted from foot to foot as we cracked jokes in between our friend spotting one of his students and moving off to chat with them. I shook my arms and legs in random intervals, hoping to shed the logy-ness that weighed me down on my warm up loop. I surveyed the runners around us and quickly realized the absurdity of sizing up the dads and siblings for an elementary school 5K and allowed myself the chance to go “run for fun” rather than to compete.

A woman with a bullhorn emerged from the throng of elementary school kids and their parents, who wandered around us. “Let’s get moving to the start line!” she called, and we herded toward the folding table and chairs. But before we lined up, the bullhorn summoned us toward the school’s sign to snap a group picture.

Moments later, we shuffled into position. A little girl next to me looked up at her dad, motioned for him to lean in, and whispered too loudly, "Help me win!" Adorable.

The woman with the bullhorn yelled, “GO!” and in a few loping strides out of the parking lot, I shot to the front of the pack, err, horde of children. The course circled the school and surrounding neighborhood twice, and runners were instructed to run on the sidewalk, following the well-placed directional signs.

I slipped into an easy rhythm and – after a short and steep uphill – tried to push the pace toward a PR on the long stretch of downhill on the backside of the school. Then, I gave a quick glance over my left shoulder and startled to see a kid dressed in all white not too far behind.

Not again,” I thought, having settled in to the idea of a pretty comfortable run alone. Then came the spark of adrenaline, and thus, the competitive fuse lit.

I dropped a 5:15 first mile and chuffed a little harder through the first loop checkpoint than I anticipated. Kids waved bright orange and yellow flags and there was a smattering of applause as the bullhorn squawked, “Here comes our first runner!” I managed a smile then went about tackling that short, steep hill again.

While I shortened my stride, I listened behind me for the announcement of the all-white runner and it came a little too soon for my liking. When I hit the top of the hill, I thought, “Run through it,” and though I breathed hard, I let my feet continue to turn over on that long downhill while my breath caught up.

I started to come up on the parents and their kids still completing the first loop and heard “Wows!” go up behind me. A father tried to stay with me for a short time before abandoning the idea. I kept my eyes up, looking for the street light that would signal the final left turn to the finish.

Finally it appeared, marking a half mile to go, and I allowed myself a quick glance at my watch: 5:25 pace; and another over my shoulder: all-white was nowhere to be found. A potential PR hung in the pre-thunderstorm humidity on that final straightaway and I threw in whatever kick those marathon legs could muster.

I ran by the cone marking the finish line and clicked my watch, sucking in a cool lungful of air. I looked at my wrist and saw: 15:45 and my eyes nearly bugged out of my head. Then I looked up further on the watch and saw 2.86mi. Ah-ha. That explained it.

I stuck by the finish line to cheer in and high five the kids and our friends. We tried our hand at the raffle and then collected our age-group prizes. Our friend had essentially brought in the ringers as we captured every one of them from 21-49.

And of course, then we went to breakfast.

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