One of my favorite things to do on the morning of an indulgence-based holiday is race. I train solo, so to me the camaraderie of a race adds to the specialness of the day and it’s harder to forget that I’ve actually earned that extra breadstick/cupcake/beer.
Ryan, the boy I’m dating, has a particular fondness for Saint Patrick’s Day. Although I read the two more obvious perks aloud and enthusiastically (“It’s at Opryland! It’s only $10!”) It was slightly more difficult I thought to talk him into running it with me than I thought. By the time he gave his reluctant consent, however, I had already signed both of us up. There were no emails, no reminders, and no packet pick-up; it was just a come-out-and-run event, which was just fine with me.
I somehow also talked another friend, Callie, into it, and the three of us carpooled to the Opryland Complex on the morning of March 17. We found the registration area with little difficulty and stepped out of the car into perfect, sunny weather in the high fifties.
That’s where things got a little shaky; registration seemed lazily thrown together. One of my mentors at my old job in Pittsburgh told me once to put most of my energy into registration, and looking out at the long lines of people and flustered volunteers, I saw the full wisdom in her statement. By the time Ryan and I finally got to the front of the line, we saw their system: we were given a bib, filled out our information onto it, our names and numbers were copied onto another sheet, then the volunteers looked up out tee shirt size and dropped it into a pre-filled packet. Safety pins were in another area, and luckily I picked some up, because they were not in the packet and I wasn’t reminded to grab some.
Callie leaned in and politely asked, “Where will the results be posted?”
The volunteer, a stressed young woman about my age, looked up confused. “Results?”
“Yeah, so we can see our times.”
“Oh…” She looked confused and I had genuine sympathy for this girl, who had obviously no idea what Callie meant, “I think they’re going to announce them.”
Callie thanked her and whispered to me, “That was a test.”
I just laughed; you get what you pay for, right? I was still having a good time, and the organizers had obviously tried and got a few things right in their fourth-annual race: there was coffee, bananas, breakfast bars, oranges and water for the runners. We took our packets back to the car and took bets on how late the gun time would be. We each guessed over 15 minutes and walked back to the start area. We were told that there was a golf cart on the way, and when we saw it, we should follow it to the actual start line. Sure enough, the golf cart appeared in the crowd and we began to walk.
A shy woman in her mid-fifties approached me. She told me that she liked my shirt and that she was from the Pittsburgh area herself, the Beaver Falls area, specifically. We had a nice chat and I found out that this was her first race. Her daughter had asked her to run with her, but unfortunately had been called away on business. “But I’m still running it,” she said in her little mild-determined tone.
We wished each other good luck and lined up. We waited, asking Ryan for time updates so we could see who would win the bet. With a guess of an eighteen-minute delay, I was the winner.
I had planned on trying to beat my personal best for a 5k of 29.16, and for the first time in my life, actually race. As funny as it may sound, I’ve never done that before in three years of running. I just sign up and enjoy the people and the scenery. It had always worked for me, but the last race I ran (the Snowflake 5k in December,) gave me an appetite for passing people, although it was completely unintentional: I ran that with my roommate’s dog, who is badly trained and highly enthusiastic. She ran as fast as her little legs would carry her for the first two miles and a half miles, and I ran to keep up with her, starting in the back and making our way to the middle of the pack within seconds of starting. She’s not great at pacing herself, so she pooped out in the middle and I handed her off to Ryan on the sidelines, but she had raised my adrenaline enough to pass two girls in my age group in the last stretch.
The feeling was so good that I decided to work on my speed for this race. Unfortunately, a bout of laryngitis the week before threw off my training schedule, but as we started running, I told myself to forget about it and run fast. Passing people feels so good, even when you’re sick!
The course was one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen. We started off on a little road next to the highway, then moved onto a parking lot, then an area beside the hotel’s dumpsters, then near construction, back to another parking lot…I kept thinking there would be a pretty view of Opryland just ahead, just a little further, and kept going. The entire way, there were confused-looking construction workers and drivers in cars and large delivery trucks.
I started coughing and slowed down my pace. A woman came immediately to my side and harshly asked if I was giving up on her. She seemed to be one of those get-it-done-now-and-get-it-done-right soccer moms with strict homework schedules and a PTA calendar on her fridge. I was surprised and said I had been sick.
“I’ve been following your pace this whole time,” she yelled, “Follow me. Let’s just get this over with.”
I said a little thank-you prayer and agreed. It was nice to have someone looking out for me. I was surprised to see that she was a lot faster than me; she must have thought I was better than I am, maybe that I had been pacing myself. If she did have any misconceptions, they were gone now, and I followed the harsh little tan woman all the way to the finish line, passing two big guys in the last stretch.
The clock said 27 minutes!
The exit process was just as confusing as registration. There were volunteers at the end who asked for the bottom part of my bib, which I’d written sloppily in sharpie, and stapled it to a slip of paper with the number 139 written on it. I met up with Ryan (who ran it in 20 minutes, which wasn’t even his personal record – what is he, a machine?) and Callie soon after (32 minutes) and we all stretched and discussed reasons why we couldn’t have all done as well as we did. Was the distance really right? Were there really as many people here as they claimed? Was it just that the course was ugly, so we ran it as fast as possible?
We finally decided on an answer (that Saint Patrick loved us and wanted us all to do well) and walked back to the car. I saw the woman from Beaver Falls and said goodbye, and I looked for my soccer-mom guardian angel but couldn’t find her. Possibly she was Saint Patrick reincarnated only for the moment I needed her. Or maybe she was just as fast getting out of the area as she was the race. She seemed like someone who had things to do.
Ryan and Callie and I went to brunch after that, indulging in our earnings of potatoes, eggs, and Irish coffee. Glorious.
The official results still haven’t been posted, and I have absolutely no expectations after the experience. Ryan thinks we’ll get something in the mail in 6-8 weeks.