Monday, March 12, 2007


By now you must have heard that I finished my first five-mile race at St. Malachi on Saturday. The gun went off at 9:45 a.m. on the corner of West 25th and Main Ave. in Cleveland, and I crossed the finish line on Washington Ave. about 45 minutes and 3 seconds later (actually I was 17 seconds behind the gun, but you can check out the exact results).

The final stretch: I don't actually run like a raptor; I was just caught at a bad time.I’m not going to lie to you: it was a great time. My step-father and I made it to St. Malachi by 9:30 to pick up our chips. We stretched a bit inside; I thought long and hard about eating a free banana (but I didn’t); and then we hung out on a hill until the gun suddenly went off and we started running.

The interesting thing about the race is that it starts and ends on a hill. The unfortunate thing is that it starts downhill and it ends uphill.

Before the race began I drilled it into my head that I had to watch my pace. Anyone who knows me (or has read about me) is aware of my problem with pacing… and racing. Especially when faster people are around. So, my goal in this race was twofold: 1) finish; 2) run at a consistent pace. I managed to accomplish both.

Around 8 minutes, I rounded the first mile marker and figured I should slow myself down if I ever intended to make it up that final hill. But I definitely got ahead of myself there: when I turned the corner I smacked right into the first big hill of the race (OK, big for me; I’ve been running on the track for the past month!).

I ran in the middle of the pack, so at least half of the people around me were taking that hill and, well, the rest were being taken. It reminded me of that scene in Titanic in which the bow of the ship turns perpendicular to the water and all of the people start sliding down the deck. Granted, there was no sliding, but people were stopping, walking and dropping like flies. The peer pressure almost got to me (I thought: “oh, how nice—and easy too—would it be to take a walking break right now?”), but I continued to run.

That's THE hill. My step-father can be seen on the right heading up.I did, however, make a very strong mental note that I must, must, must run more hills for next time. And I might want to jam with my iPod to take the focus off my pain when possible (I didn’t listen to it during the race). Just a thought.

By the time my muscles warmed up (about mile two), the front of the pack was running back toward us on the other side of the road. These people were marked most distinctly by their good running clothes. It was easy to discern the progression of great runners to good and good runners to decent by the looks of their clothes.

The two guys at the front of the race, for instance, were wearing small running shorts and tank tops. And as more people followed, you saw the running shorts get longer, the tank tops become T-shirts. Eventually, you would get to someone like me in my long pants, double T-shirt and water-repellant pullover. In fact, as we passed the back end of the race, there were people dressed in St. Patrick’s Day costumes and fairly large headdresses. Only some of them were walkers.

I didn’t pass these people, however, until after I passed my doomed water pick-up.

It turns out that I’m not so good at drinking water on the go. Maybe I just need practice or that special talent, but I’ll definitely need to work on that as well. (Can you see Neil standing on the side of the road holding out Dixie cups of water for me? It’s like a movie montage in my forthcoming feature film Rockiette.)

After I grabbed the water and threw it in my mouth (good thing I had the water-repellant pullover!), I had the worst stitch ever. I didn’t stop, but I tried to do all of the breathing, poking and stretching exercises I normally do when I get a stitch. Nothing worked. I continued to run with it until it faded away around 500 yards from the finish. Figures.

Nevertheless, I was able to maintain my 9-minute per mile pace. The back roads of inner Cleveland were keeping me well occupied (there are some really neat modern-arch buildings back there!) until the dog came along. I’ll have to sort through the thousands of St. Malachi photos when they come out to show you a photo of the dog. That is, the dog that beat me.

In the last 1-2 miles of the race, this tall dog and his owner came strutting up the side of the pack. It almost moved me to run faster, but I was determined to not let others influence my pace in this race. But I was getting outrun in a 5-mile race by a dog! I didn’t actually see him finish, but that pooch must have been throwing down some sub-8-minute miles. What could I do?

So, I let the dog pass and I tucked away my pride. But as I crossed the last grated bridge, I could hear a man with a megaphone calling out, “Only 300 yards to go. Up the hill and you’re done! Three hundred yards to beer!” Or at least that’s what I thought he said. I knew, however, what lay around that corner. It was the hill.

