I turned off my inner monologue and his shirt helped me settle into a brisk pace behind a few kids who may have been 11-year-olds. The adults around me looked like they were about the same size and shape as I am, so I figured I was running at the right pace.
Now, I realize that was not the right call.
As we passed the first-mile marker at 6:40 or so, I realized I had made a mistake. It was more than a minute faster than I had been training to run the 5K.
I had been running the 3.1 miles on a treadmill since I got to Lumberton in November. The machine, which kept my pace, helped me wind up at about 25 minutes every time.
As readers, you might choose to read the fitness column every week. But part of my job is to read Mike Decinti and Kathy Hansen’s words of fitness wisdom every week. I joined a gym the first week I was here, and their columns have kept me running and StairMastering five days a week, nearly every week. But two weeks of laziness squandered my racing mojo.
Before the race, I met with a few people to see where all the runners had come from. I had never seen that many people on the street in Lumberton and it seemed to me that two or three towns full of people had shown up.
I started talking to folks to see where they were from and met Robin Jones from Pembroke. He had lost 25 pounds recently in an office competition. He was hoping to make it through the race in under 30 minutes. He gave me some good advice before the race: Running is just like NASCAR, you gotta get behind someone and draft — let them cut a hole through the air for you.
In the first mile with the wind in my face, and kids flying past me on all sides, I didn’t think, I just sped up. I never found anyone thick enough to draft. The people in front of me were more the beanpole body shape and I calculated their air displacement was minimal. I couldn’t keep up with them anyhow.
Somewhere in the second mile, the first water stand appeared like an oasis. “Throw it!” the guy behind me shouted at the Boy Scouts holding water cups for the runners. “Throw it on me!”
I realized what a brilliant idea that was only at the next watering stand a mile later, when I grabbed a water cup and tried to gulp while bouncing down the street. I think if someone had thrown the cup of water on me, I would have probably gotten more water in my mouth.
I was running down by the river and under pine trees, on roads that I had never been on before.
As all the other runners spent their energy having a strong third mile, I was busy thinking about how big Lumberton is when you’re not behind the wheel of a car.
The roads I had driven on before seemed like the longest roads ever paved by humans now that I was on foot.
The course took its final turn onto Elm Street, and I pointed myself toward downtown. As the race neared its end, I started thinking that I was glad I wasn’t alone out front. I was busy last week and I hadn't paid enough attention to figure out the course before I ran, so I had a great excuse to not be first.
My goal was to run the 3.1 mile race in 25 minutes. I ran the first two miles quickly, in about 14 minutes, and slowed down for the third. But I had enough energy at the end for a kick that fooled those who had lined the streets to cheer us about my running prowess.
I finished in 62nd place out of 465 who had finished and been posted on the wall on Elm Street. My time was 23 minutes and 39 seconds, so I beat my goal by more than a minute.
Walking around after the race, I caught up with Robin James, the man I had met before the race. He wanted to get his 5K time under 30 minutes. He achieved his goal too, running a 28-minute, 28-second race.
After scouring the list of finishers and reading Devin Swann’s name at the top of the list, I wasn’t deflated. Jones and I ran as fast as we could and beat our goals. We were never competitive to win the Rumba, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get anything out of it. I got a healthy dose of adrenaline, a set of sore hamstrings and a reason to get back on my exercise program that I slipped off of over the past few weeks. October’s Chevy to the Levee is only seven months away.
— Neal Timpe is the Features editor at The Robesonian. Contact him at (910) 272-6149 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.