When I started this weight loss journey last year, I had a goal in mind. Come hell or high water, I was finally going to be a part of the Albuquerque Run For The Zoo 5K. Lor got caught up in the current of my excitement and agreed to come too, which made it a joint goal, which was even better.
I thought I had fairly sensible goals. This being our first 5K, we wouldn’t enter the timed, competitive section of the race. We would do the Fitness Walk section instead. This would allow us to take it easy, and not overdo. While at the gym we tend to average right around 3 mph on our treadmills and ellipticals, so I thought we could manage that in the Real World. Since a 5K is actually 3.1 miles, that gave me a goal of finishing our first 5K in about 1 hour and 5 minutes or so.
We got through it in 48 minutes and 4 seconds.
Here’s how it all went down…
Though our portion of the race didn’t start until 10:15, my excitement was just too much to handle on Saturday morning. I got Lor up at 6:00 AM sharp and essentially chased her around the house until we made it out the door.
An unfortunate side effect of my rushing us through the process was that we left without collecting Lor’s FitBit. This was intended to be our timing device during our untimed “Fitness Walk.” Oops.
When we arrived at the park and ride around 7 AM, I could not help but notice that there were only a few cars. Apparently only the seriously hard-core runners were out this early – those participating in the half-marathon and the 10K. Most of those running the 5K were still home asleep.
I get excited, I can’t help it.
While waiting for the bus, a gentleman in his 60s came storming up to us, wanting to know where the bus was. We informed him that one had just left. He then started on a 5-minute long, expletive-laden diatribe about how the “idiots” at race registration had not informed him that the Park and Ride location had been moved. He had gone to the wrong location, apparently, and been directed here. Now he was going to miss his entry into the 10K.
Now, Lor and I both knew the location had moved. The website stated the location had moved. And a parking lot already filled with dozens of cars seemed to indicate that the half-marathon runners knew. I am not entirely sure what this gentleman was expecting. A personal phone call maybe?
Once winding down, he asked us if we were running the 10K or a 5K.
“Oh, neither,” I told him. “We’re in the Fitness Walk.”
“Huh,” he replied. Then literally turned his back on us and walked away.
So…class consciousness among runners. I had never realized that was a thing. Good to know.
Aint No Party Like a 5K Party
We were too pumped up to let an encounter with a stuck-up, angry runner have too much of an impact on us. We hopped on the bus and took the short drive over to the Zoo.
The setup was interesting. A large park sits directly in front of the Zoo. On the East side of the park was the starting area for the various races. The West side of the park, directly in front of the Zoo entrance, was the Finish Line. The various routes ran all along the river and through the high-end Country Club residential area until looping back around to the Finish Line. Streets were cordoned off, street lights were covered, and police were everywhere.
When over 12,000 people participate in an event, apparently the city government takes it pretty seriously.
The area by the finish line had been turned into a midway of sorts. There were food providers, information booths, and contests. Best of all, with the exception of the Run For The Zoo merchandise tent, everything was free. We collected free Keva Juice samples and coupons for future purchases. (Mmmm…wheat grass.) A local food company was providing fresh fruit – oranges and bananas. I got half a banana because… potassium, I think it is?
But best of all was the New Balance tent. They had a little “spin to win” game set up. You could win keychains, socks, or even a backpack. My poor old day pack is on its last legs. I needed that new pack. So, I signed up, stepped up, and took a whirl…
And won my first ever piece of New Balance gear:
I looked all around for Lor, to get her to try a spin, but she was nowhere around. I finally located her a few tents down…getting a free pre-race massage from the folks at Crystal Mountain Massage Institute.
These folks at the Run For The Zoo really know how to run a pre-race party.
Watching The Finishers
Having explored the “Midway” thoroughly, we went over to the finish line to join the crowd cheering for the initial finishers of the half-marathon, followed closely by the initial finishers of the 10K.
Those crossing the finish line first were what you would expect to see. Bodies composed of long ropes of muscle, covered head to toe in activewear and wearing running shoes that cost as much as I make in a month. But, as the number of finishers started to increase, we were treated to an awesome cross-section of Albuquerque demographics.
There was a senior citizen in her 70s, finishing a half-marathon well ahead of competitors 50 years younger than her. A family of four, including an 8-year old boy, finishing the 10K together. I saw people almost as large as I was last year competing – huffing and puffing, for sure, but finishing.
