Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K – Hoover, AL (February 25, 2012)
Race: Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K
Place: Veterans Park, Hoover, AL
Date: February 25, 2012
Sometimes there comes a time in your running career when a moment will forever be etched into your mind. Something special happens. Something clicks. It means something to you. It’s yours to treasure.
One of those moments, for me, is this race.
I’ve run countless 5Ks before. In fact, for me a 5K is a walk in the park. I could do them in my sleep. Am I super-fast at them? Hell no. I’m not fast by any means. I steadily fall in the middle of my age group at races. But 5Ks are fantastic runs. I love doing them. They’re quick. A wide variety of people run in them. And they can still be a challenge at times.
The race at Veterans Park in Hoover, Alabama was certainly a challenge. But that’s not why this race is special.
I signed up for this race when I was in Birmingham visiting my family for Christmas. Why this race specifically? Well, it gave plenty of time for training…for my brother-in-law, Bryan. Bryan had taken up running a couple months before and was working his way through a Couch To 5K program. I went running with him when I was there. It was fun. He kept up a good pace. And we could talk about different aspects of the sport. He could ask me questions, which he did. So, we picked a race and it would become his first race. I was already looking at participating in this one as it was attached to a Gluten-Free Expo in town, so it was ideal. Perfect time for him to train properly.
The day before the race, my parents call me to let me know something else is going on. My grandpa would be driving back through Birmingham from his trip down to Florida and he was going to be stopping by. They mentioned to him that Bryan and I were participating in a race on Saturday and he opted to stay an extra day and come out for the event. I was thrilled. Beyond thrilled.
The trip down to Birmingham was easy. That night, we went out to eat at a little diner, The Depot, in Helena, Alabama. I brought my own slices of gluten-free bread and dressed it up with the lettuce, onion and tomato my dad got (on the side) with his burger. A side of tater tots and we were in business. I went to bed that night beyond excited about getting up the next morning and doing the race.
There was a chill in the air that morning in Alabama. In fact, I had to scrape frost off my car windows. But I pulled on my shorts and my Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bread t-shirt that was provided to me by the company and ate a light breakfast of Cinnamon Chex. I split a banana with my grandpa. He was already discussing with me walking the trail and picking up any discarded pieces of clothing to take to Goodwill. Or, perhaps, he’d work one of the water stations. SO cool!! Sometimes I don’t think my grandpa realizes that he’s 90. I’m okay with that because he doesn’t look or act 90.
We get to Veterans Park and manage to find parking. The packet pick-up and registration was easy to spot, so I hustled on over to get my packet. Sadly, they were out of my size t-shirt (!!!!), so I went a size up. My goody bag was a reusable bag from a local running store, Trak Shak, which does a lot of races in the area. Inside were some gluten-free goodies to enjoy (crackers, Larabars, etc.). Bryan, my sister and their two boys showed up next and I showed Bryan where to go to get his bag. They were out of his size t-shirt too (!!!) so he had to take one a size down. Note to those putting on the race: Pre-registered runners should always have a guaranteed shirt in their size. Just sayin’.
No sooner had we gotten pinned up, our friend Armand (who lives in Atlanta, GA), turns up for the race as well. There were hugs (and a manly handshake between Bryan and Armand), and we got him registered for the race. No t-shirt for those signing up on race day. Which…is too bad.
The three of us spread out to get a few easy stretches in while we waited for the announcement on where the start line was. There was nothing really set up for it…no sensor laid out on the terrain or anything. As we are doing this, my grandpa decides that he is also going to be in the race, as one of the walkers! Honestly, I was stretching and the next thing I know, he’s pinning on a number. I was so excited. I had talked about the course with my grandpa earlier. I had looked at the park online and it seemed like a relatively flat course. No one had really been over to the park to check it out, but every picture showed people walking or running along a level path.
The announcements were made that the race was to begin in five minutes and all participants should make their way over to the start line. The problem was…no one really knew where the start line was. People started moving off in one direction, so we kind of followed them, but it was more than a little confusing. Finally, it was pointed out that the race would start on the grass, between two metal barrels that were positioned there. Okay…
As we were heading that way, I spotted someone who sort of knew what he was doing, so I inquired as to what our route would be. He said we had to run across the field to get to the path to get the .1 in for the 3.1 miles of the 5K. Understandable. After that, we would run the path that the cross country team runs. That meant nothing to me, but as I am not ever in the lead, I figured that I would just go where everyone else goes as usual. One woman overheard the directions and commented about the path being the ‘one with the hill.’ Uh oh. Well, I figured we were in the middle of a field…how hilly could it be? Flat paths in pictures. Yes. This wouldn’t be so bad.
And it wasn’t. Except that this was more of a trail run than a road race. The path was completely made up of loose gravel, little pebbles that made running on it more like running in sand. Once you hit the path, you round a corner and you head into a wooded area where you round a lake, come back around, and head through a tunnel to hit up the other side of the park. The entire time, you are cruising along on this soft gravel, feet sliding a bit, sometimes hitting roots and pine cones. It was a challenge. I never ran cross country in high school or college. In fact, running was punishment in the sports I did play during my time in high school. College? I was too busy working full time and going to class to fit in any sort of sport. This was completely new to me and, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t prepared for it.
