PR’s, weight loss, negative splits, final kicks…all words that revolve around the mind of a runner. It has taken many years for me to understand what all of these words meant, and today, I realized that in some instances you just have to not care about any of them.
I finished dead last in the race I ran in today.
Two years ago my wife and I discovered a fun, secluded road race near the border of Missouri and Iowa. In a town that was no longer considered a town; all that stood was a rural high school and an abbey. The race, named Abbey Trails 5K, started at the abbey and was a quick 1.5 out and 1.5 back. With large, electricity generating windmills moving in the distance, the roads were closed, and the run was peaceful. The race was won by a man pushing a two seat stroller.
That was two years ago. I had no idea that in 2016 our experience would be anything but normal.
It started by arriving at the race locating at 7:15 AM; meaning that my wife and I had to be out the door of our house no later than 5:45 AM. When we rolled up into the parking lot we made a discovery. The race didn’t start until 9:00 AM. I had misread the instructions; mixing up ‘packet pickup’ and ‘race start’, resulting in a 90 minute delay.
Through this time my wife and I had discussed the plan; she was going to run the first mile and afterwards break up the miles in half by walking and running. Personally, I was going to run, see if my calf held up, and make an attempt to get on the podium for my age group. If my calf wasn’t going to work properly, I was going to spend my time with my wife running her ‘plan’.
There is something that you need to know about this race. Something my wife and I had forgotten in the two years that had passed. Small town races are dangerous traps. Unlike large spectacles that bring out thousands of runners; small town races are similar to the town. Small. Meaning a potentially smaller field. The trap is to assume that since the field is smaller you, by default, have a better chance at medaling. That’s the trap. Because what is scary about small town races is there are few people that have the ‘runner look’, they are just there to try their best.
What that means to you=Prepare to be crushed.
The monk blew the horn to start the race. I can’t remember seeing a start that was so fast in many years. Three runners took off in a dead sprint for the first 400m. The pulse of this race had been set; it was going to be fast.
For the first mile I frolicked around the pack, passing up hill, like I’m not supposed to do. By the 1.5 turnaround I started to realize that placing in this race was going to be extremely doable for my age group. My leg was holding up well, I was hydrated, and I was still moving at a quick pace. However, by mile two I hadn’t seen my wife pass by (remember; down-and-back) me. This caused some concern, and frankly, guilt. My wife hates racing because she hates being alone in a group of people. She has expressed that to me on numerous occasions, but still humors my passion. Nearing the end of the race I saw her; she was last in the entire race outside of a girl that had hurt her ankle.
I had two choices; run for place or turn around in the middle of the course, add a mile to my distance, and stick with my wife for the rest of the race.
I turned around.
As I caught up to her and started to walk with her, something wet hit my head. A raindrop. What is a raindrop? Nothing in the world of running. What is something is the lightning bolt that ripped across the sky shortly after that drop followed by echoing thunder. We were at the first mile marker, on top of the tallest point of the course, in the country, with no one else around us. Maybe I’m a fool, but I didn’t appreciate the hair standing up on my arms. I jumped in the ditch. My wife came with me.
So, to set the stage here. My wife and I were 90 minutes early to a race that was located 73 miles away from our home. While I had the intent to push myself to hopefully a medal position, I wound up tracking my wife on the course. Upon locating her, lightning streaked across the sky and both of us hit the ditch.
It is pouring rain, my wife and I are crouched in a ditch, there are no other runners. We are the last ones on the course. We just sat there for a while, getting absolutely soaked. It was a scene from The Notebook with zero romance, just silence. The small, pesky storm passed by and my wife made our way through the course towards. A mile away from the finish line a Missouri State Trooper pulled up next to us. He let us know that an accident had been called in on the major highway twenty minutes from this race. Because of that all MSHP vehicles were leaving the course. This meant the farm road was open to public traffic, and with no shoulder on this road, we found ourselves in the midst of a game of Frogger.
Nearly one hour later, ten feet from the end of this race, I slowed down. While the competitive nature of my heart was damp because of my choice, the other part of my heart was happy that my wife wouldn’t be last. With five steps left until the finish line I pulled up solely so my wife could cross before me.
I finished dead last in my race today.
I have zero regrets.
Medals are shiny, hardware is nice, and personal records are always enjoyable. However, none of those can surpass the joy that someone shows because you chose them over your own ambition.
I am a solo runner.
Endless roads of pavement I could be found jogging through. Year after year I would take off from the small town that I had grown up in and just escape for hours on end. The pace wouldn’t be fast, the result wouldn’t be amazing, but at least I was moving.
I never wanted to run with anyone. Growing up in high school, being one of three or four distance runners, had its problems. Namely, having an eventual All-American cross country runner on the roster, along with an All-State football/basketball star, created an environment where I knew that I would be left in the dust. Figuratively and literally. When we practiced by running a 3200m at our school, the future All-American runner would lap me…twice…before the 3200m were finished.
