I was sitting in Whataburger, enjoying a post-race reward of beef and fries, when my iPhone chirped. It was a text message from my friend and head coach Patton, asking me if I wanted to run in the morning. I gave him a quick call.
“Dude, did you tear up the course?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, “Now I am tearing up Whataburger. And in about 45 minutes, Whataburger will be tearing up my bowels.”
“Good thing you’re not addicted to heroin,” he quipped.
I had a hard time arguing with that logic.
The Michelob Katy 5K is the only 5K I look forward to each year. It’s got the best combination of route and post-race scene. The after-party alone is worth the admission, as you get a wide selection of sweet and/or salty grub, plus the draft beer necessary to wash it all down.
Because I practically live in Oklahoma, running the Katy 5K takes a considerable amount of planning on my part. And because it is far away from my home base of McKinney, the race is usually a solo effort on my part; none of my friends ever run it. All I can say is, “They’re missing out.” Even though they didn’t represent, I wasn’t alone this day — thanks to the Power of Twitter, I met up with @SeeKrisRun, who I’ve been following since at least the White Rock Half-Marathon. Energetic and armed with a great smile, Kris was proudly representing her ‘hood of Uptown. She even used the power of persuasion to sway her roommate to also run the race.
The day was sunny and warm, with a heaping dose of humidity due to the approaching front. Since I have been training well for the several weeks prior, I felt really good about this race. So much so that I let myself believe a PR was within reach. To achieve it would take a 5K time of 27:29 or less. Not unrealistic, depending on how good I felt halfway through.
The starting gun went off, and we began the slow mill towards the start line. Kris and I wished each other good luck and agreed to hunt down one another afterwards. Then I crossed the start, fired up my Garmin, hit the gas, and dashed down Turtle Creek Boulevard.
I started out very fast, as is my habit in short races like this: the sandwich of slow people I usually find myself between leads to a frantic start as I seek to escape.M y legs felt fresh in the heat, so I wasn’t worried about my oscillating speed. Once racers got sorted out halfway down Turtle Creek, I was able to relax within space and redirect energy to finding my rhythm.
Quickly ahead of me was the series of turns — a right onto Blackburn Ave. left onto Cole Ave., and another left at Cambrick St., leading to a straight-shot towards the Katy Trail. Past participation in this event told me to not be shocked by the hill that was Blackburn; as I turned onto the street, I could hear nearby runners moan their surprise of the ascent before them. I allowed myself one small window to chuckle, then I set about the task of running strong. And did I, making it up the hill, and to the end of Mile 1, in less than 9:00. On track!
The Racing Gods grew aware of my pride and confidence and felt something had to be done. With a snap of their powerful fingers, pop went my right side with a stitch. Such injuries are more nuisance than showstopper to me. However, they are enough to slow me down, as they negatively affect my ability to draw deep breaths without concentration. So I could either focus on my pace or my breaths. Since I chose the latter, my pace somewhat suffered.
It’s a good thing that Cole/Cambrick is a great downhill. I spent this easy part of the course manipulating my right arm back and forth, around and above my shoulder, stretching out that right-side ribcage. By the time I hit mile 2, I had gotten over my side-stitch and could breathe deeply once again. Once on the Katy Trail, half of the race was left ahead of me, a smooth descent back to Reverchon Park. Although I had lost some time, Mr. Garmin told me a PR was still within striking distance. So I pushed it up a gear.
In previous incarnations of this race, the biggest beating has been navigating the funnel that is the Katy Trail. Up until now, I was running on broad streets with plenty of room to maneuver; now I was on something more akin to a sidewalk, peppered with all forms of turbo-stragglers. However, those surly Racing Gods decided to give me a break, opening up pockets of space I took full benefit of for both passing and increasing my speed. The best part about the 5K distance is its shortness. Even if you’re having an off-day, it’s really easy to rally your body to go faster & harder when there is a less than 30-minute commitment. An added bonus: a majority of the racers preferred to run on the straight concrete portions of the trail, leaving the meandering rubberized portions free for people like me. At the 2.2 mile point, a final check of my Garmin confirmed that I was on-track (with absolutely no margin for error). I focused on making the upcoming mile one I would be proud of.
This time passed quickly. I was surprised when I actually stumbled upon the finish, I was so deeply concentrating on making efficient breaths and strides. Right before I crossed the line, a peek at the race clock told me I wasn’t fast enough — I was 00:29 off a PR. But it was easily my 2nd best finish ever. It’s good to know that the older I was getting, the better I was running.
Post-race, us participants were funneled downhill back into Reverchon Park, where a ring of food stands awaited them. By my guess, nearly four dozen local eateries were represented, presenting their confections amid a sea of well-beered athletes. I never need an excuse to run, but the run seemed like the perfect excuse to eat: cookies, tacos, pizza, beer, cheesecake, fruit, and brownies. So what if you’re supposed to carbo-load before a race? As planned, Kris and I met up after the race. Thankfully she also had a good day, as did most everyone there. The Katy 5K is a good way to prepare for the upcoming marathon training season, and I recommend that everyone skip work and head downtown next year. After all, it wouldn’t be a party without you!