I wasn’t sure I could get off work for the Swiss Days Race this year, so when I found out my triathlon nemesis, Chad Ware, was hosting a 5K Saturday evening — the Gator Gallop at Saint Aloysius, just a few miles from our house — I decided that would be a good fallback.
When my boss gave me the day off after all, there was only one thing to do: Run both.
I was looking forward to the challenge, at least in part because I suspected my Swiss Days time was going to be a major disappointment. If I did two races in one day, that would take the focus off the clock. That was the theory, anyway.
Race No. 1: Swiss Days
My dad helped start this race 39 years ago. On Saturday, he blew Rowan’s soccer whistle to start both the 5K and the kids’ mile run.
Ben and I were entered in the 5K; Traci was sitting out with sore legs. Representing our family in the mile run were Colleen, fresh off her Iron Kid triumph the previous Saturday, and her 8-year-old cousin Monroe.
It was blissfully cool as I set out in shoes less than 24 hours old. (I traditionally buy a pair before Swiss Days, but this year I’d cut it unusually close.) These were the next generation of my holey-toed Saucony Kinvaras, only with a shocking pink personality transplant. They felt awesome.
Ben and his cross country pals vanished in the crowd ahead. I was trying to find a comfortable pace when I realized I’d settled in behind race co-founder Jack Shoaf’s son, Tim. That couldn’t be right. What was he doing back here? I never had a chance to figure out if it was really him or not, though, because whoever it was checked on a couple of young teen girls before zooming off in search of someone else.
Lacking a watch — or any innate sense of pacing — I decided to stick with the girls, who I imagined to be newbie cross country types, maybe middleschoolers. They soon faded, though, and I latched onto a guy in a camo shirt honoring Berne’s recent fallen soldier. As we approached the end of the first mile loop, I gawked at the clock: 8:40-something, at least a minute faster than I expected.
No need to panic, though. I just kept trying to run as smoothly as possible, surging when I felt good and easing up for a few seconds when I didn’t. I passed Ben, already on his way back. He was working hard, but it was a good sign he was that far ahead of me.
My time at the 2-mile mark was an even 18 minutes. It took me exactly two minutes to get to the turnaround and back. Less than a mile to go. But rather than get tangled up in computing what-ifs, I focused in on the wheelchair racer up ahead.
I always think I should start some kind of “kick” at the turn back onto Jefferson Street, but I can never sustain it. This time I decided to stick with my surges, only faster. The wheelchair guy faltered, but he surged, too, as the clock came into view. The time appeared messed up as I crossed the finish line. I kept moving to give my fluttering stomach some space, just in case. Finally I headed back and ran into Ben, who explained that the clock was one digit off in the tens column.
He’d come up with a PR of 23:41. My time, exactly four minutes slower at 27:41, was also a PR. For the first time ever, we both got our names called during the awards ceremony. He placed 3rd in the 14 & under boys, and I snagged the 10th-place ribbon for women 40-49.
The kids’ race
I went off to find the girls and wish them luck in the kids’ race. Colleen didn’t want me running with her, insisting she would gut it out on her own. I was concerned that this race might be a crash back to reality after her Iron Kid heroics. As Ben and his buddies chased one of their little brothers toward a first-place finish, I headed off in search of the girls.
It wasn’t long until I found Monroe being hustled along by Traci, sore legs and all. She wound up with a time of 8:54, good for a sixth place ribbon in the girls 8 & under category.
Four minutes later, amid the munchkin stragglers, I spotted Colleen. She turned down my offer of an escort and grimly set her sights on the finish line. She wasn’t moving very fast, but she managed to shave nearly two minutes off her time from the previous year.
Race No. 2: The Gator Gallop
Fast-forward 10 hours or so and crank the heat up about 20 degrees.
Ben and I’ve joined about a hundred runners in the St. Aloysius parking lot at the edge of State Road 1. Antique rescue vehicles from the Poe Volunteer Fire Department have their flashers on to beg passing motorists for a few feet of highway space, at least until we can get around the converted barn-house on the corner to a road that quickly devolves into gravel.
I’m wondering what the heck Chad Ware means by a “shotgun start” when someone produces an actual shotgun and fires it into the air over a nearby cornfield. And we’re off.
My legs are tight from this morning’s race. I’m not sure Ben’s even fully awake yet, having been roused from his afternoon collapse on the couch. But he dutifully lumbers after his buddies, led by speedy Noah Steffen, who helped Ben to his Swiss Days PR and would’ve won the top trophy in their age division if he’d officially entered instead of just running for fun.
I set my sights on a woman with a racing watch whom I’d overheard say she was aiming for a 10-minutes-a-mile pace. That sounds good to me on the second race of the day.
There is no shade on this road, and the gravel arrives all too soon. I wish this didn’t feel like such a grind, but it does. It shouldn’t be this hard to keep up with the 10-minute miler, but it is.
I don’t usually take water on a 5K, but I gratefully accept a cup from a guy who I later discover is my co-worker Cindy’s husband Steve. He’s way overdressed to be handing out water on a gravel road, but he just came from the evening service at Saint Al’s.
So this isn’t going to be my best race ever, but I‘m not sorry to be here. The offbeat personality of this race is kind of amusing. (Apparently the school mascot is a Gator; overall winners get plaques with hand-painted gators on them.)
I don’t even really mind the gravel. Heck, I grew up on a “stone road,” as my dad calls it, and I still run on gravel at least once a week or so.
I’m starting to think that maybe I ought to actively seek out races on gravel — are there any others on the planet? — when I spot Ben up ahead.
Uh-oh. He’s clearly having some kind of meltdown. I fall in beside him, and he grumbles about the heat and the gravel and various physical maladies, real and imagined. Soon Noah comes whizzing along in the other direction, followed a couple of minutes later by Nick, who used to go to school at St. Al’s.
Should I stay or should I go? I finally decide that Ben will be more irritated if I run with him than if I move on. Hopefully he’ll get refocused and come zooming past me at some point.
I fall in behind the 10-minute miler again. I pass a couple of people, others pass me. Each time I hope it’s Ben, but it’s not. As the church and the barn come into view, my pacer drops into a walk. Not wanting to think too much, I lock onto the next runner in view and keep going.
I turn the corner and eye the finish uncertainly, still hoping Ben will catch up. Finally I hear somebody coming up behind me. But it’s not him. It’s my previous pacer. Jolted out of my malaise, I take off for the finish line, crossing in 30:53 Exactly the kind of time I was dreading in the Swiss Days Race. But given that it’s my second race of the day, complicated by a wayward son, I’m OK with it. (And my pacer was dead on — I ran 9:58 per mile.)
Ben finally appears a minute or two later, trudging along in some state of personal torment. It’s not until Nick and Noah warn him he’s about to be passed by a girl that he finally snaps out of zombie mode and turns it on for the finish.
“Listen,” I tell Colleen, who was camped out by the finish line with her sister’s camera, “this is not a great time to tease your brother.”
“Why would I do that?” she asks. “He ran two races in one day.”
She sounded sincere. And you know, I think she meant it, because they didn’t even fight on the way home.
Other scenes from the day: