What kind of grinch would take time away from family and holiday celebrating to run yet another 5K? Well, me and 110 other grinches who showed up at the Indiana School for the Deaf on Christmas Day to chug around the campus grounds. And Santa Claus must have been around somewhere and thinking of me, because just when the girlfriend was practically rolling her eyes that I am yet again finding a way to run a race at an unexpected time, along came Robert from Naperville, Illinois, at the start line. I commented to him about the Everton FC shirt he was wearing, and came to find out he had driven from Naperville specifically for the race and was driving back directly after the race. Hohoho! That’s about eight hours out of somebody’s holiday, six of which are spent driving, and makes my quest for thirty look a little less spastic by comparison since I was already visiting family in Indianapolis and wouldn’t be taking so much time out of the day. Robert even commented that he told his wife he’d run a 5K or 10K every weekend for a year, so my present was being able to maintain some degree of normalcy in the eyes of my girlfriend since I’m “only” doing thirty 5Ks in a year.
Regardless of the degree of normalcy, it felt abnormal to run a 5K on Christmas Day, much less in the middle of the freakin’ afternoon in the thick of the celebrating. What it meant more than anything was that I needed to lay off the coma-inducing eating, stay away from the bottle of Redbreast 12 I bought my sister’s boyfriend, and maintain some sort of pre-race empty-stomach discipline well into the afternoon. I didn’t know how well I would be able to manage all that, so I had resigned myself to running at a slower pace and merely finishing, and then unleashing the Christmas consuming beast inside me.
That all lasted until I turned into a long straight-away as I closed out what felt like the first mile of the race. I had noted that I was starting rather fast for someone who hadn’t raced for three weeks and who couldn’t remember the last time he even ran outdoors. The pace was peculiar, but not so much as the feeling that it felt right and sustainable. It came to me that I had been on vacation for 8 days and was almost as well rested as I am throughout the summer. A barrier crumbled in my mind, and I found a long-lost cruise control switch in the rubble.
I maintained the pace throughout the shittily-marked course, and even managed to catch up to Robert after two and a half miles. We made it through a vague turn around (nobody seemed to know where it was, exactly), and he pulled ahead on the quarter-mile stretch to the finish line. Dude certainly looked like he had run fifty 5- or 10Ks up to this point in the year, and I was surprised to have even gotten near him. But I felt as relentless as time, and decided I was going to go for it. I caught him, and we sprinted against each other until I edged him by a nose at the finish line (a nose that is exactly .65 seconds long).
My time was recorded at 24:59.67, which made it my second fastest time in the last four years. Regardless of the crappy course markings and how exact that time is, I’ll take it. Thank you, Santa Claus! Maybe I should run a race every Christmas.
If there are such things as unicorns and long-time followers of The Seeker, the latter might remember that I’m big on the Poem-a-Day Challenge. It happens every November, and the idea is to write a poem every day for the month of November. Dude in charge gives you a prompt each day, and you take it from there. By the end of the month, you have thirty possible poems. You spend this time of year up until mid-January refining your poems and ultimately you submit a small number of them to dude in charge. He looks at your chapbook and decides a winner.
Winning isn’t the goal, though. Besides which, it’s damn near impossible. Meeting the challenge is the goal, and everything after that is gravy. I’ve written here about the sundry benefits of forcing oneself to write every day; mostly, that means shutting off the inner critic and ripping out a poem. Or at least something that could become a poem. I’ve been consistently surprised at some things I’ve churned out, and even some of the interesting trash. What’s perhaps best, though, is that the PAD Challenge gives me purpose and keeps me busy writing for two and a half months of the year without worrying about where the next idea is going to come from.
So I’m in my third year of the marathon writing and editing session, and I can’t see any good reason to not do PAD again next year. I’m working diligently on my chapbook, though to look at me you might think I’m trying to pull my own teeth instead. Feels about the same. Anyhow, I was shaping a poem yesterday and was having a lot of fun with it, even though it’s not going to go into my chapbook because it’s not a thematic fit. Seems like a shame to just let it float out there in the wherever, so I’m going to put it up here.
