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Race Report: WHOS Run for 11-11-11

When one of the founders of the nonprofit Women Helping Others Succeed (WHOS) came to the Four Green Fields Running Club a couple of weeks ago to announce their upcoming 5k race, my interest was immediately piqued. Aside from being sponsored by a women's charitable organization, the race proceeds would benefit athletes with certain limitations who needed special equipment to participate in races and the like. I thought it was a fitting event for Veterans Day, which I never really know how to honor, as many of these athletes were no doubt veterans who had lost limbs or mobility as a result of combat. As an added bonus, the race was to be held in Hyde Park Village, just blocks from where I live.

I hadn't run a 5k race since May, and at that race I'd finished with a personal record (PR) of 27 minutes. That was quite an exciting accomplishment for me, as shorter races (read: fast races) were not my forte. All of my training since then had been for distance races, so I'd hardly worked on speed at all, and in fact my pace had slowed during marathon training. With these factors in mind, I wasn't expecting a stellar performance for the 5k, but I was happy to participate and contribute to the cause anyway.

With one recruit--my trusty last-minute race buddy Shannon--in tow, I headed to the race site on the chilly evening of November 11. A rather sparse crowd meandered around Hyde Park Village's central fountain. We were still over an hour early when we checked in and found my co-worker Deedra and her two daughters volunteering at the registration booth. Because it was so cold (it was around 58 degrees at race time), we ducked into Anthropologie to do some browsing, which mostly consisted of picking out all of the expensive clothes and household goods we dreamed of one day owning.

When it was finally time to gather at the start, we got in line behind maybe fifty or so racers, with not many more than that filing in behind us. The only thing we'd said to each other about racing together was that the other should feel free to go ahead if she wanted. And we both expected the other would do that.

When the starting horn sounded, we took off together with the cold motivating us past runners before us. I typically had the bad habit of going out too quickly, only to struggle through the later part of the race with diminished energy. While I felt like I was doing this very thing in the early part of the race, I wanted to see how long I could keep it up, and I wanted to keep up with Shannon, who typically has the habit of running a a foot or so in front of me, keeping me on the chase. The route was as familiar to me as home; we started out heading south on Rome Avenue and turned west onto Bayshore Boulevard. The majority of my training runs for the past couple of years began this way.

After about a quarter of a mile, we stopped talking (our pace-killer always). While there were others around us, mostly women, mostly running for fun, it seemed, most of what I heard for the duration of the race was our breath patterns. I concentrated on keeping my three-in, two-out pattern, while Shannon's was something quicker, perhaps less practiced. I wondered what mine would have been if I hadn't established the three-two pattern. At the turnaround at Bay to Bay Boulevard, we skipped the water station, which we'd decided beforehand, and pushed on for the final 1.5 miles. These were brutal. I truly think that if it hadn't been for the colder weather, I would have been less motivated to keep pushing. And that's exactly what I told myself when I felt my body try to slow down: keep pushing. I tried to assess what was making me uncomfortable at this point in the race; was it my heart rate? My breathing? Anything hurting? Fatigue? Mostly it was trying to maintain a steady breath while my heart was literally racing. My body was also feeling tired, but not tired enough to give in. Luckily nothing was hurting. I tried to just focus on my breathing and look for landmarks.

Once I could see the flashing police-car lights at Rome, I knew it would just be one big, final push from there. I again felt myself slipping behind after turning onto Rome, which was a slight incline in the route, and I again told myself to push, push, push. Just a few more blocks. I couldn't see the finish line, as it was around a corner, but I pretty much knew by heart how far it was and therefore when to give the final kick of anything that was left in me. Just when I'd decided to do so, Shannon darted further ahead of me, and I tried my best to catch her. I happened to glance at the digital clock over the finish line and saw that it was 25:50 something. I couldn't believe it. I was going to PR. By more than a minute!

When I finally treaded over those glorious blue carpets that covered the timing sensors, I saw Deedra's congratulating smile as she sat with an overturned bucket before her for me to prop my foot upon so she could clip off the timing chip from my shoe. But I didn't feel like I could even lift my foot. I walked in a couple of circles, laboredly trying to catch my breath. I looked at my RunKeeper app on my phone, read the 25:56 time to Shannon, who was also catching her breath, and we both high-fived. While it was a PR for me, it was also a PR for Shannon because it was her first 5k (she began her running endeavors with a measly half-marathon).

The race was a total success for me. But I was left wondering afterward how the race was pulled off; there were only 149 finishers, and yet the organizers had the streets blocked off, police officers on duty, and official timing devices. I knew these things weren't cheap. And then I recalled hearing that all of the race proceeds would go to benefit the organization's efforts to help other athletes, which meant that the money from participants didn't even go toward street blocking, cops, or timing. Apparently there was a lot of philanthropy involved in putting this event together. I was just so glad to be a part of it.

This morning I learned that my official race time was 25:50--a full minute and ten seconds faster than my previous PR! Although stoked by the results, this only means that I have to keep running faster, which consequently means I will probably avoid 5ks for some time to come.


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