I thought of this title thinking that the Coper Young 4-Miler in September would likely be my last competitive run for 2019. I have always been partial to evening runs because it just seems more fitting to have a nice cold beer after a run in the evening rather than at 9:00 AM in the morning (although it would be after 5:00 PM somewhere in the world). By the time I finished, I started wondering if there was more meaning to my thinking.
I chose to wear this particular t-shirt as it was from the first race, I ran this year and the first my son organized in his new job at the Wolf River Conservancy. I came in second in that race (although it was a small field) so I thought it would bring me good karma. However, for this race, I had no allusions of grandeur as it is an annual event that typically draws over 2,000 participants.
I did run a difficult 4-milish race earlier in the spring and since this distance is more than I normally do on a regular basis, I knew I would need to increase my training to get ready for this run. With my crazy travel schedule, I never seemed to have more than a couple of weeks to build up my distance before I was off on another trip. Then when I returned, it was almost like starting all over again. However, for the last two weeks before the race, I was able to get in a few four mile runs so it felt like the distance would not be as hard as before.
For this event, a special treat was that my wife would go with me, cheer me on, and meet at the post race party. She had not accompanied me to a race in many years, so it was extra special to have her along. The race was scheduled to start at 7:00 PM and since Cooper-Young is close to our midtown condo, we chose to walk over rather than driving and trying to find a place to park. The only issue was we were having unseasonably hot weather for mid-September in Memphis.
I checked the temperature that afternoon and found that by race time, the temperature would still be in the low 90s. I built up a little bit of a sweat just walking over in spite of most of our walk being in the shade. But I knew I would be sweating soon anyway, so didn’t think too much of it.
My wife snapped a photo of me minutes before the race and just before she went to find herself an air-conditioned spot to wait for my finish.
Based on my timed training runs, I told her I would probably not cross the finish line for at least 42 minutes or so. As the race started, it was slow getting through the timing shoot with such a large crowd. Once through, I managed to get away from the pack and run more in an open area. The course runs up Cooper towards its intersection with Young and then crosses back and forth along side streets several times before ending where we started.
Before I had even gotten up to our first turn, I noticed that my mouth was very dry. I had tried to keep myself hydrated all day knowing this would help but the dry air seemed to suck the moisture right out of my mouth. As I tried to swallow, it seemed like a bug was flying around in my mouth looking for moisture as well. I knew right then that it was going to be a hard run and began looking for a water stop.
I actually cannot say enough about the tremendous support the neighbors offer the runners at this race. Many homes had their sprinklers going for runners to douse themselves. However, on this really hot day, after running through them, you were overwhelmed by the smell of steaming pavement on a blistering day just after a too-brief rain shower. But, as further liquid motivation, some neighbors were passing out free Jell-O shots and beer. Many homes were definitely in the party mood as if we were dashing door to door, party to party, some even passing out festive Mardi-Gras beads as we raced by.
Soon after finally getting some water to wet my throat, I began to scan for the 1-mile marker. I don’t run with a watch, so I never know when to expect a milestone. That brief respite of moisture in my mouth soon dissipated but finally I could see the marker. Unfortunately, there was no one there calling out times so other than knowing I had completed one fourth of the course, I didn’t know my pace.
The neighborhood has small rolling hills that run perpendicular to Cooper, so it was nice to occasionally get a little downhill breather. However, as soon as we made the block over to the next street, the parallel street had the slight uphill climb.
After getting up that hill and making another turn, I began to look for the 2-mile marker that would indicate I was halfway. I never saw it. I either missed it or it was not up. By the time I finally made it to the 3-mile marker, I was really having difficulty breathing in the hot dry air. My legs were not cramping but I was feeling really challenged. As we crossed Cooper the final time, I ran through one more festive party and then saw I had another uphill climb. I just couldn’t do it. I had to stop and walk a few hundred yards to the top to catch my breath.
As I walked, I realized that normally I had been running 4 miles in the morning at around 7:00 AM when the temperature was about 72 to 75 F. I realized that what I probably should have been doing was running at 7:00 PM in whatever temperature it was to get me use to that. It was almost 20 degrees hotter than when I normally ran, and it felt as if I was running in an oven.
As I started back running, I really began to beat myself up for stopping and walking. I thought in my 25+ years of running, I had never done that before (although I recalled later, I had to walk some when I attempted a half marathon after injuring myself two weeks earlier) and I was most disappointed. But I just couldn’t overcome the heat.
As we rounded the last turn, I was most grateful to see the finish line up ahead and as I approached the race clock, I tried to see if I would even finish under 50 minutes. I was amazed that as I ran under the finish line, the clock was showing less than 41 minutes. Then it really hit me—I had just run too fast. In the heat of the competition, I had overdone it making it even harder to breathe.
My wife caught up with me (thank you for getting my finish line photo), but I couldn’t stop walking. I headed straight for the beer line but after nearly falling over (like I had already had one too many), I started to wonder if I was having a heat stroke. My wife encouraged me to splash some water on my face and that definitely seemed to help.
It was actually a while before I even felt like eating at the after-race party (although I did get some adult liquid nutrition). I admitted to my wife that I had to stop and walk a while, but it didn’t seem to matter to her. She still congratulated me on finishing.
Just before heading home, I hurried over to print out my results. I was amazed to see that I finished at just under 40 and ½ minutes at a 10:07 pace. In spite of walking, I had never run this far this fast. I also saw that I had finished 15thin my age group (I found out later 15thout of 40); nowhere near the places I had finished in my other runs but certainly nothing to be ashamed about.
As I thought more about the idea of this being my last race of the year, it crossed my mind that it might just be my last race period. But the next day after a very good night’s sleep, I forgot about the pain and knew I would not give up running. I just needed to avoid this blistering heat. So, come on fall, bring us some nice cooler weather!