This one originated on November 16th. The prompt was “Play _____”. I was tasked with filling in the blank and using the expression as the title of my poem.
You’re a Model T
or a 78 SP.
A wooden leg.
Only an odd few
are still facile
the abstruse aspects
that made you you.
None of that
back in the day
better than that.
You’re not dead, so
don’t get bent
out of shape—
with your old bones.
They don’t make you
like they used to,
I’ve never run well in Racine, Wisconsin. That might partly be due to the fact that Racine is in Wisconsin. It also might partly be due to the fact that one time I ran there I was on the back end of a long-lasting injury and was out of shape; the other time it was hotter than hell. So when the idea of running in Racine comes up, I don’t quite approach it like it’s St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary. But I figured last Saturday morning that it would be different this time. This time I was in a better place as a runner and still feeling the good vibes from a Thanksgiving run that I killed despite the rampant cheating that was apparent on the course. This time I was going to attack. This time I was going to make Wisconsin regret me instead of vice versa.
Those thoughts lasted until I spotted Jeff Weiss at the start line. Here’s what you have to know about (soon to be) Dr. Weiss: He’s a tenacious bugger who’s in great shape, he’s in a running club, and he has run marathons. But don’t let all that fool you. Much like Jason Rush, I can’t believe I’m still friends with him. Anyhow, I saw Weiss and figured I’m best off keeping him in front of me where I can monitor him. Thankfully, he runs pretty fast. That encouraged me to run pretty fast, too, in case he thought about doubling back on me and pulling some type of shenanigans. Really: Don’t be fooled by that guy!
So I chugged along the lake shore in Racine for a little over twenty-five minutes. It was plenty cold, which meant I was sporting cold weather running gear on for a race for the first time this season. No matter. I run well in bad weather. I didn’t know the course. No matter. I was occupied in keeping track of Jeff Weiss. I wasn’t sure how well I was doing at any particular point. No matter. I kept chugging along. Before I knew it, I was dashing uphill in back of Memorial Hall in downtown Racine and crossing the line in damn good time. Four days later, and I’m glad I tucked this one away. We got six inches of wet snow Sunday, and temperatures are going to be in the single digits by next week. So it looks like the racing season is over. It kills me to stop short of the halfway point and when I’m running better than I have for four years, but it’s time to pack it in.
My back just sighed in relief, and my cranky hips are writing me a thank you note.
As I was rolling into Bryan, Ohio, at 7:20 A.M. Thanksgiving morning, I was thinking this is Medal City… Population: Me! That was my first mistake of the day, because Bryan is actually known as The Fountain City, and its population was listed at 8,545 in the 2010 census. But really, why wouldn’t I be thinking I would drive away in another hour and a half with a medal? I ran the Williams County YMCA Turkey Trot in Bryan two years ago and finished ten seconds away from a medal in my age division. Somebody in my age division probably cheated that day and I meant to contact the race sponsors about it, but I got too busy. Anyhow, I figured the best revenge would be to show up and run the way I know I can and let all those people behind me sniff my vapor trails, and I’d wear my medal all day long. Besides, I’m in a new age division, and I am lighter and faster than two years ago. Plus, the weather was perfect for running: Cold, wet, and overcast. Everything was going Jeff Burd’s way!
As far as the actual race, the Turkey Trot is a pretty good one that I’ve found to be well run. They draw between 200-300 people and lay things out on a flat, double-loop course with but one turn that slows you down a bit. I envisioned myself as far back as two weeks ago doing well by starting fast off the line and positioning myself effectively early in the race. All that happened, too. As I was coming around the far side of the first loop, I was feeling a solid pace that was faster than usual by about 30 seconds. Plus, I was picking off some dudes who looked to be in my age division. Not that I would know since I really have trouble telling who is my age anymore, but it still felt good.
