#WINNING!

This isn’t an entry about Charlie Sheen and his Twitter rants.

It’s about something far funnier… like me winning a 5K.

Wait. What?

That’s right. I won the “Mission 4 Mongolia” 5K by KB Mirage on March 14th. Not just my age division. The entire thing.

I feel like there should be a Barry-Bonds-style asterisk next to the whole thing. First because of my blazing time of 28:44. You don’t win age divisions with a time like that, much less the whole race. Second, and most importantly, because there were only nine people who signed up. Two of them walked most of the way, so really there were only seven runners.

But at the end of the day… I still beat the six running with me including three younger than me and one older who had previously run three half-marathons. And it was such an amazing feeling. I haven’t seen any pictures that were taken at the event but I’m guessing I had the biggest, goofiest grin on my face.

The girl who organized the whole thing graduated high school in 2008. Sure, it could have been promoted better and some things probably should have been changed. But I can’t criticize because 3 years out of high school, I was doing nothing nearly as impressive as having my own non-profit and organizing road races. I was goofing off in college spending every spare minute studying and playing Halo 2.

I had no idea what to expect going into it. I was desperate to find some kind of road race in the Columbia area. The upstate (Greenville & Spartanburg) and the lowcountry (Charleston) have tons of races every weekend. Within 30 minutes, you could have your pick of charity runs to choose from in either location. But in Columbia? The pickings are a little slim. The only reason I found it was because it somehow managed to be listed on the Running In The USA website about two weeks before the race. And after talking with some of the runners afterward, it sounds like I signed up early.

I showed up alone since everyone in my family was spending the weekend in New Jersey to see my brother graduate from US Coast Guard bootcamp (big congratulations!). I checked in and noticed there was almost no one there in running gear. A good many were volunteering (easily ended up being at least double the volunteers than runners). Normally, that can be really good or really bad. Either it’s an up-start race and only the hardcore runners and former track kids know about it. Or it’s an up-start race that’s so small even the hardcore guys don’t know about it. I thought it was going to be the former, given that at least four of the people “looked” like runners. Luckily for me, it ended up being the latter. But I didn’t know that at the time.

Come race time, we lined up behind a police car (yes, we had police escort in front and behind us to clear traffic… 2 cops for 9 runners… Let that sink in). As I said, I had no idea what to expect, so I didn’t fly out of the gate when we started. I fell into fourth place almost instantly as two girls ran together taking the lead and a guy between them and myself. My game plan became to just keep them within 20 or 30 feet, as long as I could keep pace. That way, I wouldn’t kill myself by setting the pace for the field but would keep them within striking distance if I kept up the whole run.

The course had three decent sized hills sprinkled in. Heading up the first one, I shortened my stride but kept the beat of my music. I’m assuming the front three were keeping their stride and pace the same because I started reeling the group in pretty quickly. Just about the time I caught them, we peaked and headed downhill where they all left me as quickly as I had gained ground. Before the second hill, I passed one of the girls who had originally been leading. One down, two to go. And heading up the second hill proved to be the undoing of girl #2. I had almost caught the new leader by the top of the hill. And same as last time, he left me going down the backside of it. All that’s going through my head now was “Hey, 2nd place is respectable and better than I’ve ever done before!”

A little less than 1.75 miles in, the course leveled out for a nice stretch. I pushed to close the gap and ended up 10 feet or so behind the leader. The plan was still to stay behind as long as I could so that I wasn’t exerting more than I had to by setting the pace, so I just settled in behind him. At 2.4 miles, the last hill started up. I jumped all over it and managed to take the lead before it crested. A quick glance behind me at the top revealed that the new owner of second place was walking. If there’s a bigger natural high in life, I’ve never experienced it. Knowing you just passed your competition on the toughest part of the course while watching them collapse under the pressure is such a confidence booster. We still had to go back down the hill though. To me, it wasn’t a matter of if the group passed me going down, but when.

But a strange thing happened on this last hill. I’m not sure if it was my new-found confidence or everyone else’s new-found defeat, but I opened up the lead while everyone either walked or slowed to grab water. I made the last turn and almost sprinted the last 0.2 miles. I caught the volunteers off guard. The lead cop later asked where I managed to find the energy to finish like that. And the only answer was my over-sized grin.

I won by 30 seconds. I didn’t think it sounded like a lot at first. But given I was all but tied with 2nd place with about half a mile left, that means I killed him in the last stretch. I caught my breath after crossing the finish line and hopped into the group of volunteers to cheer on the rest of the crowd. All but one of the runners finished with a pace under 10 minutes per mile, which I thought was pretty impressive. Once everyone had crossed, they passed out prizes: $100 in Dick’s Sporting Goods gift card for 1st, $50 for 2nd, and $25 for 3rd. They also had gold, silver, and bronze medals that one of the adopted Mongolian children there handed out. Just a fun way to end it all.

It was enough motivation to find more runs. So this coming Saturday, I’ve managed to convince my mom, my now-in-great-shape brother, and his fiance to run in the Jailbreak 5K in Lexington. I’ll go out on a limb and say there’s no chance I win this one my age group.

But nine people be damned, I’ll forever be able to say I’ve now won a 5K road race!

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6 Responses to #WINNING!

  1. Karen says:

    You won! Congrats! It doesn’t matter how many people were in the race, you still won!

  2. RMJinAK says:

    Karen said what I said: you won a race! All the years I’ve been running (and now walking) them, I have never come close to even an age group. I’m pretty sure that I cannot beat the over 60 women’s group :)! All I have to show is the “participant” medal for a couple of runs. But it has given me an idea – I think that I will organize my own race and not advertise it. With my running speed, I would probably lose to some average jogger who just happened to be on the trail that day and decided to run just ahead of me. But congratulations! Now you have to get your time down for the CRBR to under 53:00 so you can beat my best time there. It is well within your ability!

    • There’s over 400 runners in the one I’m doing this weekend. I’m trying to find a goal for this one… I doubt I’ll come close in my age group (25-29). Maybe finish in the top 100? Beat Stephen? Under 28:00? We’ll see!

      • RMJinAK says:

        Hey Matthew – it’s been two weeks since your last entry. I am looking for another chapter in the continuing saga, so get back to writing! Love ya!

  3. Pingback: Coons and Cookouts | Nanu's Nation

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