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There and Back Again: A Race Report of the 2012 Quakertown Rotary 4 Miler

Posted Mar 05 2012 12:41am

I had one of those “You know you love running when…” moments at 5:30am this past Saturday morning, March 3, 2012. I say this because of the obvious, which is that I got up at 5:30am on a Saturday morning to run. But just to demonstrate to you how much I really “love running,” not only did I get up at 5:30am on a Saturday to run, I actually got in a car and drove myself an hour north to a little town called Quakertown, in the foggy, cold rain no less, to run a measly 4 miles. But I am not done yet. I got up at 5:30am, drove an hour in the foggy, cold rain to run a measly 4 miles on a really hilly course and, here’s the real clincher, do it as FAST as I could. Fast? Up until recently, that word has been absent from my “love to run” vocabulary. I mean, who does this to themselvesbreathe really hard, feel faint from lack of oxygen, and make one’s quads burn with effortwho does this? Someone who really “loves running,” that’s who.

I signed up for the Quakertown Rotary 4-miler a while ago. My racing buddies, Denise and Jamie, were doing it, and since I happen to like them a lot and I happen to love run (apparently), I signed up too. I thought this race would be a good opportunity to establish a baseline, so to speak, for my speed training, and give me an idea of where my fitness was. If you are new to this blog, then suffice it to say I like to run marathons and half marathons…slowly…and have never run the shorter, speedier distances, and I was curious to see what it’s like to race those shorter, speedier distances. If you have been reading this blog for a while, well then you know that this was the first in a series of D2E tests.

So after driving for a little less than an hour hunched over the steering wheel like an old lady on her way to church and squinting through the dense fog to read road signs, I finally arrived at Pfaff Elementary School (I have no idea how to pronounce it) in Quakertown. This is what it looked like when I arrived.

The rain drizzled lightly and it was about 45 degrees. The fog was intense. But I, believe it or not, was feeling good and excitedI was actually looking forward to this race…weird. But I had been training hard for the past 12 weeks, and I was anxious to see if any of this speed training crap had paid off.

My race buddies, Denise and Jamie, arrived shortly after I did, and after we jumped up and down holding each other’s hands going “eeeeeeeeeeeee!” and hugged each other (ok we didn’t really go “eeee” but we did hug), we checked in, got our race bibs, and hit the bathroom. Then of course we posed for the requisite photo op (thanks, Sloan) and headed out into the foggy gloom for a 2-mile warm up run at a nice, easy pace.

Denise, me, and Jamie...and no, Jamie did not run in Uggs.

I won’t bore you with details of the warm-up miles, except to say I did find a good pee bush, there were cows (more on them later), lots of farm houses and barns, and a few impatient drivers who obviously did not “love running” like we did. Oh yeah, and another thing. There were hills. Yeah, the warm-up run gave me a taste of what was to come.

So, at a little before 9am, we toed up at the small, inflated arch that said “Start” in front of Pfaff (however you say that) Elementary School along with what I am guessing were about 300 other runners. I think about half the runners were running the 10-mile portion of the race and the other half were running the 4-mile portion. It was a friendly, relaxed crowd. The race director told us that he rode his bike along the course the day before and was really glad he wasn’t running it (nice). He reminded everyone to hang around after the race for the awards and that they would be serving meatball sandwiches as post-race food. Jamie asked the man standing next to her if he was going to “win this bitch.” He looked at her and laughed in one of those odd, high-pitched “Ohmagawd, this hot chick is talking to me!” kind of laugh. Classic.

Going into this race, I had a plan. This was an out and back course: two miles out, two miles back. The toughest hills were in the first two miles and, obviously, the last 2 miles were primarily downhill. My strategy (that I worked out with Celeste, RB, and Coach Wthanks guys) was to run up the first two miles at an 8:30 pace and run back down the big hills at an 8:00 pace or faster and hopefully finish right around 33 minutes and hopefully in the 32-min range. That was the plan.

But then Jamie, the spritely pony of 26 years old, asked Denise and me what kind of time goal we had for this race as we stood huddled at the Start line. Denise said she was going to hang back at bit, with a goal of finishing in the 35- to 36- minute range. I told them I was hoping to finish in the upper 32-min range. Jamie told me she was hoping to finish in the 30- to 31-min range. She then threw in that I could totally do her time, and that I should run with her. Me, in all my hubris, kind of believed her.

The announcer counted down and then said GO. And we went! Fast! Really fast. Everyone went really, really fast…ohmygawd…everyone started running REALLY fast. Did I say we went fast? I am NOT used to that!! I watched Jamie’s blond pony-tail braid swishing back and forth just to the front left of my view. I tried to stick to her as the crowd pushed around us. I felt comfortable…at first…as we sailed down the hill beyond the start. I had no idea of what pace we were running. My legs were turning over quickly, but it felt ok. People around me, however, were moving so very fast that I felt a slight panic. There were people pushing past us and there were people we were pushing past. It all happened very quickly. We then hit the first up hill. I dug in and powered up but Jamie started to pull ahead of me. Again, I had no idea what pace we were running, so I kept her within eyesight, but I knew I would not be able to keep up with her. I didn’t know if I was slowing down or if she was speeding up; I only knew this was not the pace for me. I understood then what RB had told me a day before the race…this was MY race and I needed to settle into my OWN pace and not think about the paces other people were running. I also remembered what Celeste told me, which was that you feel pretty good the first 400 meters, and from then on, it’s a fight for air…oh so true.

