Race: “Walk Me Home…To The Place I Belong” 5K Run and Walk for Foster Care
Place: Veterans Park, Hoover, Alabama
Date: April 27, 2013
Let me be completely candid with you, first of all, when it comes to this race. I was not happy about doing it. Nope. I don’t travel often for 5K races, even when it is where my family currently lives. It’s too expensive for that short of a distance. And this 5K race was $30.00. Albeit, it’s for a fantastic cause, but…I normally wouldn’t have entered it. Not under normal circumstances.
But someone I used to work with wanted to run her first 5K. Originally, this weekend was going to be the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K race, but that was pushed back to next weekend, and I just happen to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a half marathon that weekend. So, with the race rescheduled, I set out to find us another one.
And I did. This race. I signed up. I thought she had signed up. Turns out she didn’t…and wasn’t going to. That news was dropped on me on Friday afternoon. Saturday morning was the race and I was driving straight through from Louisville to Birmingham that night after work to get there, get a couple hours of sleep, and then run.
Which, did sort of upset me. The whole reason I originally joined this race was to run with her in her first 5K ever. And now…I was sort of left to my own devices, making a very long car trip for 3.1 miles. Yeah…not a happy runner. Not one bit.
That being said, I got in just before 10 p.m. that evening. My dad came out and helped Cathy and I unload the car. And I left most of my stuff to sit so I could spend a little time with my parents before calling it a night. We sat up and talked for a little while, but then we decided that we best get some sleep. After all, I checked the race page on my way out at work and it indicated a 7:00 a.m. race start. EARLY! So, off to bed I went, setting my alarm for 5:20 a.m., which would hopefully give me enough time to get dressed in my running clothes, eat some cereal and a banana, and then head on out to Veterans Park with Cathy and my parents.
The alarm went off way too early for my liking that morning. But, I shut it off and hopped out of bed. I changed into my race clothes – a bright orange shirt, one of my running skirts, and my green compression socks. Why not? For my BondiBand…I was in Birmingham, Alabama. Nothing but my War Eagle band would do. Trust me. I put purple and orange extensions in my hair, and then finished up by getting my old running shoes out and onto my feet. Why old running shoes? At that point, rain was still a high possibility, so I figured…better to be safe than sorry. I’d leave my new pair dry and at home.
I went to wake up Cathy, and then headed downstairs to make up some breakfast. I intended to take a gluten-free bagel with vegan cream cheese with me to the race to eat afterwards, since my 3 year old nephew, Chace, had a tee ball game that morning. But that wasn’t until 10:15 a.m. And if the race started at 7:00 a.m., that would mean I’d have plenty of time to run and then hop into the car, come home, and eat some breakfast before heading out for the day. That being decided, I poured a bowl of Cinnamon Chex for Cathy and for me, got us each a banana, and warmed her up an Udi’s Gluten-Free Lemon Muffin, per her request.
My parents, Cathy, and I all scarfed down breakfast and I hurried to brush my teeth and get my Garmin and Road ID on. Then…we were packing into my parents vehicle and heading out to Hoover, Alabama.
I ran Veterans Park last year when I was down for the Making Tracks for Celiacs race. I had an idea of what this course was going to entail. For one thing, it’s the cross country course…so much of it is made up of loose gravel. Once you officially head out of the park and over toward the school campus, the path gets even trickier. HILLS. Dangerous hills with loose gravel so you can’t really fly down them and you have to watch your step and footing running up them as well. Yeah…this is a challenging course, with a monster hill right at the end. But, at least I knew that this time. When I was down here last year for Making Tracks for Celiacs…no clue.
We actually were some of the first to arrive. In fact, as we drove in, Cathy pointed out that all the signage for this particular race showed that it started at 8:00 a.m. Not 7:00 a.m. like the Web site told me. Great. So, now we were an hour early…which might mean I could be starving halfway into this race. I have a fast metabolism, so when I run I plan my meals and snacks and fuel accordingly. I didn’t bring anything with me, assuming that this would kick off at 7:00 a.m.
When I get there, I head over to the table that looks like where registration would be. No one is really manning it, so I ask the woman standing there if this is where I pick up my race packet. She seemed a bit lost, because, here I was, showing up way early, before all the volunteers were there, and before anyone was really ready. She asked for my name and went and plucked a bag out from a box. The volunteer handed me a waver notice that I had to sign for the City of Hoover. So I did. The bag was a nice reusable canvas bag from Birmingham’s running store The Trak Shak, and inside was my race t-shirt, a blue bracelet, a pin, and some gift certificates and cards for Sonic. I gave those to my dad, as I really can’t eat anything at Sonic and our location closed anyway. I did, however, note that there was no race bib with a number included. I found that odd. And I sort of got all grumpy and upset over the fact that I wasn’t going to have a number for this race. I even told my mom I’d rather just go home, forget I spent the $30.00, and run my 10 mile long run while it wasn’t raining, as it was supposed to be pouring when I was to put in my 10 mile run on Sunday. She said it was my call. I grumped and groaned about it to Cathy and she hurtfully said, “Well, we can just list this as a DNS (Did Not Start).” Oh, you should have heard me when she said that. No runner wants a DNS or a DNF (Did Not Finish). And honestly, just forgetting I even signed up for this race was what I was going for. The fact that she was going to hold me to it…give me a frickin’ DNS if I didn’t run it hurt me. It stung. I let her know that I didn’t like that at all. She just shrugged. And I pretended like I didn’t want to punch her for a moment.
But then…things started to get a little better…
More volunteers arrived. And soon a sign appeared on one of the tables that had race numbers on it. I allowed the girls manning that table a moment to get situated before heading up there to inquire about my race bib. Sure enough…my preregistered number was there. I was 716. The two girls handed it over along with two safety pins. I went over to where Cathy was seated and handed them to her. She hates just having two pins, so after declaring her dissatisfaction with that, my dad went over to the table and snagged two more for her. She pinned me up, and more racers arrived and got signed in to run.
A zumba dance thing was happening on the stage that was in the park. We watched that, briefly, and then a few announcements were made. Race time, 8:00 a.m., was fast approaching now, and I noticed a lot of the runners making their way away from the pavilion and toward the start/finish line. I didn’t line up yet, but as announcements and some information about the race and the charity that it benefited were given. We had a nice blessing over the race and then we all started to line up.
I was near the front, but not right up front. There were some cross country runners here, and quite a few native race veterans from the chatter I heard. Two ladies behind me were talking about their friend up at the front, saying how she always wins…so that was interesting. We were all just anxious to get started, so finally the announcer counted us down…and sent us off.
And so…I hit that loose gravel path running as much as I dared. I wanted to be careful and take this race easy. After all, I didn’t want to risk injury before my upcoming half marathon. That being said, early on I found myself passing quite a few people that had been closer to the front. I just kept moving, kept going, focusing on the path ahead.
Good thing too. About a quarter mile or so into the race, there was this huge gap in the course. It was at least, at least two feet wide with water running through it. Apparently, off to the side was a pedestrian bridge, but there were no volunteers to point the runners that way. I did what the guys in front of me did…and took a leap of faith. This fault line of sorts was nearly the death of me. I have short legs, and I barely landed on my toes on the other side, leaning forward in an attempt to not fall into the giant opening in the Earth. That was close. And it really rattled me. But, I just kept moving.
Signs and volunteers, many of them Boy Scouts, were along the path to guide runners (and later the walkers) in the right direction. I scurried around the little lake, dodging a fly fisherman as he worked his fishing pole, and continued on. I was hoping, as we rounded the lake and headed back toward the park that I wouldn’t have to leap over the fault again. Thankfully…I didn’t have to. Whew.
Heading back toward the park, we were diverted away from the finish area to head around the tennis courts. As I made the turn, Cathy peaked her head out to cheer me on. And one of the volunteers applauded and said, “First lady!”
Really? I was the first female?
That was new.
From there, we made our way across the road and toward the school campus. A water station was there, but I bypassed it and kept my momentum for the hill I had to climb. Not easy. I made it up and started down, realizing again that I needed to be careful of my footing on those steep downhills, which meant, leaning back and not allowing gravity to take over.
There were three men ahead of me, that much I knew. I was now entering the shady wooded area of the race, where the trees offered brilliant shade. But it was quiet. I could see flashes of the pink shirt of the guy ahead of me, so I pressed on, winding through the wooded path, watching my footing on the hills, until I finally caught up to him as he approached the last giant hill. He slowed to a stop, much like the guy ahead of me at Making Tracks for Celiacs the previous time I ran there. But, just as I did last year, I pressed on and took on the hill. It slowed me down, but I’ve trained on hills. This one was certainly steeper than the ones I normally run on, and made up of roots, gravel and mud, but I got up it and found my momentum again.