The number of costumes was surprising. A large number of women were wearing tutus, for some reason. I kept asking Lor to go find out why, but she loftily ignored me. There were people wearing Halloween costumes, silly hats, and message t-shirts galore.
In fact, let me repeat the shirt whose message had the greatest impact on me. The caption read: “I Run. I’m slower than a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter. But I Run.”
Yup, I thought. That’s me.
At last, the time had arrived. It was time to go get ourselves lined up for the 5K.
The timed 5K is so popular that it has to be started in waves, each wave based on how fast you estimate your speed per mile to be. How popular, you ask? Oh, about this popular:
At the point where we arrived, Wave 1 had just left. The churning sea of humanity in front of us was Waves 2 – 4. The operation ran like clockwork. Every 4 minutes, another wave would launch, apparently designed to create safe space between the runners of differing speeds.
We cheered and waved as we watched each wave depart. Once the area had cleared out, it was time for the “Fitness Walkers” to take our positions.
As we pulled into position half an hour early, I was still kicking myself for rushing Lor out of the house this morning and forgetting her Fitbit on the charger. However, pulling my phone out to send out an incoherent Tweet gave me an idea. “I can just use this, right?” I loaded up Map My Walk, and we were ready to roll. As the crowd counted down the final 10 seconds, I waited until the count of 5, then pressed the Start button and tossed my phone into my pack.
Turns out those extra five seconds would be significant later.
On The Road
The race designers had cleverly divided the road into “walking” and “running” halves, walkers on the left, runners on the right. We placed ourselves firmly in the “walk” position. The air horn blew, and we were off.
There was some initial chaos as the runners and a few of the walkers surged past us, but after that, things thinned out nicely. We made it about a quarter of a mile down the road before Lor looked over at me.
“Want to run for a bit?”
I nodded, not wanting to waste oxygen, and followed as she started running up the course for about a quarter of a mile. She then slowed to allow me to catch my breath.
This set our course for the rest of the race. Lor would patiently wait as long as she could, getting further and further ahead of me until I was forced to run to keep up with her. She would then start running herself, for a short distance. We weren’t exactly 5K race-worthy, but we sure as heck weren’t walking, either.
Our first mile was spent running behind the Zoo. People around me kept commenting to their children on the various zoo animals they could see. (Tons of children in the Fitness Walk.) I never saw any of the critters, being too focused on not running into the walkers and runners ahead of me.
The second and third miles wound their way through the “Country Club” residential area. All around us were nice houses, lush lawns, and tall trees. This is not at all common in Albuquerque, so the contrast was nice.
Even nicer was the fact that, all along the route, people were standing and clapping and cheering as if we were in the Tour de France or something. Many of these “cheerleaders” were race volunteers. But quite a few were just folks – residents standing in their front yards, encouraging us to push hard and to finish strong.
By the end of mile 3, I was ready to stop. However, Lor had stepped wrong and had actually hurt her hip during mile 2, and was dramatically slowing down. I found myself in the curious position of being her encourager for once.
“C’mon babe!” I told her. “You can do it! Two-tenths of a mile to go – that is the same as to the end of our block and back! Let’s finish strong!”
And I’ll be darned if she didn’t do just that. She picked her head up, pumped her arms, and we ran from Mile 3 all the way across the finish line.
We finished in 48 minutes and 4 seconds. I couldn’t help but think of the “extra” 5 seconds I spent putting the phone into my pack at the front end of the race. If I had not pressed Start until the air horn went off, we would have come in under 48 minutes.
Of course, if I had waited to put the phone away until after the race started, I might have dropped it and it would have been stomped flat by 6,000 runners. So I probably made the right choice.
I learned that my second-hand Asics cross-trainers were not the appropriate shoes for a 5K. Today my arthritic knees feel great, but my feet are killing me. Time to start saving pennies for “real” shoes.
And, most importantly, I learned that any goal is achievable if you have someone who believes in you. After the race, I thanked Lor for supporting me every step of the way. Running a 5K was not originally her dream. But she adopted it, and made it her own, in the name of supporting her husband.
Yes, I know I am the luckiest man on the planet.
Oh, and a little perspective. As we were leaving, awards were being handed out. The medal for the 70-74 bracket of the 5K was being handed out to a 73-year-old woman. Her finishing time?
38 minutes and 14 seconds.
Still Got A Ways To Go,