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By CARRIE LUGAR SLAYBACK
(50PLUSWIRE) Sunday, 2/6/22, 6:30 a.m.—I drove right through the Huntington State Beach guard gate. Race day free beach parking allowed me to pull up to the boardwalk and leave my old car behind as I arrived at the Surf City 5K (3 mile) Race. This race runs right down the middle of Pacific Coast Highway. I’ve never figured out how they close down California 1, the major coastal highway, but they do.
I’m a 78-year-old female “runner.” It’s painful to describe myself as “former marathoner,” but since I’ve slowed to a 17-minute-mile senior shuffle, I would finish a marathon in seven-and-a-half hours. By then marathon organizations have folded up their banners and left for home. So, a shorter race makes more sense.
With Covid, and the fact my former running partners have retired or moved away, I haven’t entered a race in years.
However, Ann, a friend from my now defunct running group, drove out from her new home in Colorado and invited me to run a 5k. I would not have considered signing up for the race without her. Ann wasn’t just any friend. A physicist, she was the smartest one in our former running group, the most bossy, and the fastest runner. Other members of the group called her “The General,” due to her uncompromising attitude.
“I have low expectations for this race,” I told Ann. “I’m a plodding old lady in my workouts. Friends can walk beside me while I’m ‘running.’”
“So you’ve given up?” asked Ann.
“No,” I told her. “I get out every day and do as many as 11 miles. Takes me all morning.”
“Just get to the start and run,” commanded The General.
I used to pull out first place in races, but now, besides being slow, I’m at the older end of my racing age group,75-79. I was much faster three years ago, so 75-year-olds in my age group should jog past me with ease.
On the positive side, the cool weather, together with the excitement of the race, gave me momentum. And then there were The General’s orders. We lined up at the start. That was when I discovered with a pang of disappointment I’d left my pace watch at home. I’d have no idea of my speed. Oh well.
Suddenly, the starting gun sounded, and I set out in the midst of a teeming swarm of runners—another energy shot.
I covered the ground at some unknown pace—no watch. I ran to the mantra, “Steady, steady.” Other races, I’ve told myself, “faster, faster, faster.” Not this time. I simply wanted to keep going.
A runner with a heavy step ran alongside me. The noisy-footed female was young, irritating—clump clump clump. I don’t like the sound of shoes slapping asphalt, but I couldn’t lose her.
“I’ll use her as a pacer,” I thought. My feet hit the ground along with hers. Irritation turned into inspiration. When we came to the “turnaround,” she accelerated and left me behind, so I concentrated on remembering and maintaining her metronome-like rhythm.
I’ve trained myself to shut out all extraneous thought while racing. Still, in the last mile, I couldn’t help but look to my right at the sparkling ocean as we ran toward the finish. I felt good going through the shoot. As usual, I forgot to look at my time coming in. Yet, I wasn’t even winded, knees didn’t hurt. Good race.
“How’d you do,” asked Ann who’d finished way before me.
“I have no idea,” I told her. “I forgot my pace watch and forgot to look at the clock when I crossed the finish.”
Ann shot me her, “You’re an idiot” look.
We met other old friends and shared beer and pizza. When it came time to say good-bye, I headed back to my car, but wait! I decided to look for the leaderboard telling race results.
When I found the leaderboard with my name and 31:34 beside it, I wondered what that number meant, NEVER thinking it was my finish time.
But guess what! I ran a 10 minute 11 second pace.
I got first place among ten 75-79-year-old females in my class, and I beat the same age group of men, which is unheard of.
I would have received a second place in the 70-75 women. Came in 638 out of 2211 entrants.
Nothing in my present running predicted I still had three 10-minute miles in my legs.
Boy, was that fun! I wanted to start racing again. I called Ann as I walked to my car.
“Hey, I followed your orders,” I told her, “and got a first.”
“Good,” said Ann, “next time put your pace watch out the night before, along with your gear.”
“Ann,” I asked, “How could I have run 10-minute miles when my workouts are close to twice that?”
“Race Magic,” she said. The meaning of “race magic” is the reflexive transformation of a runner into a competitor on race day.
Since Ann knows everything, I accepted her explanation. ISI
Carrie Luger Slayback is an award winning teacher and champion marathon runner. She writes on senior fitness and responsibly researched articles on health.