Besides, I couldn’t let the pink shirted guy beat me to the finish line. He was wearing western boots, not running shoes. It was a matter of pride and principle.
I dug in, scurrying back along the path, coming out of the trees. I ducked back under the bridge and emerged to run, once again, back toward the park. This time, however, I knew it was to the finish line. I also knew that there was a runner not too far behind me, pink shirt and western boots aside, he was still a contender. So, I just ran as hard as I could. His buddies started screaming at him as I started in toward the finish line.
I could see my parents right at the finish. My mom was holding up three fingers, shouting, “Come on, KJ! Come on, baby!” I crossed the finish line, paused my Garmin, and was handed a blue ribbon to go tie onto the Blue Ribbon Tree. Cathy hurried over and said, “THIRD OVERALL! FIRST FEMALE.”
Holy crap!! I wasn’t aware of being the third one in, but as no women passed me, I knew I was first female in.
Let me say this again.
Prior to the race, Cathy said as long as I wasn’t in the top three racers in, then I we could leave right after the race. Turns out…I was in the top three racers. But, no one fussed about that at all. The problem now was I needed to find out when awards would be given out.
First thing was first, however. Cathy pointed out the two guys who came in ahead of me and I went over to see if I could get a picture with them. They were happy to oblige. Nathan was our first place finisher and Jim was our second place finisher. Both were very nice guys and very good runners. We talked a bit about upcoming races, and then we all sort of split off and did our own thing until awards were given. Right…awards I needed to find out about those. So, I approached the same volunteer I first talked to that morning and she handed me a piece of paper with that information. Awards were going to be done at 9:30 a.m. This almost gave me enough time to go home, get my camera (for the baseball games that afternoon), change, and, most important, grab something to eat. I was starving.
My dad said that we would be cutting it close by going all the way home. So, my mom was going to send him, and I started rattling off everything I would need. He wasn’t sure he could remember it all, so my mom said she would go with him and Cathy and I could stay at the park and wait for them…and for the start of the awards. She said as long as they didn’t get stopped by a train, they should be back just in time. We saw them off and then went to sit down in the pavilion.
No sooner had we settled in, my mom texted to say a train had them stopped. Naturally. Contact went silent after that, and I was just hoping it was a short train and they were getting everything I had asked for them to grab, toast my gluten-free bagel, slap it with vegan cream cheese, and then make it back in time.
Unfortunately, they were stopped by a train on the way back too. And with the walkers having been sent off after a very, very long prayer, the time for awards was almost there. Cathy and I stood up and made our way toward the stage area. I stopped walking, glancing over toward the parking lot, hoping that my parents would get back in time. No sign of them. So here they were able to see me place in the top three for the first time ever…but they were going to miss the awards.
I was frustrated, and very sad.
But luck was with me again. They just happened to start with awards for the men first, not the overall winners, as most races do. So, this bought some time. They were just at the Men 20 – 29, when I saw my dad heading my way with my bagel and my mom a few steps behind him with my change of clothes. YAY! They made it.
I downed the bagel as they went through the awards, realizing that overall awards were going to be given at the end. I had fun cheering and clapping for those who stuck around to get their awards. I love seeing award ceremonies, even if I don’t win. And then…overall awards were given.
I was the first up, being that I was the third overall finisher. My award was a beautiful bronze medal and an envelope stuffed with gift cards for local Birmingham businesses and restaurants worth $116.00. So awesome. When my name was called, Cathy, mom, and dad all cheered loudly. I love my cheering section.
The awards for first and second overall were also awarded, to Jim and Nathan, whom I had spoken to soon after my finish and got my picture with afterwards as well. And then, I scurried off to change and head off to get the rest of the day underway. I had nephews to cheer for at the ballpark after all.
So, while this race got off to a rocky (literally) start, in the end, it was totally worth the drive. I had a good time running this challenging course and I was thrilled my parents were attending the first race I ever placed as an overall winner. It was a very proud moment…and they continued to let me know how very proud they were of me. Yeah…totally worth it.
No new PR this time…but one amazing run in the presence of the two people who mean the world to me. So glad my parents were there to encourage me and motivate me to push all the way to the end…to one of my best finishes yet. Not bad for a rocky, hilly, treacherous course, yes? Sometimes races have a way of making us stronger. I definitely found my strong in Birmingham.