Saturday, November 08, 2014

The race that can only ever be against yourself

It was called "perfect," but I think it was more of a potpourri of good, bad, and ugly...and more. Here's how it went down.

Today was my fourth 10K. Careful readers will recall that this is my Year of Ten 10Ks, and the "year" of course runs from mid-May to mid-May, being inspired as it is by my sub-par performance in the annual 25K held in Grand Rapids each May at which I annually suck, as well as my birthday that same week in May, which makes it fun to have a goal year go from May 13 to May 12 instead of January to December. So this past May, I declared that I would run ten 10Ks in the intervening time between my terrible 25Ks. Today was 10K number four.

Chicago's Perfect 10 is a little different from other races. Usually there's a 5K and a 10K and sometimes a half-marathon or maybe some other distances thrown in there. This race is all about the 10--the two race choices are a 10K or 10 miles. Fun, no? Both races started and ended at the east end of Navy Pier, so basically in Lake Michigan (hello, wind!), and the course gives you some pretty spectacular views of the city, lake shore, Loop buildings, lake, and so forth. Ten miles is a fun distance to consider for next year, but this year it's all about the 10Ks for me.

So, how'd I do? Did I improve on my time from 10K #3? Indeed I did! 1:47 faster, to be precise. You may also recall that my three other (or possibly more important?) goals for each 10K are:
1. Finish the race with no walking - check
2. Not last - check
3. Iced coffee after the race - check

In fact, the whole "not last" thing worked out a little better for me, and I have a theory as to why. Now, I am not a fast runner. So, usually within the first mile or two of my races I definitely see the crowds around me thin out as the people who run fast go on ahead and I just go steadily along with the peeps near the back (not last!) Today, I noticed that I still had lots of folks around me, a couple miles in. Was I running faster? Not by enough to make this much of a difference--I was still surrounded, and even passing a person here and there. The way I figured it, there were two possibilities. One, that usually the people who don't run a 10K very fast* opt for the 5K, leaving fewer people of my pace in the 10K to begin with, and leaving me with something like an 85-95 percentile finish in my gender and my age/gender division. (But not last!) But today, there being no 5K, the 10K was the slower race so I had way more of my peeps jamming out with me or even behind me, and my finish was more like in the 51-52 percentile.

*(and by "fast" I mean, of course, fast enough to please the Judgy McJudgersons who are all like, 'Oh, that's so sad to run a race and not be the best! How sad that you ran those miles soooo sloooowly while I sat over here on the couch thinking about how I don't do things unless I can be the best!' which is just an awful way to look at life, in my humble opinion)

Or, the other possibility, I thought, since my last three 10Ks were in Michigan, could be that Michiganders are just more badass than Chicagoans... hahahaha. I'm not dumb enough to make a public declaration about that when I still have to show my face in this town, and that state. We'll just stick with discussing theory number one for now.

Actually, I will tell another story from the race, but I am going to write something kind of gross so SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH if you don't want to read it. I witnessed something kind of freaky. I generally have a no-bodily-functions policy on the blog and I would never ever ever write something bodily function-like without warning you, so you've been warned, but this is your last chance to skip this paragraph. Somewhere toward the end of the second mile-ish, along the ol' Lake Shore Drive there, I suddenly realize that just ahead a bunch of people are gathered around a man on the ground, a runner lying on his side, kind of being held up on his side by some of those gathered. One gal, another runner standing, was shouting to all of us approaching, "Doctor? Nurse? Is there a doctor? A nurse?" And the man, who looks like he's maybe fortysomething, and just a normal looking runner-type man, with a moustache, wearing running shorts and a knit-type hat, is lying there being held up on his side and the look on his face -- I have never seen a look like that in real life, The closest thing would be something I've seen in a horror movie. His eyes were wide, and his whole face looked ghastly and stiff, and here's the gross part, he was vomiting, and it was gray. I mean, I'm seeing this as I run past and just thinking, I have never seen anything like that. And this is all happening quickly, of course, and so by now I'm passing the guy and trying to think fast: what should I do? Can I do anything? So many thoughts go through your mind in  a second. Well, the lake shore path is not that wide, and there were already, as I said, ten or so runners stopped helping him, holding him up, shouting for a doctor, etc., and if everybody stopped, it would make things worse because then everyone else still coming would just run into a big pile of people and clearly the rest of us should just keep going, and enough people run with their iPhones in their little armband things (for music) (and hey, the occasional mid-race phone call) that I was sure someone had already called 9-1-1, let alone all the people who had also already passed who could shout at the next race official they saw, and so I kept going although I did say and motion to the next bystander I saw that someone was injured and call for help, even though I'm sure it wasn't necessary on my part at that point. Within a couple minutes, I heard many sirens. What I am less sure about is whether this guy was OK. What does it mean, medical people, when someone is vomiting and it's gray? And you have to think, he had obviously collapsed long enough before I saw his face that ten people had time to stop, organize themselves around him, shout for help, etc., and there he is still throwing up -- and those eyes -- I can still picture them. It was a ghastly look; there's no other way to describe it. With so many thoughts going through my head, I also felt bad (if you know what I mean) for the runners who had got there before the rest of us and who had stopped and were now obviously sacrificing their race time and stuff...but meanwhile, this guy might have been dying. Was he dying? I really don't know. I have zero medical knowledge. I hope he wasn't dying. It was messed up.

All right, we are safely out of that paragraph now.

All in all, this was a nice race, with such great views along the race course of the city, the city from another angle, the lake, the lake shore, the pier, etc. And there is a whole expo with booths and vendors and Peet's coffee and a complimentary beer for finishers at the end. Good times.

In my previous 10K, which was 10K #3 in my Year of Ten 10Ks, I disappointed myself a bit with my finish time, and really, in my awareness of just how I need to be a more disciplined person. You may recall that at that time I quoted professional distance runner Paul Tergat: "Ask yourself, 'Can I give more?' The answer is usually 'Yes.'" I thought about that a lot today. I still need to dig even deeper, but I did manage to make myself give more at my traditional five to five-and-a-half-miles spot that is generally where I tell myself, "OMG I really can't go any faster" but where I today reminded myself, "Yes, you totally can" and stuff. I'm digging deeper, digging deeper, Ani, I promise. I was happy that I improved my time today in 10K #4, but I can recognize the improvement I still need to make.

I would also like to mention something else. I have been blogging in a lighthearted tone, and I do believe, in a "the show must go on" and "life goes on" way that it is OK to do so. But it wasn't just a stranger whose fate remains unknown to me that gave me pause today. I also received a message overnight about the death in a car accident yesterday of somebody that I knew in Arizona. He was a major figure in the lives of people close to me and people who are part of the basic framework of my Arizona/out West life, and he died in a horrific collision. It was a shocking piece of news to receive, and since I woke up at 5 a.m. to head out to the early start at Navy Pier, I was basically getting ready and then riding the brown line 'L' train in the dark, with few people around, and everyone alone with their thoughts, and I could only think about him, and the many aspects of life and people and connections and what it all means. In my own personal way, inside my head, I "dedicated" my run to these people, thinking of this loss -- one mile "for" each of these people, the deceased himself and those whom I know so well that are affected by this death, a mile for each person during which I thought about them, wishing the best for them. My thoughts seemed so small. We're all so small in this world, but we're such a big part of the worlds of the people around us. And people are struggling all around us, too. Some lives end in tragedy, and some encounter tragedy along the way, and it's enough to make a person realize she should be digging deeper in oh so many ways. Rest in peace, and for those of us still here, let's not take a single breath for granted today.

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