Last year, when I was just a spectator, I remember watching people trudge up that hill in all of their huffing and wheezing. I thought to myself, “Wow, that must suck to have to run up this hill after you’ve already done the five miles.” And, you know, it wasn’t pretty.

Philip and Gina: we made it! Now may I have my bratwurst and a shower?But it wasn’t really that bad after all. Although I had my own strength and will power working for me, two of my biggest motivators for running were my mom and Neil: they had been standing out in the drizzle (after going to the West Side Market, of course) at the finish for most of the race. I couldn’t possible make them stick it out just to see my walk up a hill.

And when I passed them, they made it worth it. Neil threw his arms in the air, one with a brown paper bag in it, and said, “I’ve got biscuits for you, baby! Whew!” Since we all know how much I love my Russian tea biscuits, I turned on the jets for the last 100 yards and sprinted to the finish.

Not only did I get my biscuits (and bratwurst and cinnamon-sugar crepe) from the market, but I gave the incredible dog a high-five too.

Thanks again to everyone for your support. And big props to the Salty One for her stellar racing (and great racing story). It’s a great feeling to have this first race under my belt, as well as a better understanding of how a race works… and how I work in one too.


Kylie said...

congrats! way to stick to your own plan :)

Jim said...

Great story G. Glad to finally read all about it. You dun good, kid.

Landon said...

Is that a runaway baby carriage in the background of your first photo? I think the dog pushed it down the hill to distract you à la 'The Untouchables'. I'm glad you're a soulless robot and you were able to ignore it. Congratulations on your first race and never upgrading your emotion chip.

GP said...

Thanks to everyone! It was a good time.

The stroller in the background, however, is not a runaway. But I'm not quite sure what it's doing. I didn't even see it!

If you look at the larger image, the stroller is just kind of sitting there. By itself. There is a police officer in the background, but I don't think he was racing with it.

The mystery continues...

Nevenka said...

Congratulations G. Your mama always told you "You can do anyhing you set your mind on doing." See mama is always right.

While you and Phillip ran five miles on a perfectly good-to-sleep-in-rainy-Saturday; Neil and I endured the wait with a trip to the market and stuffed our faces with bratwurst, cinnamon-sugar crepes and of course Diet Pepsi and Dr. Pepper, commenting on what was wrong with this picture. Would you rather run five miles or enjoy a delicious breakfast?? Such silliness.

Kris said...

Good job on a great finish. Maybe one of these days, I can do 8 minute miles. I was seriously contemplating line dancing across the finish, because I was so happy that hill was behind me.

The Salty One said...

First, I am so proud of you! I know how scary it is to run your first race. You did it!!! And you didn't succumb to the pressure to walk up the hill! Yeah!!!

Your description of that hill is priceless!! Oh my! That is totally how it is isn't it. And, that hill was tough for everyone. It was long. And cruel in that you thought it was no big deal until you got a little further into it and then could see that it was really long and much steeper than it first appeared!

And the whole thing about the outfits is too funny and so true!

Ok, and speaking of outfits I thought I was overdressed in long sleeves, shorts and a cap! Three top layers?! Lesson number one: only wear three layers on top to run when the temperature is a single digit (farenheit). If you're not sure what to wear check this out*:,7152,s6-240-325-330-0-0-0-0,00.html

Hmmm. And the drinking thing... Lesson number two: Drinking in a race when you're not used to it = side stitch. In fact, I wouldn't drink in a race that lasts under an hour because it really won't help you at all and can hurt you. Just make sure you've had enough to drink the day before and you'll be fine.

Anyway, I'm sure you've learned all kinds of cool things now that will help you on your way to your iron man!! Congrats again!!

*This is a good base guide, but like most things in Runnersworld it's a little overly cautious or basic or something. Anyway, I would never say you want to feel warm or else it's going to overdress you everytime, even if you do like to feel warm. Go with in-between until your body adjusts to the extremes. I also noticed it likes to dress people in vests. I don't know about you but I don't do vests (Blossom, anyone?!) I wear a singlet (tank top made of a fancy wicking material--they actually sell decent ones at Target!) under a long sleeve top to keep my torso warm, but my arms cooler when it's under 50 or so degrees.

PS I think this just might be the world's longest comment!

Papa Louie said...

Congratulations on your first road race. You sound like you learned a lot. We learn from every race and have new experiences. Enjoy life.

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