I usually am the guy at the finish line, congratulating the runner as they cross, and writing their bib number on the sheet. I’ll throw a “good job” to a few that look like they really dug deep to finish, but mostly I just log the numbers and hand them in.
That was the plan for the Dobbs Ferry Labor Day 5K race.
I only recently started running, after really being tired of carrying all this excess weight I’ve had for far too long. I’m a big guy, certainly not the poster child for someone who should be running, but I started. Slow. Very slow. walking at first, then alternating small bits of running, then walking again. nothing major. about two weeks ago, I started running more than a mile without stopping, working it up to 2+ without a break.
Andy, the race director for the 5K, asked me last week if I would work the race. I said that I would.
Last Wednesday, I changed my mind.
I began to toss around the possibility of running the race. I was running 2+ miles with no problem, and I figured that I could feasibly complete the race, even if I had to stop at one point to walk, but still clock a respectable time. In previous races I had worked, there were always runners that had come in between 45 minutes to and hour, so I was confident that I could fit in there somewhere. Everyone I mentioned the idea to was very receptive, and encouraged me to go for it. I threw the idea out on Facebook, and Joe, a former work colleague of mine, said he would come down from Connecticut (an hour and a half drive), and run with me.
Christy and I dropped off our registration forms on Thursday. I was in.
On Friday I ran a “test” 5K in my neighborhood, to get a feel for the distance. I did it, no problem. Feeling good.
Christy and I drove the actual course in Dobbs, to see what it would be like. Christy had run this race before, and medal-ed, but she hadn’t done it in a few years. It had 3 major inclines at the start, and started uphill, but the strategy was to get up the hills, and walk if I needed, and run the rest. Realistic goals. Check. I do a 2 mile run on Saturday, and my Guru (wife) recommends rest on Sunday, then race day on Monday. Check.
My friend Joe drives down from CT, and we leave for Dobbs. We park on Main Street, which is the finish. The race starts a Mercy College, so we walk the aqueduct to the start. Joe and I start stretching, and take a quick run to loosen up. Joe says he feels a bit winded, and I did too, which was weird, but I don’t think much of it. I eat my GU (energy gel), and we line up.
“Is it too late to back out?” I ask Joe. He smiles. I have to pee. Is there time to run in and go? Nope. The race is about to start.
They blow the air horn.
100+ people start running up the Mercy College parking lot, crossing Broadway. I’m in last place, but running at the pace I’m accustomed to. The ambulance is behind me, slowly creeping along, making sure nobody drops. I pass 2 people, but they overtake me as I slow up for the first of 3 inclines. I get up the first 2, and three-quarters up the third, and I have to stop and walk. The inclines killed me. The 2 runners ahead of me get farther away. I get some breath back, and start again. I was carrying my own water bottle, so I passed on the water station they had set up, around mile 1. The worst part is over.
The rest of the course is essentially downhill compered to the 3 inclines (okay hills) that came before, but I still need to stop and walk, not having let myself fully get my wind back before running again. Just around mile 2, there are people sitting outside their houses, watching the race, kind of like when a parade goes by. Parents and their children sitting on the steps, enjoying the show. I have headphones on, but I pause the music as I pass the houses, to acknowledge the words of encouragement tossed my way.
I’m last. They know because the ambulance is trailing behind me. After the last house, I have to stop and walk again. The gas tank is almost empty. I round the last corner that puts Broadway in sight, the last leg of the race-Broadway to Cedar-Cedar to Main Street and the finish. As I walk towards Broadway, I see a familiar green-shorted runner walking TOWARDS me. My wife. She came back after finishing to run along side me, and give me the strength to bring it home.
As soon as my foot hit Broadway, I started running, and I’m not stopping ’til I cross the line.
There’s a running term known as ” the kick”-it’s a burst of energy that runners have saved up for the end of a race, so they can sprint or pick up speed at the end when others have nothing left. I had joked about “throwing down the Hammer” and passing people at the finish, but there wasn’t anyone left but me. On Cedar street, a race worker told the ambulance driver to slow down “so I could have some glory” I looked back at him-he didn’t realize I didn’t have my music on.
We round the corner to the top of Main Street. The finish line is in sight. Christy starts to pull off to the side of the road. She says one thing to me:
“Are you going to throw the Hammer down?”
Damn right I am.
I take whatever I have left and pour it into making my legs move as fast as they can. People are cheering, but probably because they can finally find out if they won a medal. Everything is blurry, but I make out my brother Mark putting his hand out from the crowd. I slap it as I run through the finish line.
42:11-not bad for a big guy. Less than a minute slower than my “test” run of 41:30, and that didn’t have 3 hills.
I go to the water station at the finish-the worker there said to me “they were cheering for you louder than the guy that came in first”.
I didn’t write this to brag-I came in last. I don’t have a problem with that-I’m not overly competitive in that respect. I ran the race to see if I could.
Thanks to my wife and a cheering crowd, I did.