A few months ago Brian called me while he was traveling for work and said he bet I couldn’t guess what he did that morning. He was right, I never would have guessed that he went running. On purpose.
Over the past year, he has become Mr. Healthy, watching what he eats and regularly exercising. His efforts have paid off in about a 40-pound weight loss. Even though he was well in to this transformation that day that he called me, he hadn’t started running or even talking about it. I never thought he would have any interest in running. But after a few months of him doing it on a semi-regular basis and building up to more than three miles, I — half joking, half hopeful — told him he should do a race with me. He said he had actually set a goal for himself to run a race this year. I immediately thought of the Sunburst Races in South Bend, Ind.
Since running in the Sunburst for the first time in 2006, I always make a goal to run it each year. There have been a couple of years that I was unable to participate due to other obligations or travel plans, but I have run the full marathon twice and the half marathon twice.
Last year we combined the race weekend with a camping weekend and stayed at Potato Creek State Park, one of our favorite places to camp. My cousin Lisa and her husband, Tom, have become our camping buddies and they both are also semi-newbie runners. So a couple of months ago I told Lisa it would be a great time to do a camping/running weekend at Potato Creek Sunburst weekend. She agreed, and the plans were put into motion.
Tom, Lisa and Brian all planned to run the 5K, and up until two weeks before the race, I was going to run the half marathon. After our weekend at the Dunes two weeks prior, I changed my mind, thinking it would be a lot more fun for us all to do the race together. I also realized that, despite the fact I have done six full marathons, at least four half marathons and at least six 8k races, I have never done a 5k. I had to think very hard because that didn’t seem possible, but I discovered it was true. I have never done a 5k! Well, except for the Dirty Girl which doesn’t count since that wasn’t really a running race. Not the same thing. So, it would be a first 5k for both me and Brian.
The forecast was for rain pretty much the entire race weekend. It rained almost the entire drive to Potato Creek. It was still raining when we arrived. But within just a few minutes of us setting up our campsite, the rain stopped so we had a pre-race campfire then went to bed pretty early since we had a very early start time (7:30a.m. local time, 6:30 a.m. Central — our time zone). We had to be up by 5:30 a.m. local time to get there in time.
When the alarm went off, the rain was pelting the camper and the wind was so strong, the camper was rocking a bit. This is going to be a miserable first 5k, I thought. By the time we piled in the car to make our way to the start line, the rain had stopped. We were standing at the start line and from nowhere a very dark, ugly cloud creeped up behind us, with lightning shooting down from it. We all commented that they needed to get the race started so we could outrun the rain.
The rain never came and I swear we had a rain-blocker force field over us the entire day because it stayed cloudy for the whole day, and rained all around us, but never rained on us. Not for the race, not for the bike ride we took later in the day. And not for the campfire we had that night. It didn’t rain until we started packing things up for the night Saturday night. Not sure how we got so lucky, but I was sure grateful.
We all started the race together. Then, after Tom spent the entire night before talking about how the rest of us were going to cross the finish lines miles ahead of him, he took off like a Kenyan. I asked him later if he goes in to pool halls and acts like he doesn’t know how to hold a pool stick then makes game bets only to reveal he’s really a pool shark.
With Tom about a quarter-mile ahead of us, Brian and I were together for about a half mile and Lisa was within a few feet of us. But when we started weaving in and out of people, our little group fell apart. I’m not sure when or how I lost Brian, but at one point I turned around and he was gone, and so was Lisa. We all agreed to run our own races, so I just kept running. About a half mile later I hear Lisa’s voice, “Hey stranger!” We ran together for about a mile or so then about the time we came within view of the Notre Dame stadium, where the finish line was located, Lisa got a second wind and took off.
I’ve been trying to run a consistent sub-10-minute mile, so my goal was to finish in less than 30 minutes. The 5k distance is great because it’s easier to push yourself knowing that you only have to push for a few minutes. It’s easy to psych yourself into running well. “You can do anything for 30 minutes,” I’d tell myself.
Once I started rounding the last corner before the stadium entrance, I started eying my competition. This is always a strategy I use to push myself at the end of a race. I see someone ahead of me that I decide cannot beat me. I had my eyes set on a girl in a purple tank top whose hair was whooshing back and forth as if she were purposely making it whoosh like that. I decided I had to pass her. I saved myself for the tunnel that goes onto the field, and then I gave it everything I had. I passed up purple tank top girl, saw another girl in a blue shirt who looked to be about 16. I decided I wasn’t going to let a youngin’ beat me. The marathon photographers stationed at the tunnel where I passed her up, captured the determined look on my face which didn’t make for good photos — they were awful beyond words — but it did help me pass her. I made my goal with a tenth of a second to spare.
After crossing the finish line, I slowly made my way through the corral so I could look for Brian while the race staff tried to usher everyone through. About two minutes later I spotted him. He finished, and he was still smiling. First 5K was a success. For both of us!
After we checked our official times online later, we discovered Lisa got in about 30 seconds before me, and Brian and Tom crossed at about the same time but didn’t see each other. After a strong start, Tom lost steam about two-thirds of the way and had to slow to a jog for a bit. That’s when Lisa and I passed him. But everyone finished with less than a 10:30-minute-per mile pace. I was proud of all of us.
We went out for a post-race breakfast at Le Peep where we recounted the events. The conversation then turned to plans for next year. Tom piped up and said, “Next year, I’m doing the half.”
Looks like I have some new Sunburst partners. 🙂