That is the environment I grew up. I loved the sensation of running, but I grew to hate the idea of always being left to fend for myself. I will always appreciate my high school coach, but like many coaches, he focused on the runners that could win. Not necessarily spending the same time to bring up the runners that frequently would lose.
I learned that if I ran by myself, removed from everyone else, I never had to worry about losing. There were no runners that were shirtless, or in sports bras, just traversing the plains making my chunky, elongated frame feel worthless. There wasn’t a coach that would leave practice before I returned back from a “long slow distance” practice. I had music, shoes, and myself.
I am a solo runner.
Eleven years removed from those moments I can’t necessarily believe that, that was my mindset for so long. This weekend I partook in two different races. One was a 5K on Saturday, the other was a 5K on Sunday. Neither, for myself, were to be competitive. They were, in their entirety, community driven events.
North Kansas City Schools 5K
Passions collided Saturday morning. I was wearing my racing singlet from the team I’m on, while also running in an event designed for the continued support of a school district in the city. The same school district that I teach in. While there wasn’t a huge turnout (nasty weather), the reality was being able to complete this course knowing that:
Misty, cool, with no wind. A flat course that was perfect for my first time back since a nasty hamstring/calf issue over the past two weeks. The course was beautiful, the kids were excited, and even though I placed fourth in my age group, I felt good. My cardio was strong from the different workouts with my team, and I couldn’t even tell when we were at the two mile mark. Overall, while not my fastest time, I know for a fact that it was a race that I’ll always enjoy.
What I Learned: Relax. Not every race you signed up for is going to be a personal record. Don’t forget that some events you sign up for, you are doing it for that community piece of your running addiction. Not all races are meant to be a competition, some are meant to show others how much you care about them.
Run For Little Hearts 5K:
Sunday morning, being a beautiful, sunny, cool entry into the month of May, started with 1200 other runners in the city center of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. I had been invited by some friends to be a part of team “Mighty McKinley” for this 5K. This race, a community driven event, revolves around CHD (Congenital Heart Defect), an anomaly in the structure of the heart found in infants. A good friend of mine, born last year, is a kiddo with CHD.
It is easy to read about races that are designed for community awareness, the ‘feel good’ events, and seeing how race fees are translated into donations for organizations. However, the real emotional stint of community involvement really doesn’t settle in until you see the multitude of strollers that are rolling along the parkway of the route. The amount of people that arrive because they know someone, or they are that someone, truly can show the unique passion that drives communities.
Outside of all these new realities; the race itself was fairly flat, a nice “T-Shaped” out-and-back route with plenty of food and fun at the end.
What I Learned:
There are several moments in ones life where the opportunity to be competitive will exert itself. However, we can only cherish those moments when we find the balance with how much we give back to our communities when they have already given us so much. We are only as a strong as individual runners as we are through the people that support us. Who are we not to return the favor?
Bonus: There comes a point in a runners life where food after a race is a necessity. I never knew until this weekend how good a dozen pancakes could really taste.
The reality of my life is thinking that I once was a solo runner. I tried to be a solo runner for years and disconnect myself from the rest of the world. As time has passed though, I’ve learned that through a team, through a support system, and through a community; I’m only going to become stronger and faster if I allow myself to rely on others from time-to-time.
Humanity has always had this fascination with defying logic, theory, and physics by manipulating gravity. While we were not necessarily designed to, we overcame our handicap and learned to fly.
I was not born a runner. I wasn’t brought into a family of racing, marathons, and weekend track meets. Similar, but on the microcosm of scale, I chose to overcome the world that I lived in. I dreamed of the ability to fly.
You know this sensation. When you are quickly ascending a shallow grade on an isolated, rural highway. Your legs are in sync with your arms, your torso is tight and focused, your breathing is in cadence with the rest of your soul. To you, the runner, you are experiencing the sensation of flight. Autopilot subconsciously has engaged and there is a slight chuckle in your head; knowing that you could keep this tempo for miles and for days.
That is flying.
it is an addiction. Once you have tasted the ability to glide past the rules of gravity and repeal the notion of friction, you cannot get enough of the experience. For the past five years, especially since the early winter of 2011, I have been reaching and reaching for another shot of that addiction. One more strike, one more mile, one more silent experience of smooth transition from running to flight.
It was not until 2016, at the age of 28, that I started to recognize and accept that these dreams cannot be accepted and embraced by myself. Though my social skills negated this thought, the truth was that I needed support in order to grasp this experience once more. I joined a running team, paired up with a local running supplies store, and started being honest with my dreams. I want the medals, the placements, and the awards. However, more importantly, I want to fly. I want to feel my body stretch along worn paths and experience the weightlessness of flight.
This blog, flyover, is merely the collection of thought of just another American residing in the flyover states of the country, and dreaming to take off once more.