Be that as it may, I still took the race as it came. Instead of going with the downhill motion though, I found myself pulling back, so as not to trip on a tree root or slip on a pine cone. It was a different sort of race. A learning experience for sure. I had left Bryan and Armand at the start line, so I was hoping they were doing okay with the terrain. And, since the woman mentioned a hill, I found quite a few on this path. More than I would have anticipated. And every time I ran up one, I thought, “Okay…that was the hill she was talking about…”
I found the hill…about 1K out from the finish. I round a corner where this massive, steep hill loomed, hidden from the cover of the trees. I think I deflated upon seeing it. Here I was…so close to the finish…and this beast was what stood between me and the finish line.
“Oh dear God!”
Yes, I said that aloud. The runner behind me started laughing and as I started up it in a run, I heard him say, “Screw it, I’m walking it.” Oh yeah…this was THE HILL. No doubt about it. And as I crested it to the leveled off area at the top and started back toward the tunnel to head in to the finish line, I thought about my grandpa, who was doing this race. I had said flat terrain. Here we had hills. THAT hill to be specific.
After the pass back through the tunnel things got a little confusing. Runners weren’t quite sure where to go. Someone was waving in the distance to go straight, so the runner ahead of me and I did that, despite other runners having gone around the parked cars and through the playground to get back on track. Guess I got to that point at the right time. Next time…some cones to guide the way might be a good idea. I could see the finish line, so on went the last bit of speed I could muster (thanks to THE HILL) and crossed the finish line. My roommate, Cathy, and our friend Marc (who had moved to Birmingham last year) and was toting around his 1-year-old daughter, were there to greet me. I wasn’t happy with my time, but I wasn’t disappointed either. That was the first time I had run in those conditions so 27:48 was nothing to sneeze at. Honestly, I had been hoping on setting a new 5K PR, but it will happen another time in another race.
Now came the part I was most excited about. Bryan’s finish. He was still out there, but I knew he wouldn’t be long behind me. Cathy went to go get my mom, sister, and the kiddliewinks to come to the finish line. Marc and I stood around and talked for a bit. It was great. The excitement of the race was there. And we had brought signs for Bryan. Because every runner needs signs and encouragement during their first race. Or any race.
The family got to the finish line and we busted out the signs. Landon, who is five, was given a sign that simply said, “Run Daddy Run!” My sister had a sign that said, “Bryan: Today you are my hero!” Except she had pictures to take so I held that for her. Makes sense. And not but five minutes after we got everyone there…we see him. He sees us. His pace picks up and he runs down the final stretch to the finish line. And he crossed at 37:57 seconds. A great base to build on as he does more running. I was so proud of him. I went and gave him a hug and congratulated him. And he said that he had a lot of fun. I had been telling him that running in races is addictive because runners are awesome people and the atmosphere at these things is just…incredible. I think he now understood. He had a great time.
Armand was about 10 minutes behind him. When we saw him coming the cheer section kicked back into gear. Armand finished the race in 46:03. We congratulated him and talked for a bit about the run, about the path, about THE HILL.
And then…it was grandpa’s turn. We could see him coming. He was walking the race, but as we found out, was the oldest competitor in the event. It was so much fun to stand at that finish line and cheer for him. Chace, my 2-year-old nephew, scampered out to see grandpa as he was coming into the finish line. And Landon went to walk with him through it. Grandpa, at 90 years old, completed that 5K course, with THE HILL, in 55:12. It was so awesome to be in a race with him. He had to give up running a couple years ago, but walking he can do. And he rocked this race. At 90 years old, he finished a 5K in under an hour. That is amazing. How many 90-year-olds can claim that? I was so proud of him. There were more hugs and our race was done.
Armand had to go, and Bryan and my grandpa were going to head back to my parents house. My sister and mom stuck around for a bit, as we were going to check out the Gluten-Free Expo. But, it took awhile for the awards ceremony to start, and by then, my mom needed to get to the grocery store to pick up some items and get home because both Chace and Landon needed to eat by 11 a.m. and grandpa would probably want to take a nap after the exciting day. So, off they went and Cathy and I went to check out the expo for a brief walk through. It had been our intention to check out a few seminars, but my grandpa was in town, and I could go to other expos. So, after working our way around the tables and through the crowd, we headed home for a light lunch and some down time before hitting up a birthday party for two of my brother’s kids.
It was a busy, busy day.
Official race results weren’t posted until Monday, but once they were I found out that I placed fourth in my age division. The woman who came in first, was only 30 seconds faster than me. Wow. Overall, I finished 19th. Bryan was 13th in his age division and 59th overall. Armand was 17th in his age division and 92nd overall. And grandpa…he was 3rd in his age division (which consisted of a 67-year-old and a 61-year-old), the oldest competitor, and was 142nd overall. After scanning the list, I found out 172 people finished, which means 30 people came in after grandpa did. And the person who crossed the finish line last…was 26. I am overwhelmed with pride for my grandpa. He does things like this and I become the proud granddaughter and brag on him as much as possible. And why shouldn’t I? He’s amazing!
I hope that this race sparked a fire in Bryan to get him out and competing in other races. Not only are they great workouts, but races are addictive and fun. I hate when I don’t have a race to be in on a weekend. I hope he does more of them. I hope we can run more of them together. I hope Armand gets back into running, because I’d really like someone to run the Chicago Marathon with me in 2013.
As for grandpa…what can I say? The man is amazing. He is my inspiration…my road hero…for a reason. I love him dearly and thank him for being a light on this path to running.
Two huge things happened at the Making Tracks for Celiacs 5K race. Bryan competed and finished his first 5K…and I was in a race with my grandpa. I’m proud of them. Really, really proud of them.