Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 5K - A PR Story

St. Joseph's Hospital - Great Gobbler 5K
Thursday, November 27, 2008 - Thanksgiving Day
Location: Nashua, NH
Distance: 5K
Time: 21:27 (NEW PR)
Pace: 6:55 (NEW PR)

I emerged from the car with my sister, her husband mike and my two young nephews kenny and Timmy. The air is cold and below freezing as the temps hover around 30. The sun is still struggling to rise above the horizon on this Thanksgiving Day 2008. I'm dressed for the weather in my usual cold weather garb. Fleece lined tights, red shorts, a short sleeve tech-wick and 2 long sleeve tech-wicks. I have my buff keeping my neck warm and trying to hold some of my heat in. A winter hat covers my ears, I'm not really listenning to anything in particular anyway. I'm still zoning out, still not here. Kind of in a "the lights are on but no-one's home" state of mind. I'm foggy, I'm tired and I'm lost.

As we stand in the pre-registered line we hear a gentleman step forward and offer up some instruction. I step out of line to ask him if he was the RD to which he replied that he was. I introduced myself and he whisked me away to set me up with a bib-number. I don't need a shirt, I don't need anything.. I just need to run, To push myself, to let it out. The next 30-40 minutes was spent standing in the chilly morning air, watching the sun continue to rise. The fields are covered with a thick frost from the night before as hundreds of anxious yet hungry runners mill about and exchange their hello's. They say their hello's to friends from parent teacher orgs, from school, from scouts, from sports to whatever. They all know each other. We all stand there with arms crossed and legs dancing, waiting for the moment to step forward and toe the line.

The kids start first as they participate in their own run lap around the track. Each kid gets bib #1, a friendly gesture to sportsmanship. As the kids run around its great to see them moving, their legs in motion, them earning their own turkey and various slices of pie to follow. They smile, they wagg their tongues, they gasp for air and some even look ready for collapse. We watch, we cheer we congratulate.

Now its our turn. We all follow the RD to the starting line where I take a position up front. I don't know what I want, what else is new. I know I'm here and I'm ready to run. I'm ready to take my life back.. ready to take charge. Could today be the day I make my first step? Is this the new beginning of many tomorrows? I stand on the starting line and wait for the command and moments from the past flash through my head. Hardly any are about running, thoughts, just thoughts... racing faster than my legs will ever carry me. But there was ONE memory of running that popped into my head...

Summer of 2005, I had shown up here to Mines Falls in Nashua, NH to run in a weekly 5K series that was put on by the Moose Milers. Months before I came to run, I had called their club asking if I could join up and get some help with running. They told me on the phone that I was "too slow, consider joining The Greater Derry Track Club." Funny... GDTC had just told me the same thing. I showed up on that summer night to run their weekly 5K and when I arrived the race had all ready started. Their website was wrong, and I was pissed. I threw my shoes on and asked the RD if he would record my time when I returned to the finish.. he told me, "No, you're late." I ran my fastest 5K that warm summer night, finishing in 21:39. To this day it has stood in my head as my fastest 5K.. but remained unofficial.

I thought back to that warm night in 2005 as I stood in the frigid air during this late 2008. I'm thankful to be alive, thankful I've survived the last few weeks to even be here, on this track, in this place... breathing. The hardest struggles in my life I've yet to relaize, but as I stood on the starting line of The Great Gobbler 5K with over 600 other runners, I realized that the hardest struggle, the hardest challenge of my life is now before me.. and it starts with a single step. The whistle blew and we were off, I was careful to not fall into the fast rabbit start of those with eyes bigger then their legs. I held on patiently and turned the iPod up. Yeah.. I ran with my iPod to try to drown out my racing mind.. to concentrate on the run... concentrate on PRing here again.. this time making it official.

We got off the track and ran across the field before bottle necking onto singletrack trail that leads us into Mines Falls Park. This 5K trail race is one of the few in New England on Thanksgiving morning if not the only. We wind our way along the Nashua River as the breath of 600 hungry souls lifts slowly into the air. I hear nothing, my music blares. I don't even hear myself breathing, I know I am.. but not hard. As the cold air pierces my lungs, I lift my buff to cover my mouth to try and re-humidify the dryness that gets drawn in. I look at my watch around the 1 mile mark and am astounded to see a 6:03 mile. I need to ease back off, ease into the run.. to hell with it... Just hang on.

I run fluidly and listen to the songs play as we round numerous turns. I pass folks on the small "hills" that we come to. Around mile 2 we make another turn and I know we're heading home.. I look at my watch and see 14:30. I need to hang on.. My eyes glance ahead and I feel my focus. As the music plays my thoughts come about.. "Take it back john... take back your life. You are in charge.. this is about you.. you can do it... be strong... take it back." I stare into the future, and pick up the pace. I'm breathing heavy now, my arms are cramping, my lungs burn, my legs start to tire... I pick it up some more. The pain feels good... "Take back your life John... take it back." I charge ahead, out of the woods and onto the track for the last half lap. As I take the 1st and 2nd turns on the track, I pick up the pace even more down the back stretch, I look at my watch to see that I am running at 5:18 min mile pace... I'm flying.. I pick it up even more. A tear streams down my cheek as I gasp for air.. I'm running for my life, I'm running into what I hope is the future. I cross the finish line and see the time.

21 Minutes and 27 seconds is my new official 5K Personal Best. I came in 59th out of over 600 runners. I was exhausted yet complacent. I want to vomit, I'm tired, gasping for air.. still lost. I did it.. I made a PR, why am I not happy? I start to shake again.. thats all I've done for over a week now.. I've shook. Nerve's, anxiety.. its still in charge. I'm trying to take my life back from my own inner demons, demons I thought I lost.. the race is long, and I'm still only on the starting line. Wondering, hoping.. racing.