Free Falling

I once read that the only difference between being a jogger and a racer is the act of filling out an entry form. I guess that means I officially became a racer about 11 months ago when I completed the two-mile run at Hillsboro’s Folk Fest.

I also competed at the Bluejay Homecoming Run in the fall. I won my age division in both those events, but at best there were only two or three others in the running, so to speak.

So, I never really felt like a true racer until I finished the MCC’s 5-kilometer race last Saturday in Hutchinson. The temperature was hovering in the upper 40s, and a persistent fog hung over the trail along Cow Creek in Rice Park.

All around me men and women, boys and girls, grandpas and grandmas were warming up before the 8 a.m. start. Some were discussing their latest forays into the world of marathons while others were tightening their shoelaces in anticipation.

I chatted for a moment with Hillsboro’s Walt Kleinsasser, who claimed oldest-runner honors at 79. Wow. I just hope I can still stand at that age, let alone run a 3.1-mile race.

I spotted Randy Wiens, a veteran marathoner from our fair city, and Marion’s Jim Christiansen, who said he was training for an upcoming 26.2-miler.

We received our last-minute instructions from the starter, and the crowd of 171 runners and walkers hit the trail. The course had been laid out over several city blocks from north of 17th Street down to just short of 2nd Street, a distance of about 11/2 miles. We were to loop around at that point and head back on the same path.

I immediately discovered my first mistake. I should have started closer to the front. It took about three or four seconds to reach the starting line. I was soon hemmed in as everyone jockeyed for position.

I was feeling claustrophobic, and, with my longer-than-average legs, I was afraid I might step on somebody if I didn’t get some space.

I left the concrete path and jogged out onto the grass beside the trail, passing several runners in the process. I knew from my training runs, I needed a good first-mile time in order to reach my goal of a sub-24-minute 5K.

I kept Randy in my sights, not because I had any hope or desire to beat him to the finish, but because he gave me a pace to follow. By the time we had reached the first mile, I was feeling pretty good. I had opened up a little space to operate in, and my time was under 7.5 minutes (I can hear the Yoder boys chuckling, but it was a good time for me).

I met Randy coming back from the turnaround about 20 yards ahead of me. We exchanged a “good job” hand slap. I was half-way home.

I knew my pace was decent because only one guy passed me after the first half-mile. Never mind that he was in his mid-50s. His sculpted calves showed that he probably put in more than my customary 12 miles a week, so I didn’t worry about him.

As I eclipsed the final mile marker, I even managed to pass the one guy between Randy and me. I’d guess he was about 30 years old. I was closing the gap a little, and I was feeling strong. I knew my target time was within reach. Just a few more city blocks lay ahead.

With only about a quarter mile to go, the 30-year-old dude returned the favor and cruised by me. He was looking really strong, so I didn’t attempt to stay with him. My legs were starting to feel a bit rubbery, though my lungs were still in good shape.

I saw Jim cross the finish line just ahead of Randy, and then I followed into the chute, and it was over. My first 5K was in the books. Time? Officially 23:11. Place? 27th. Not bad out of 171. Of course, only about one hundred of them actually ran, if even that many. The rest walked.

As my breathing and heart rate subsided, Walt glided across the finish looking remarkably spry. I was reminded of a quote attributed to the late George Burns. He said something like, “My goal is to live to be 100; not many people die past that age.”

Keep on truckin’, Walt.

I tell this tale not to glorify my achievement but to extol the virtues of a regular exercise program. I have never felt better in my life. Never. I don’t love to run. Heck, I don’t even really like it that much. It’s just that I can feel myself becoming stronger, and that kind of feeling is definitely addicting.

Running gets in the blood. I really miss it if I skip more than a day in between workouts. I’ve lost a few pounds, though weight loss wasn’t really a goal for me. I still eat more than I should once in a while, and I still feel guilty about it.

Last Saturday was a good example of that as my family and I chowed down at the MCC sale for lunch. I thought about how many miles it would take to burn off those pounds at about 175 calories per mile. I also knew that within a couple of days I would be hitting the road again in search of an ever faster 5K time.

Now, how long is it until the River Run in Wichita?

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