Baseball Parks and 5Ks

There is something magical about a baseball park to me. Oh, I love a good gym and the smell of an ice rink before the crowds arrive, but baseball parks hold something special. There’s character (even in those modern, new-and-improved parks) and carnival. Reverence and reverie. Poetry and prose.

So when I saw an opportunity to run a 5K at two different parks this month, I was in. Immediately.

Run Jimmy Run

Run Jimmy Run

The first was the Run Jimmy Run 5K in Buffalo. The benefit was for the Alzheimer’s Association of WNY and was named in memory of former Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin, who was instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to Buffalo in 1979. Hence the tie-in with the Buffalo Bisons and the start and finish at Coca-Cola Field.

The 5K meandered through downtown Buffalo, starting at the statue of Jimmy Griffin outside the ballpark and ending through a parking lot, taking runners on the warning track in right field. At the end, your picture was taken at home plate. Sold.

The day before I ran 9 miles of hills and as I started the 5K my legs felt dead. So I was amazed at how quickly I ran the first mile. My pace slowed for Mile 2. Slowed even more for Mile 3. But I didn’t quite care. I was running for fun, not for time. I smiled as much of the race as I could. I thanked every volunteer I saw, some of whom didn’t quite know how to accept the gratitude. I had a bit of a finishing kick as I crossed the finish line. It wasn’t my fastest 5K of the year, but I was happy with my effort, especially in the  warm temperature and a day after a long, hard run.

The 404 sign. Coca-Cola Field

The 404 sign. Coca-Cola Field

While one of my duties as a full-time sportswriter is to cover the Buffalo Bisons, there still was something immensely fantastic about walking around the field and jumping on to home plate for my victory photo. There was something cool about being at the deepest part of the park, up against the 404 sign in centerfield. That’s not a view I normally get, so I allowed myself time to enjoy the moment.

First-year events tend to draw a smaller field. And although I like for races to grow to a comfortable size, it sometimes is nice to end up in a small, inaugural race. That’s about the only time I end up on the “podium.” And this time I ended up third in my age group. (Out of nine if you must know.) Not a bad way to start a work day, as I headed back up to the press box to cover the 1 p.m. baseball game.

This past weekend was another inaugural race, Women Run the Roc, a race to help benefit the United Way’s Operation School Supply drive. While we didn’t get to run on the Frontier Field (home of the Rochester Red Wings) it was our home base (pun intended) for our start and finish line. Another 5K just for my amusement with no pace goals or finish goals or goals at all other than to enjoy myself. I ran with my friends Mary and Phaedra as we wound our way around downtown Rochester.

And wound we did. I’m sure there are races with more turns than this one, but we seemed to be constantly turning. Granted, I didn’t study the course map before the race, so the unexpected was part of the experience for me. The air temperature was cooler than it had been recently in Western New York, but rain was hanging around and the humidity at race time was 90 percent. This time, even after a tough week of hard workouts, my legs felt good. The problem was trying to catch my breath in the thick air.

The ladies who would be running Rochester, including the lovely girls in the Kids' Race. Frontier Field

The ladies who would be running Rochester, including the lovely girls in the Kids’ Race. Frontier Field

My first mile was slow. I decided to pick up the pace a bit. Since I was running for fun, I didn’t wear my Garmin. Still, I was waiting for a Mile 2 marker which would be my sign to see what I could push in the final mile. But I never saw a Mile 2 marker. (See: Not looking at the course map before the race.) I kept waiting for it, looking at my watch, wondering if I was just painfully slow? Nope. Clearly I had passed Mile 2 and was in the final 1.1 miles of the 5K. And the course was starting loop back toward the ballpark, through some winds and turns, of course.

Immediately I wasn’t pleased with my finishing time. But let’s evaluate: I ran negative splits. I ran smart. I kept myself in control in less than ideal weather conditions. I smiled. I thanked volunteers. I had fun. And later that night, I’d be enjoying a ball game as a fan. What wasn’t there to be grateful and happy about?

So now I’m thinking of finding other 5Ks associated with ballparks. It could become an interesting summer tour. If ballparks are a place of zen for me, what better place to find my happy, find my smile, find my strong, while running?

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