You could tell from the look on his face that it was half amusement, half pitty. I plodded along up to where he was standing, holding back cars with just an outstretched palm. "You'll go up there, make a loop around the island, and come back." At least he was close to the start of the course, only waiting for about 12 minutes after the starting gun before I came along. His colleagues later on were not so lucky. I was bringing up the rear in a 5K for which I was about eight minutes late.
I had walked into the YMCA lobby to pick up my shirt for the Run for the Hills 5K. I was wrestling with the idea of just picking up my packet and going home. The race started at 7:30, and I pulled up just in time to watch the last of the group run ahead. An elderly woman asked what my bib number was, and then realized that I had not picked one up. "One oh four," I replied. "I'll go get it as soon as there's somebody at the table to give it to me." Well, if I was going to get a chip, I might as well try to run the race. I hurriedly pinned on my bib and attached the chip. They had already taken down the banner and starting gates, but the chip timer was still there. I had to be instructed which direction the course was pointed, and made my way down the road.
If you have ever run any kind of race, following the person or group ahead of you is the easiest way to zone out. When there is not a group ahead of you (and the race organizers are a bit less attentive), there is a sinking feeling you will take a wrong turn or miss one completely. Had it not been for the officer, I would have likely kept running until I reached downtown (or nightfall). I was also a bit less than motivated to push any physical limits. I was embarrassed to be on the course so late, so the only "running" I did was to try and catch up with the tail end of the group that started on time. It took about half a mile, but I finally rounded the corner and found them struggling with some of the massive hills on the course.
It was also a bit of encouragement -- I look at the final standings of race I participate in and know that I often near the bottom of my age group, and fairly far down on the overall list as well. Eight and eighty year olds habitually have better times. At least in this race, I noticed that a good portion of the runners elect not time their race, for one reason or another. I guess I can take some comfort in that my poor performances might actually look better if everyone was timed. Of course, it does not really matter -- my new t-shirt was going to be the only prize I aspired to anyway, and that didn't even require me to actually go out on the course.
My gun time was 52:54, while the chip came in at 44:17, representing the eight minutes it took me to get started. I was far from the last person to cross the finish line, but I was among the last that actually had timing chips. I was not nearly as tired after this one as I had been at the Tomato Fest 5K, mostly because the humidity was a bit lower, and the temperature was way lower. It was still slower by about two minutes, and my 2010 average pace is hovering around a minute faster than 2009 (14 minute miles versus 15 minute miles). My goal for 2011 will be to shave off at least another minute to get to a sub-40 minute time.
Six races down, and I'm on the fence about one in October. It has been a fun year nevertheless.