But there’s just something goofily charming about this little race, from its gravel course to its shotgun-fired-over-the-corn-field start, that I find irresistible. When you add in the fact that it’s just a few miles down the road and a fundraiser organized by the eminently likable Chad Ware, I just couldn’t stay away.
I knew from doing both races last year that the second one of the day would be much harder. But I’d felt like Traci and I had left a little bit out on the course during the Swiss Days Race – finishing at 27:58 when we’d run nearly a minute faster earlier in the week – and I wasn’t really sore or anything. I started out at an easy pace, then picked it up just a bit as we made the turn off State Road 1 onto the country road that makes up the bulk of the course.
Motivating factor #1
Up ahead I spotted a guy I’d seen at several other races this summer whom I can usually beat, so even though I wasn’t looking to set any speed records, I thought I might as well aim to stay within sight of him. I knew I was going slower than in the morning race — I still haven’t got the hang of wearing a watch — but I felt like I was going faster than last year, when it took me nearly 31 minutes to run the Gator Gallop. I was a little tired, but not too bad.
Motivating factors #2 and #3
I kept watching for the returning runners, and it seemed like when I finally spotted them I was farther down the road than I was last year. That was kinda cool. The other thing was, as I watched the leaders trickle by, I wasn’t seeing any women that I thought were in my age group. Hmm. I knew Chad gave out trophies through third place in this race. Did that mean I actually had a shot at one? How many 40-something women were ahead of me, who hadn’t yet made the turn? I decided to keep count.
As we passed the water station with half a mile or so before the turnaround, I slowly gained on several runners, including a couple of women I thought might be in my age group. Then, after we made the turn, either I sped up or one of them slowed down. I think maybe she had a sore foot or something. I asked if she was OK, but she said yes and kept running, so I did, too, and didn’t see her again the rest of the race.
Sucking it up
This was getting tough. If I were just out for a jog with my sister, I’d be whining about wanting to slow down. And really, there was nothing at stake here. I wasn’t even going to run this race, remember? But since I was here, and there was only maybe a mile to go, why not suck it up? I grabbed a cup of water, took a quick swallow, and kept moving.
Up ahead was another woman who might be in my age group. She’d started walking, but not too long after I passed her, she passed me again. Had I slowed down? I looked up ahead to gauge my pace against the guy I’d been following since the start of the race. He was about the same distance ahead of me as before. I was starting to think I was unlikely to catch him this time, but I didn’t want to fall too far behind. I decided to stick as close to the woman who’d passed me as I could, hoping for second place and, ideally, a time under 30 minutes.
I was breathing hard. I focused on taking air in through my nose and got back into a regular pattern, but I was still making a lot of noise. I wondered if my raspy respiration was unnerving the woman just ahead of me, who was, improbably, getting closer and closer as we neared the turn back toward Saint Aloysius Church.
“Good job!” she said as I passed her.
“Good job yourself!” I gasped. I thought about adding, “Don’t give up yet – can’t you see how much I’m struggling here?” But I didn’t. And she didn’t.
I crossed the finish line in 29:28. “You’re killing me here, Chad!” I told him as I crossed, and I was only half joking. It was amazing how much harder I had to work to run nearly 2 minutes slower in this race than in the morning. My legs didn’t feel too bad, but I’d really worked my respiratory system, and now the telltale effects began to show: My nose started gushing and didn’t stop the rest of the night. By the time I got home I would have some serious sinus pressure going on. Great. Another case of running-induced rhinitis.
Running into an old schoolmate
But there was a Kleenex box sitting on a table back in the gym with the traditional postrace cups of Goldfish crackers, and I was curious how I’d done, so I stuck around for the awards ceremony. While I waited I ran into Skip Stinson, a guy who graduated from Bluffton a year ahead of me and used to ride my school bus. I saw him last week at the Men In Black Runway Mile, too. He said he’d taken up running right after he got out of high school, and he’s pretty good for somebody in his late 40s.
Skip ran a 22:28, which he wasn’t pleased about because he used to be able to run in the 19s. But it was good enough for first place in the men’s 40-49 age group. And my time, surprisingly, was good enough for first in the same age group* for women.
Turns out the person I passed near the final turn was the second-place finisher in my age group. And she was from Bluffton, too, though I didn’t know her. But she didn’t stick around for the awards, so I never got a chance to meet her.
I was too tired — and way too drippy — to stick around and wait in what amounted to a receiving line to catch up with Chad, though I’m curious how his training is going for next spring’s Indiana Trail 100. But it was a fun run, and I expect I’ll run into him at another race soon enough — maybe the Veteran’s Day marathon this fall.
*I figured there must’ve been only 3 of us in our age group, but surprisingly there were 13 — though some were obviously walkers.