Race: Angels Among Us 5k, benefiting the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Cancer Center
City: Durham, NC Date: 4/30/2011
Distance: 5k/3.1 mi
Weather: Sunny, but chilly at start (about 55 degrees), warmer at the end (about 70).
Course: through part of the Duke University campus, near Duke Hospital
Summary: Cancer is a nasty, nasty beast.
There are moments that will change your life – and your perspective on life – forever. I have a friend whose niece was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 12. She was gone inside of 6 months. Between the time of her diagnosis through to her final arrangements, her parents kept all the friends and family up to date using a blog on the Caring Bridge site. I subscribed to those blogs her parents wrote during the experience. As a parent, I understood all their frustrations and panic in trying to get her well, and although I don’t have personal experience with losing a child, I can empathize with them more than I thought I could, especially since I felt like I was living through it with them. I was overjoyed when treatment worked and crushed when it didn’t. I was heartbroken during her final weeks when this young, vibrant, active girl couldn’t even eat. It is something I will never, ever forget.
It is unfair on many levels and tests your faith. You can either let that experience crush you, or you make something positive out of it – teach others. I’m sure she would have wanted us to make it a positive thing. This is an emotional race for me, not only because of my own personal experiences with cancer, but for all those around me who have been affected by it. Although I had other things planned, I cleared my calendar so I could be there this year and I’m glad I did.
The night before the race, I went to pick up the packet in Durham and look at the site so I knew where to park. It was pretty uneventful, really – I just wanted to make sure I knew where I was going since Durham, like Chapel Hill, was pretty far from my house and it was a bit of a hike for me. That night I relaxed with my computer – my best friend at the moment – sent some well wishes to friends running in the Nashville Country Music Marathon the next day, started this post, plugged in all my stuff, and went to bed early. It had been a long week and I was getting tired.
I went into this race treating it as a training run – nothing more. I have events the next two weekends, so I didn’t want to push it too much this race – I wanted it to be a nice tempo run. That’s pretty much what I got. Unlike most other races, I didn’t sleep in my gear. I had a lot of other things going on today, not the least of which was photographing a wedding (a little side thing I like to do in addition to the running) so I had a lot of things to plug in and get ready for the day. I got up at the smell of my coffee, but I had a hard time waking up. I picked out my gear, got dressed and got all my things together for the race portion of the day and left for the race. I had no real appetite, so I brought a Clif Bar with me, because I knew I should eat something, especially since my eating patterns have been really off this whole week.
Durham, like Chapel Hill, is about 45 minutes from my house, so I got an early start. When I first got to the site, there was hardly anybody there. I got my timing chip, ate my Clif (I was finally starting to get hungry) and finished off my coconut water. Around this time, some of the teams were starting to gel a little and it really made me think… these were all families and friends of people who had brain cancer… that’s something hard to recover from – if at all. Most of these people lost someone to it. It made me cry, to be honest (I’m tearing up now writing this). It was pretty chilly and I refused to wear my long sleeved stuff this time of year (it warms up quick here) so I had to keep moving. As I moved, though, I kept noticing all the people – some were more sober than others, but they all seemed pretty sad to me. Maybe I was projecting a little, but they all just seemed sad… I continued to walk around looking for my friend and his family, but unfortunately never ended up finding them.
At 10 to 8 (start time was supposed to be 8), I start to notice everyone walking toward the start line so I follow and do the same. I locate my usual spot: hugging the right curb in the “sub-7” starter crowd – or at least that’s the usual point in the corral where they would be in an event that had more serious runners in it. I don’t want to imply that the folks in this race were not serious – they were – just not as much about running as they were the cause itself. I understood that because that’s the way I felt about it. As I lined up, I watched all the other participants file in – with dogs (a lot of dogs, which surprised me) and families in all shapes and sizes. I just put my headphones in and turned up the Sharpshooters version of Balek so I could relax and try not to cry.
The 8:00 start time came and went… and the song ended. I really wanted to run to this song today (it is a really one of my favorites, especially for starting races, and now hearing the Placebo version, I think I might have to get that version, too) so I stopped it to listen for the gun. Glad I did because I would have missed it otherwise. The “gun” was literally a guy whistling. Really? A lot of the folks around me actually said “did that guy just whistle – is that the start?” This event is in it’s 18th year and looked pretty organized otherwise, so it surprised me a little that there wasn’t more of an announcement and something a little more official to get us started.
The course itself was pretty – it wound through the west side of Duke University campus, which is gorgeous. I am a NCSU fan, dyed in the wool Wolfpack Red, but this is a very pretty campus. Hilly, of course, due to the proximity of Durham to Chapel Hill, but pretty nonetheless. The course was an out and back loop that looked kind of like spokes on a tire – you run to a traffic circle, go around part of it, down a street, turn around to go back toward the traffic circle, and go around another part of the traffic circle to another road, down and back, then back to the traffic circle again to go back to where you started. It was kind of confusing and they didn’t partition off the dividing line, so, as front-end runners, we were encountering all the back-end walkers. Because they thought they were behind us, they were taking up the whole road and we had to run around them. Twice. (sigh). Poor course design, in spite of the prettiness, but it was off the main roads, on campus – which has virtually no traffic on Saturdays – so I kind of understand why they did it. Still, it was frustrating to run around walkers who are coming at you. Twice.
Otherwise, the run itself was pretty uneventful. A few hills here and a there, but I pretty much kept to myself and didn’t really notice what other people were doing, outside of an attractive man here or there (and there were quite a few of those in this race, interestingly enough). And, since I was treating it as a 3-mile trainer, I didn’t even check my speed, only my heart rate, which was scary high again. I didn’t feel myself competing with anybody the way I did in the Tarheel 10-miler because, honestly, I felt a little guilty being competitive with these folks. They had bigger things to compete with, I thought, than a goofy, anal retentive runner who doesn’t cut corners. I didn’t even sprint at the end like I usually do – nice and easy the whole way.
I ended the race at a respectable 25:19, which was better than I planned (I planned about 26-27) and only 40 seconds from my current PR of 24:29.
I have to figure out my heart rate and just pay for the V02 Max test. It will be worth it to know for sure.