Y A Y ! I W O N ! — Sorry for the inordinate amount of horn-blowing, and I hope I didn’t startle anybody, but I’m kinda giddy about the fact that I finally won a race. It’s always been in the back of my mind that it would be so cool to actually be at the very front of a race. I’m a pretty fast guy for my age (59) and usually finish in the top 10-15% overall in races, and I’ve done pretty well in my age group, but when it comes to actually being first overall in a race, that’s a position normally reserved for the very fastest and usually much younger folks. Since I only started running at the age of 56, I’ve never had to worry about whether or not I might actually win a race, and I’ve been quite content to just do well in my age group. A few times I’ve been fortunate enough to finish 4th or 5th overall, but there are almost always a few young guns out there who are more than happy to keep me firmly anchored in the reality of my advancing age.
This was a small race and the 5k and 10k runners all lined up together. I wasn’t sure who was running what but there was no sign of the high school cross-country runners that I heard would be at the race, so I was glad to know that I wouldn’t have to be chasing them the whole way. Within about 10 seconds of the start of the race I was running down the road in first place, which is a position where I’ve seldom found myself in a race. I didn’t dare look back for fear of somebody ready to pounce as soon as they smelled my fear.
About a mile or so into the race the 10k runners took a left turn while the 5k runners went straight ahead. I took the turn and ran up to a point to where I would be able to see who was behind me. I turned for a second and the only runner I saw, maybe 50-100 yards back, was my friend Heather Vellers. I could tell it was her with just a glance because we were both wearing our bright yellow Gaston County Runners singlets. I turned back around and followed the police car around several neighborhood streets and in a while the 10k route caught back up with the 5k route, so for the next half mile or so we were all running together and I was mixed in with the 5k runners.
I didn’t bother to look back again while both races ran together because I still didn’t know who was running which race, but after the 10k separated from the 5k again I waited until I was at the top of a fairly large hill and took another peek back, but as far as I could see there was no one behind me. It seemed a little odd for me to be out there all alone with a police escort, and I hoped that he was on the right course. Every once in a while I would be reassured when I spotted the orange arrows we were told to follow at the beginning of the race.
Although it’s close to my home town of Gastonia, I haven’t spent any time in Stanley. The race was described as a “killer hillfest” and that’s all I knew about the course. I couldn’t imagine THAT many hills in Gaston County, but lo and behold, it almost seemed as though they borrowed some hills from other places just to add them to this course. I’m not crazy about running hills and I don’t do much hill training, but I don’t worry about them either. I figure we all have to run the same course so that levels the playing field. On the steepest hill in the race, which was part of the out-and-back route, I had to put on the brakes on the way out so I knew I’d have trouble coming back up it later in the race. I felt a little dorky on the way back when I stopped to walk two times as I climbed that single hill, wondering what my police escort might be thinking about the first place runner taking walk breaks in the race.
A few more times I looked back to see who might be stalking me, but I never did see another runner, and when I hit the 6-mile mark it looked like I would finally win that elusive first race. As I approached the finish line, there was my wife, best friend, and biggest supporter jumping up and down and cheering me on along with many other folks who had already finished the 5k or were waiting for other runners. It was definitely a goose-bump moment for me, and no doubt one of my proudest and most memorable moments as a runner. And finally I had an answer to a question I’ve asked myself many times: “Do you think I’ll ever win a race?” Yep.
|Some of the Gaston County Runners at the Race|
4 – 1-10 Website (Information, results, registration, photo links, etc.)
3 – 1-10 Awards (Quality of medals, trophies, etc.) (1 to 10)
3 – 1-10 Awards Presentation (PA system, winning times, etc.) (1 to 10)
5 – 1-10 Food for Race Participants (1 to 10)
7 – 1-10 T-Shirts (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
4 – 4/6 Part of Race Series (Grand Prix, etc.) (6=Yes and 4=No)
0 – 0/5 Professional Photography (5=Yes and 0=No)
4 – 4/6 Chip Timing (6=Yes and 4=No)
3 – 3/7 Certified Course (by USA Track & Field) (7=Yes and 3=No)
6 – 1-10 Course (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
9 – 1-10 Parking (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
5 – 1-10 Entertainment (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
0 – 0-10 Age Groups (10 if 5-year groups; 0 if 10-year groups)
0 – 0/5 Indoor Shelter from Elements (0 if none; 5 if provided)
4 – 1-10 Bathroom Facilities
10 – 0-10 Other (Extra credit for creating a race I could actually win!!)
TOTAL – 67
1st Overall Male: Richard Hefner (44:09)
1st Overall Female: Heather Vellers (48:08)
Total Finishers: 22
Age Group: 1 of 2
Overall: 1 of 22