October 5, 2013: 

Winship "Win The Fight", my first 5K 

Goal: To finish my first 5K with a time less than 30 minutes. 

Bonnie and I arrived at McDonough Field, in the center of the Emory University campus, around 7:45 am on Saturday morning, shortly after sunrise.  The mood was festive, with prospective runners of all ages, shapes, and sizes, gathering with friends and colleagues.  Several teams had designed matching shirts for the occasion.  I had already stretched out at home and was keeping loose through the opening announcements.  Around 8:20 am, the runners were directed to the starting zone, between McDonough Field and the Dobbs University Center (the “DUC”).  I took a position that I judged would be the middle of the pack, about 50 meters behind the starting line, with Bonnie watching from a few feet away on the sideline.  Most of the others in my vicinity were just standing around, but I decided to keep active with stretching and stepping in place while waiting.

The start and first kilometer:  At 8:30 sharp, a track gun sounded and the front of the pack began to move forward.  I started RunHelper with a 1-minute warmup, assuming that it would take about that long to reach the starting line, however everyone was moving very slowly in my area until at least a full minute had passed.  RunHelper began recording my run shortly before I reached the starting line.  As we crossed the starting line, a few people began to jog, but here I discovered that most of the people around me were committed to walking, so I worked my way around them at a slow jog, and made the turn onto the first straightaway, downhill toward Peavine Creek.  There were hundreds of walkers in front of me, who must have been on the course before the official start, and we runners were working our way carefully around our walking colleagues as we moved down the street.  As I reached the end of the street to turn left at the chemistry department, I was finally able to reach a decent speed, although still progressing carefully.  We made another left turn onto Oxford Road, continuing to gain a little more speed as we ran into the Emory Village traffic circle.  For some reason, the slight elevation going into the traffic circle was a surprise – even though I had walked through there several times each week - but I powered up to maintain my pace.  Coming out of the traffic circle, RunHelper sounded the first kilometer, and to my surprise my time was only 5:28.  So I can’t blame the crowd for slowing me down!

The second kilometer:  The race was now proceeding in earnest, moving eastward on North Decatur Road, and into the morning sun.  Fortunately I heeded Bonnie’s recommendation to wear sunglasses.  This was a major street and so the police reserved only two lanes for our race, to keep traffic moving on the other two lanes, albeit slowly.  The first part of this section was gently but definitely uphill and I was very conscious of working to maintain a regular pace.  As we reached the top of the rise in front of the Schwartz Performing Arts Center, the drum corps from Druid Hills High School played a lively rhythm to encourage the runners.  Passing the drum corps, the road sloped downhill.  The police stopped cross traffic at Clifton Road but I passed through the intersection quickly in case the roadblock was temporary.  As I passed the University Inn, I saw the 1 mile marker on the sidewalk to my left.   I was getting alerts every 0.25 km and maintaining a good pace for me, meeting my goal of staying below 6 minutes per kilometer.   As I approached the sharp left turn onto Haygood Drive, RunHelper sounded the second kilometer, completed at 11:30.

The third kilometer: There was a water stop in front of Druid Hills High School, but I didn’t really need hydration, and continued without slowing down, except to try to avoid stepping on the discarded cups.  I idly wondered who was going to clean up all of those cups, when I passed a 10-year-old boy on my left who was walking and looks utterly exhausted.  Then 100 yards later, the same boy passed me at a brisk clip, only to stop again up ahead to walk.  Oh, to be young again!  This stretch was relatively flat and we had left the walkers far behind, so I could move fairly quickly with the rest of the pack.  In fact I was occasionally passing other runners.  Then I was passed by a man with more grey hair than me, as we reached the back side of Egleston Hospital.  This spurred me to pick up my pace, and I recovered my proper position in front of him.  Ha!  But the joke was on me, because he soon passed me again and put some distance between us.   We crossed Clifton Road again, and the road turned downhill as we passed the construction site for the newest freshman dorm.  The three kilometer alert sounded, at 16:36.  Wow!

The fourth kilometer: The road leveled out at Fraternity / Sorority Row.  I missed seeing the 2 mile marker and was feeling some fatigue, and younger runners were passing me.  Did they start that far back?  Oh well.  I continued with a steady pace, amazed that some of the younger runners were maintaining a conversation as they passed me.   The road curved to the left to pass the Peavine parking deck, where a cheering section encouraged us forward.  Even the policeman was cheering for us!  I increased the length of my stride as the road moved downhill toward the chemistry building, now keeping pace with the other runners in the area.  The four kilometer alert sounded as we reached Oxford Road again.  A volunteer encouraged us with the news that we were beginning the final loop around campus, and RunHelper recorded my time at 21:56, two full minutes ahead of a 6 minute-per-km pace!  I told myself, don’t slow down!!

Crossing Asbury Circle, within sight
of the final line
The final kilometer: We reached the Emory Village traffic circle again, and took a sharp left turn through the main gate onto campus, then right past Glenn Memorial Church.  Uphill!  I tried to remember everything I learned in the good form running class, picking up my knees, and power my way to maintain a decent pace.  Some of the runners ahead of me were starting to slow and walk, and I managed to pass them.  We reached the Rich Building and turned sharp left, then immediately right to go uphill between Woodruff Library and the Goizueta Business School.  This could be my Heartbreak Hill!  I heard the voice of a small child behind me, and then a man pushing a stroller passed me, going up the steepest hill of the route!  Despite my best effort, I had slowed down quite a bit, but I was still jogging, not walking.  At the top of the hill, I made the final left turn onto Asbury Drive, toward the finish line.  There was the 3-mile marker!  Only 0.11 miles to go!  I tried to lengthen my stride as the road headed downhill between Candler Library and Cox Hall, but I was really tired.  Where is that finish line?  I looked ahead but did not see it.  100 meters to go: Usain Bolt could run this in less than 10 seconds.  It would take me a little longer.  As I reached Asbury Circle, I finally saw the finish line!  I powered up as fast as I could move.  Another runner on my left was slowing down, and I kicked up my steps to cross the line in a photo finish with that runner.  At that very moment, I heard Bonnie shout “Frank!” 

I finished!  RunHelper recorded the 5.0 km mark at 27:54 as I passed Cox Hall, probably actually the 4.95 km mark of the course.  I was tremendously pleased to learn that I crossed the finish line before 30:00 minutes had elapsed from the starting gun – and really appreciative that Bonnie captured the moment that I crossed the line, with the race clock in the upper right corner of the photo!  My official time was 28:22. 

I was pretty tired, and gratefully accepted a bottle of water and a banana from the volunteers as Bonnie met me and we walked into the cool-down area at McDonough Field.  The realization sank in that I achieved all of my goals for the race: (1) finishing alive, (2) finishing without walking, (3) finishing in less than 30 minutes.  I was exhilarated and thinking of my progress since I began training in March, when I could hardly run at all.  I thought, "I can’t wait to do this again!" (but not today or tomorrow, but perhaps Monday).  As I cooled down, the field slowly filled with other runners, who had all finished after me! 

Goal: To finish my first 5K with a time less than 30 minutes.  Achieved!

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