When I reached the same place on the second loop, I spotted some black squirrels romping around in the trees and wet grass on the side of the course. They caught my attention because we don’t see many black squirrels around The Seeker luxury headquarters, though we have grey squirrels like the Army has boots. Turns out there are pockets of black squirrels throughout the midwest and along the east coast, and a number of institutions have adopted the black squirrel as their mascot due to their bad-ass appearance and relative rarity (only 1 in 10,000 squirrels is black). I looked all this up (after the race, of course) and I’m glad I did since I initially figured we didn’t see black squirrels around Chicago too much because the cops would probably shoot them.
Anyhow, I came trucking down the chute with nobody within seven seconds of me and cleared the finish line in 25:08. It was my best Thanksgiving 5K ever, and my 2nd fastest time in four years. “I killed it,” I told my dad, who came along to see the race and offer his support. I told him we’d wait around a bit to get the official results and for me to pick up my medal. That was my second mistake of the day, and it wasn’t even 10 A.M.
I could have kept running past the finish line and right to my car, and we could have gotten home a lot earlier to truly begin enjoying the holiday because I was nowhere near getting a medal. I finished 40th overall, and 1:16 faster than two years ago, but it was still only good enough for 4th place in my age division. The dude who took third place was almost a minute and a half ahead of me. I took a look at the overall results, and they confirmed what I’ve been saying for years: Whatever age division I’m in is the toughest division in the race. I would have finished 3rd in the 18-24 division, and 2nd in the 65-100 division. I’m not worried about it, though. I’m pretty sure somebody cheated again. I’ll have to remember to contact the race sponsors. If I hound them enough, they’ll probably send me a medal.
When my chiropractor told me two weeks ago that my first ribs and both clavicles were “superior,” I thought she was complimenting me. In fact, I felt pretty good about my adjustment up to that point. But once she got into saying my sacrum was “base, posterior,” and a bunch of other stuff was inferior or rotated internally or externally, I got to thinking that maybe the chiropractic lexicon varied slightly from my own. Turns out I was right. Each click of her activator echoed in my ears and reverberated through my bones until the final realization sunk in: My back was pretty screwed up.
Thank the powers that be for the wonder that is Chiropractic. My usual adjustment and massage helped things, as did taking some time to rest. Before I knew it, I was rolling out of bed last Saturday morning and trekking to Kenosha for race #12. It was a reversal of habits or sorts; usually, I’m running away from Kenosha. Three years of living there left a sour taste in my mouth for most things Wisconsin (the Milwaukee Brewers excepted, of course). Still, it was a race for a good cause (veterans), and I still need to stack as many of these things up as I can before the end of the year.
I decided to start slow, which made a difference. It was a cold morning, so cold starting was definitely in order. But once I got going and felt good, I started to cruise. The waters of Lake Michigan again lapped the shores right next to the course, and there were still plenty of golds and reds left in the trees that dotted the neighborhood south of the harbor to distract me from the fact that I was running in freakin’ Kenosha. I ran through parts of two different courses I used to run when I lived in K-town (or, more aptly, “Kenowhere”), and I couldn’t help but think of my younger, more carefree days of running before chiropractic adjustments, yoga, custom orthotics, and protein shakes became as necessary as a pair of Asics and decent running shorts.
I surprised myself with a 26:41 finish, and was further surprised to see that I finished fourth in my age division. My only thought was that the best runners must have run the 10K that took place at the same time. Still, no medal. No big deal. And I have to hand it to Kenosha—the place is has come together nicely in the last twenty years.
I did not feel like running when I woke up yesterday morning. I hadn’t had a good night sleep. It wasn’t exactly bad, but whatever it was contributed to me not feeling my race-morning mojo. Plus, I’m starting to get rundown from the school year. Plus, I’ve been running a lot lately and my back isn’t quite in it. Plus, too much candy watching the Cubs lose in the World Series. Blah blah blah… I know. Shut up. I soldiered on, because in the least the $30 registration fee is too much to flush. Besides, being a runner means you soldier on. Whatever reluctance I was feeling was only compounded by spotting Jason Rush warming up before the race. Here’s what you have to understand about Jason Rush beyond that link above (which you should totally check out!): He came out of the womb wearing a pair of running shoes. The last time I saw him, he busted out an age-division-winning 10K time in Wauconda (third overall) while I was plodding along in the 5K at a per mile pace 2:30 slower than him. Anyhow, dude is fast for 43 years old. Krikey… he’s fast for any age. Always has been. He can still beat most of his high school’s Cross Country team. Just last week he was the overall winner of a race, and he was wearing the dang shoes to prove it. I decided in the moment I spotted him that I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of totally killing my best time if I was went all-out. Because Jason Rush totally gets satisfaction out of that. A lot of mild-mannered, easy-going AP Physics teachers are sick like that. I don’t even know why I’m still friends with him, honestly, but it is what it is.
