Although the 62 storey Aon Center race was a grueling affair, it only lasted a little over 8 minutes. Since I don’t have a coach, I find it hard to push myself to the limit on my own, so I do a race as my hard workout for the week. So the following day I went hunting for a fast 5k to compete in. One of the things I love about L.A. is the abundance of races every weekend throughout the year. With plenty of races to choose from I picked a celebrity studded 5k in Century City (L.A.’s other downtown, adjacent to Beverly Hills).
At 9:50AM it was already 86 degrees and climbing. I don’t do well in the heat and there was not a spot of shade anywhere on this hilly course, so I reminded myself that this was only a workout and not a race to be taken seriously. As I warmed up I felt surprisingly light and swift considering I had raced up a building the day before. Many of the top local latino racers were on hand and it was intimidating to watch them do their warmup strides. I was certain they would dominate this race.
This event was a fundraiser for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, so naturally there were a LOT of children gathering at the start line. I stepped right to the line to get a good position and not trample any children, but i was quickly standing in the 10th row as children began to amass in front of me and the start line. The race organizers asked the children to step back to the line, but they did no such thing. They were caught up in the moment and the fun of getting to run a race. For a brief moment I remembered when I used to think racing was fun. But those days are long gone, for it’s serious business now. I laughed at myself on the inside and looked to the other “elite” runners standing next to me on the line in the same perdicament. They smiled and shrugged their shoulders as if to say “they’re kids, what are you going to do?”. One of the men recognized me and told another man next to him that I was the one to beat. I was surprised by this and told him that there were many runners in the line that looked faster than me. He smiled at me and said “no, no, I know who you are”. I was a little embarrassed, I didn’t know what that meant, so I just looked away.
Moments before the gun went off I was scanning the crowd of children gathered in front of me trying to ascertain the best route through without hurting anyone. When I couldn’t find one, I just resigned myself to a very relaxed, slow start and decided to have fun running with the kids for the first 100 meters. Bang. We were off. Children swarming and swerving everywhere in front of me. I must have looked like a ballerina as I bounced and dodged about trying to avoid them. If felt good not to burst off the line. I wasn’t nervous, I was relaxed. Two hundred meters later I had moved beyond the mass of screaming joy and calmly set to getting my race on. Many of the other top runners had gotten through the crowd much faster and they were quite a ways ahead. I was about 20 places behind.
With calm precision I made a slight adjustment to my pace and slowly started to reel in the runners in front of me. Half a mile into the race and I had taken the lead. I didn’t notice the heat, only that I felt very smooth and the pace seemed effortless. We weaved through the skyscraper clad streets often looping back on ourselves offering a view of all the runners behind us. It was fun to acknowledge the other racers as I went by, it made the effort even less noticeable. At one mile only one runner remained with me. It was one of the latino speed demons that I had seen warming up before the race. He was lean and efficient and not breathing very hard. Mile two came quickly and the man at my side was still there, but the rest of the runners were now far behind. We came to a hill and I picked up the pace, my opponent’s footsteps could be heard trailing off behind me, so I picked it up even more. Despite the increase in speed the pace was still comfortable and I cruised the last mile increasing my lead the entire time. I was very surprised when I came across the line and saw that I had just run my fastest 5k ever. How could that be possible? I had a run a grueling tower race the day before, it was 86 degrees, I still had plenty of gas in the tank and I lost at least 20 seconds in the start. A flood of elation poured over me, I was in much better shape than I thought, and my goals for the year were not as far away as I had feared.
After being swarmed by kids and other runners wanting to congratulate me and get training advice from me (as you can imagine, my advice was primarily about diet), I did a short interview for the local KTLA news. Hopefully at least one person gets to see it and makes a change because of it. This one was for the children.