As mentioned last night, my nephew Max and I participated in The First Run 5K. I was… um… mostly ready, having been up late the night before (and several previous nights – hey, it’s the holidays) drinking. I knew I wouldn’t be posting a personal best time but since there were a lot of runners and walkers participating, and since Max is still getting used to running, I didn’t mind.

The weather was cold and intermittently raining. Max and I showed up early, around 10:30 PM, to pick up our race packets and scout around. They were serving food (bagels, peanut butter, crackers, cookies, Gatorade and water, um, yay?) in the tent in Pioneer Courthouse Square. Max was wearing running pants and a long-sleeved running shirt, I had on basically the same except for a stocking cap and an extra layer underneath the running shirt. Max wore his race t-shirt over the top.

My dad showed up around 11:00. He wasn’t running, but was planning on getting pictures of us at the start and finish. He also helped out by being our “bag check”!

The starting line was packed, and apparently the start line was a bit constricted – it didn’t cover the entire width of Broadway. Lots of happy people, a countdown to midnight, and the line got moving. I estimated at the time that it took us almost 3:00 to cross the start line. The event was chip-timed.

Once past the start line, we broke into a jog. The race ran uphill, south on Broadway for 5 blocks, turned left on Columbia, downhill to Front Ave., where it was essentially flat. We ran along Front for 15 blocks before turning around, and coming back the same way. Basically the course looked like this:

Start /________x________/ Finish

…with the [x] being the turnaround point.

Max, perhaps inspired by his excellent training run last week, did great. Just as we were reaching the top of the hill, Max explained that he had a side stitch. I told him to try to drop his shoulders and relax, and he just kept going and did not let it stop him. By the time we reached the mile mark, the side pain was gone.

He maintained a running pace well past the 2.0-mile mark. We stayed togther, although he started running ahead of me a bit after the turnaround and I suggested we slow the pace just a little bit. I kept giving him encouragement: “You’re doing great! We’re strong, just keep running.” …although the encouragements lessened as the race continued.

And encouragement also came from the sidelines. As we passed various bars and clubs, party goers would stand on the sidewalks, dressed to the hilt, waving their drinks and making noise, cheering us on. When we passed blocked-off intersections, cars would honk their horns for us (at least I think that’s what they were doing).

I was thinking ahead to the hill we still had to run up, and also dealing with my allergies and excess alcohol consumption and lack of sleep. But I didn’t want to hold Max back if he felt like running. I stopped a couple of minutes into the final full mile, Max kept going for a bit, noticed I had stopped and then stopped with me.

Panting, smiling, he said, “I was waiting for you to stop!”

I laughed. “That’s funny, I was waiting for you to stop!”

We walked for about 30-45 seconds and then went back to our jog. Again he kept pulling ahead of me. I kept thinking about the hill, and wanted to try to conserve some energy for it – perhaps not the best strategy in hindsight. The hill wasn’t that long, although it was somewhat steep, and it was followed by an easy downhill stretch until the finish.

I had to stop to walk again once we started up the hill. I let the hill psych me out, I think. Max noticed again, and waited for me. Once I caught up to him, I started running again, using the head-down, short-steped gait that are the best way to tackle a hill. “Max,” I said, “if you still feel like running, don’t stop for me. Just keep going if you can. We’ll meet up at the end.”

“OK,” he said, and that’s what he did. I had to stop to walk one more time on that hill, coughing up some gunk from my lungs (frickin’ allergies) and Max kept his pace. He rounded the corner when I was still a couple of blocks back.

Once on the downhill, though, I found my second wind. I just let gravity take me and broke into a flat-out run. My form wasn’t that great; my feet were slapping against the pavement when I should have been up on my toes more, although that’s hard on a hill for me, not being a sprinter. People could hear me coming. “Look out, this guy’s coming!” one guy told his partner. But this is how I tend to train; those sprints at the end of a long run train me to finish strong.

I could see Max ahead of me, still at the same pace, maybe a bit faster because of the hill. I could see the lights and the crowd at the finish line. I realized that Max might not suspect that I’d catch up to him. He was off towards the right side of the street, so I angled towards the left side. I tried to run quieter but that just wasn’t in the cards. I caught up to Max, and we were neck-and-neck, when Max suddenly broke into a sprint! He must have seen me! He raced ahead, but I just couldn’t dig up any more speed and, besides, I was laughing and smiling, proud of him for the performance he’d shown that night.

Just before I crossed the finish line, I saw my dad, off to the side, with a shocked expression on his face. After I had gotten through the gate and given back my chip, he came up to me and Max.

“Did you let him beat you?!” he said, laughing.

“I didn’t let him beat me. He just did it!”

Max was all smiles afterward as we stretched out and cooled down. I had messed up and didn’t get my time, but Max showed a total of 34:34 on his watch. I estimated about 3:00 to reach the starting line, which meant about a 31:30 chip time. An awesome job and significantly better than our previous race.

After I’d dropped him off at home, I mentioned something I had said before, that running is partly physical, of course, but also partly mental: just training your body to push past discomfort (rarely is it actual pain, just a mild discomfort). I asked him what had changed between the last race and this one. “I don’t know,” he admitted honestly. “I think it was mostly mental,” he agreed with me.

This morning, they have already posted the results (yay for chip timing!)

Max came in with a chip time of 0:32:15, and I finished just a couple of people back of him at 0:32:19. Our fastest race of the year, and Max’s personal best time.