It was a few months ago when the text message came from Sue. Check out this race! It’s called “Save the Drama for Your Mama.” We have to do it.
The race was, appropriately enough, a fundraiser for the Randolph High School Drama Club. Despite my years of living in the Southern Tier of Western New York, I don’t think I’ve even been to Randolph. At least not on purpose. And the name just was too awesome. So we signed up. For the record, it is often a bad idea to sign up for a race purely because of it has a cool name. But bad ideas have a way of turning into something pretty awesome.
If you have never been to the hamlet of Randolph, or East Randolph as the case may be, let me describe it for you: Hills. And a few more hills. And how about some more rolling terrain. I discovered that there was at least one hill of significance the week before the race. And so all thoughts of running any pace went right out of my head.
Sue and I left early to give ourselves time to get lost (we didn’t) and to get some miles in before the race start (we did). After an hour car ride filled with laughter at very inappropriate things, we arrived just as registration started at the Weeden Road Park. We picked up our numbers and our race shirts and checked out the map of the course. We then decided to run it backwards. My workout called for 8-9 miles with the hope of those middle miles being at a tempo pace. Actually at my new-and-improved tempo pace, which, frankly, scares me to death on a flat course, let alone a rolling course. So we modified the plan: An easy pace for the 3-mile warmup then run hard, but not all out, during the race. Then we’d cool down with an easy 2-3 miles.
The course backwards was wonderful and seemed to primarily slope downward. The pace felt great and we stepped to the start line ready to run hard. It was a small field, probably only about 50 to 75 runners total, but not bad for a race that’s out of the way for the majority of WNY runners and on a weekend that’s already crowded with 5Ks. With 3 mile already done, my goal for the race was to run hard and steady. And to not talk myself out of running hard and steady. Forget what everyone else is doing, I told myself. Run your workout.
The course is challenging. There’s no part that is flat. The whole thing rolls, up and down with seemingly more up than down. The first mile has some gently down slope before starting a slow incline. And then comes the first turn. And the hill. It’s a big hill, not terribly long but pretty steep. I checked my watch at the first mile. I actually ran my tempo pace. That gave me a confidence boost as I started up the hill. Steady. Strong. Don’t kill it. Just run it. Once over the top I saw an ambulance pulled over to the side. An older gentleman who had started early to walk the course had fallen and injured his head badly. I sent out some positive thoughts to him and kept on running, realizing how little hitting my pace goals mattered. I was able to run. That was blessing and triumph in and of itself. The rest? Is just gravy.
Mile 2 was a bit slower, but that wasn’t a surprise. As we hit the turn to take us to Mile 2, the road started to go up. And up. And up. It was one of those hidden hills, those relentless inclines that sometimes are worse than the hills which look menacing. It started to get hard. But I fought through the desire to pull over under a tree, curl up and take a nap. I started counting traffic cones, which were set out to create a running lane in traffic. I ran three cones hard, then backed off slightly for three cones. I only cycled through this twice, but it was enough to get my mind focused off the negative and back into the moment. Finally the road crested and it was all downhill after that.
As I hit the 3-mile mark and saw the finish line ahead, I found my pain cave and dove in. I ran strong and hard through the finish and only for a very brief moment had to catch my breath to ease the urge to throw up. In the end, it wasn’t a great 5K race time for me, but I did hit my new and improved tempo pace. For all 3.1 miles. On hills. It took me a while to wrap my ahead around it, but I did exactly the workout I was supposed to do. Even though others around me had other plans.
Sue and I went off for a cool down run. The first five minutes felt like hell, but then my body felt better. We jogged, then picked up the pace and ran about 2.25 miles before I was ready to be done for the day. With each of us logging over 8 miles, in hills, with good pace work thrown in for good measure, we decided we earned a stack of pancakes. The Randolph Road Trip then made a stop in Ellicottville for what were the best pancakes I have had in a very, very long time. (And if you are a regular reader you understand my love affair with pancakes.)
Not every race is about running a personal best, at least not when it comes to time. I’m learning more and more that each race (and actually each day) is about adventure, finding what it is that is joyful in that moment. Sometimes, the adventure is to see how fast I can run and if I can beat my previous best time. Sometimes, the adventure is about new places. Sometimes it’s about fun with friends. And sometimes, it’s about the pancakes. The one universal thing — it’s always about the journey, about creating instead of waiting for life to magically appear before you.