So I took my sweet-ass time yesterday running around Lake Bluff. Lake Michigan sat calm and blue well below the elevation of the course. The place is called Lake Bluff for a reason. Lots of gold and rust in the trees all the way around. A little bit of purple, too. Somehow, I still managed to finish in 26:07. That would have been a fast time for me six years ago. Hell, I would have been happy with that last summer. Now, not so much. There’s good reason for that, too. It’s called the Centre Club Pink Ribbon Run, which I ran at St. Mary’s of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein last weekend.
The Pink Ribbon Run has been my favorite for some time now, to the point that I’ve almost mythologized its many pleasures in my mind. What it comes down to is this: It’s the closest I can come to again running an actual high school Cross Country meet. It’s during CC season, the weather is pleasantly cool and damp, there are unbelievable colors emerging from the trees, and it takes place on an institution campus. For one Saturday each fall, it’s like I have a time machine. Last weekend, I killed it. I dashed my way to a 24:40, which is my fastest time in four years and my fastest time ever on that course. I shot off the start line and ran hard and on the edge of breathlessness the entire way. If there is such a thing as divine intervention, I guess I experienced it there. Seems apt, given the nature of the place.
I commented to the girlfriend that 24:40 was the fastest I’ve run for four years, and that I might never run that fast again. Seems like a downer, maybe, but it might be true. If so, I’m glad it happened where it did.
Did I get a medal? Hell no. Three women finished ahead of me, which made me the eighth male overall. Two of those males were in my age division, and I was nowhere close to them (ironically, those results replicate my high school CC experiences more so than the setting!). Still, I would have won or got at least second place in every other age division, so my complaint stands that my age division is the toughest. But I did reel in a 57-year old woman in the last quarter mile. She was killing it all the way through, too, and unknowingly provided me with a rabbit to chase. So I guess I’m hell at beating the 12-year old and 57-year old age divisions, just not my own.
For those keeping track at home, I finally broke into double-digits in this quest for thirty 5Ks. It’s still going to go on for a while, but maybe I can reach the halfway point before the new year. Right now, the next race isn’t even on the horizon. I’m too stiff and sore to think about it. My back is tired, and even yoga didn’t help as much as I thought or needed it to this morning. I’m not going to get any faster, and I’m sure as hell not going to get any younger.
Might as well keep running.
I’ve lamented for some time now that the hardest age division in every race I run seems to be my age division. Case in point: I raced on a flat, fast course in Zion last Friday evening, one I’ve raced on at least a dozen times, felt like I ran real hard-assed the whole way, finished with a decent time (my second best of the year), and still only managed to bring home the 3rd-place medal in my age division. Behold it in all its glory:
Anyhow, I felt like I ran so hard and so well that I surely cracked twenty-five minutes. Not so. I came across at 25:54. But I did manage to outlast a couple of twelve-year old kids who were out front of most runners as far as the second mile. So I’ve got that to brag about.
I’ll take the medal. They’re still few and far in between for me, so I still get a lot out of winning one. I was happy with myself, too, for lacing up the Asics and running so well on a freakin’ Friday night after a full week of school. That’s unheard of because I’m usually too tired. But I’m trying to knock off thirty of these races, so sometimes tired needs to take a back seat to keep pushing towards the goal. I’m holding out for a few more races these next few weeks while the yellows and reds are coming out on the trees, the air is crisp, and I’m not yet exhausted from the rigors of the school year.