Very soon, we crossed the first – and only – mile marker in the race…the 1-mile marker. I glanced at my watch…7:45. Oh my. I was going too fast. Jamie was still in sight, but beyond my reach. If there had been no hills, I would have hammered out that pace as long as I could. But those hills reached up and grabbed my feet like a bad dream. Mile 2 felt like molasses, and I dug in as best I could. My breath was simply ragged, but I tried to find a groove and settle into a rhythm with my breathing, however ragged it was. I stopped thinking about anything but holding a steady pace. The hills in Mile 2 were brutal. I wasn’t the only person suffering. The people around me sounded like they were dying. I heard nothing but sawing breaths, gasps, curses, and major sucking air. I have never experienced that before during a race.

As I neared the turn-around point (2 miles), the winners were already heading back past me in the opposite direction. WOW! They were cruising! I saw 3 men fly by and then I saw the first woman. And there amidst the top 10 men and women that passed me by in the opposite direction was a little boy who couldn’t be more than 9 or 10 years old. I couldn’t believe it. He was seriously flying!!

Right before the turn-around point, I high-fived Jamie coming back the other way. As I did the 180-degree turn at the 2-mile point, I glanced at my watch…16:45. Ok, well I definitely slowed down on Mile 2, but I was still on target for finishing right at 33 minutes or perhaps just below if I kicked butt on the second half.

Shortly after hitting the turn-around point, I saw Denise and gave her a high five. Then I did some serious self-talking. “It’s mostly downhill from here. The hardest part is over. You are more than half-way done.” I sped up on the downhill but I was still sucking some serious air. The uphills were tougher than I had anticipated, and I had lost more steam than I had thought I would. Nonetheless, I picked up the pace on the second half and kept up my inner dialogue of  “This is only temporary. Less than 2 miles. Hardest part is over.”

I could hear the people in front of me and the people behind me gasping for air. It seemed that’s all I could hear. There were no woman around me…only men…and they were hating it as bad as me. As I neared the 3-mile mark, I noticed two cows standing at a fence staring at me. Denise later told me that one of those cows started to hump the other one on the way out AND on the way back as she passed them. But for me, they only stared at me with passive interest.

Honestly, other than the cows, I don’t remember much else about the course. The road was narrow and it wasn’t closed to traffic. Cars drove past me. I ran behind a slow-ass, exhaust-emitting truck for a little while before it finally turned on another road. There were lots and lots of brown farmlands, not yet tilled and awaiting the warmth of spring. There were no spectators. Zero. There were a few friendly volunteers who made sure we turned on the right roads. And there were hills. Lots and lots of hills. And that’s all I remember about the course.

But I do remember the breathing. Oh man, do I remember the breathing. I knew I had about a quarter of a mile before the finish line and I glanced at my watch: 31 minutes and some change. Ok if I totally kicked it, I could finish in just under 33 minutes. But then I hit that shitty shit of a hill right before the finish line. I seriously think it was the toughest hill of the race. I felt like I was running backwards up that hill. I thought it would never end. I sounded like an asthma attack. I ran up that hill and it felt like the road was made out of wet cement and my feet were sinking into the mire. As I came around the corner, I saw Jamie and Coach W. cheering me on. I think I cursed at them or maybe I smiled and waved, who knows, and then I ran through the finish chute. I hit the stop on my watch. 33:25.  Ok … Ok … Ok ….as my breath slowed… ”that’s an ok time,” I thought. The guy at the end of the chute actually said, “Ok you can stop running now,” as he tried to grab the tag off of my bib.

(Just so you know, this race had no timing chips. They grabbed the tab off of my bib as I finished and pinned it next to the number 35, which signified my order of finish, on a large, cork board. The only way I know my finish time is because I wore a stopwatch. There was a large digital clock at the finish, but whether there was someone actually recording people’s times, I just don’t know.)

Denise, Jamie, and I stayed for the awards ceremony because they were serving meatball sandwiches and bagels. Who can resist that? So as we munched on balls o’ meat and bagels the size of our heads, the race director announced the winners of the race. Well, would you ever guess in a million years that I would actually win an award? I DID!!! Actually all three of us did. Jamie got first in her age division (20–29), I got second in my age group (40–49), and Denise got fourth (40–49). The winners of the race did it in 21 mins (men) and I think 24 mins for women. That little boy I told you about finished in 29 minutes and some change. He told us he was 9 years old. Can you seriously believe that??

Yes Maam. First and Second Places of our age groups!!

Hell yeah! Denise got 4th place in her AG...and Jamie likes to be in photos.

Now, I have no idea how many people were actually in my age group. Shoot, maybe there were only 6…or maybe there were 50….I don’t know. I don’t even know how many were in the race. All I know is that I got a medal that says “second place,” and that I finished a super tough, hilly course running an average 8:21 pace. So, I will take it and I WILL feel good about it, and that’s all I have to say about THAT.

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