If you’ve met me, you know that I love to run. Any time, any place and especially with anyone. I will celebrate my seventh “run-iversary” this coming week on May 26 and over the past seven years I’ve been fortunate to log over 14,500 miles during that span. However, with that high mileage, I’ve also suffered more than my share of injuries with stress fractures in both tibias, a broken fifth metatarsal in my left foot and most recently a fractured second metatarsal in my left foot. I haven’t run since the end of March and won’t be ready to run for a couple more weeks. However, I’ve spent as much time as possible swimming and using the weight machines at my gym for the first time in my life. Last week, I was cleared to start biking and that meant that I ended up logging over 50 miles on my bike. It was good to be back outdoors.
That brings us to this past Monday. My doctor told me that I could start walking for exercise in one more week. I’ve done a few other walks the last couple of weeks but really kept the effort under control to follow his orders. I learned about an open track meet that was scheduled for today at Pickerington North High School when the message went out to all the members of the Rogue Racers about a week ago. I jokingly commented back that if there was a competitive walking category that I would do it. Well, there was (3000 meter open race walk) and it was time to put my money ($6 entry fee per event) where my mouth was and sign up. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve walked in other races before when I’ve been hurt, but never in an official meet on the track where everyone would be watching me waiting for me to finish so they could move on to the other much faster events. Plus, what if I didn’t walk correctly and got disqualified? That would be embarrassing. I went back and forth about signing up, but it has been so long since I raced that I knew it would be just what I needed.
As the week went on, I discovered that they listed who had signed up. Like any good race stalker, I decided to Google my competition. There was Sye Hickey, age 30. Looked like he was a lawyer from Nashville, Tennessee. I figured he must be a serious competitor if he was coming all the way from Tennessee, so I started to get a little nervous. Then, there was George Riser. Age 93!!!! Yes, you read that right! I couldn’t wait to see what Google turned up for him and it did not disappoint with this link from five years ago – http://www.benrose.org/MythBusters/mb_Riser.cfm. I couldn’t wait to meet him!
Race day finally came today and with it some rain and I started to think that none of this would happen due to the weather. I showed up at Pickerington North to find a village of tents set up around the track and the meet was just getting under way. After checking in and knowing that I would have to wait a few hours for my event, I looked around for some shelter and made friends with the two athletic trainers who were from Ohio State. Pretty soon, we all noticed a guy in an inflatable unicorn suit. And he had a bib on. Of course, I had to go ask him what event he was doing and it turned out he had finished dead last in his fantasy football league and this was his punishment. He was getting ready to run the 100 meters and his name was Sye Hickey, so he was also supposed to be in the 3000 meter race walk with me as well. However, when he went to lineup for the 100 meter dash, he was told that he could not do the race in the costume and so he and his buddies left to help him catch his flight back to Nashville. I think everyone in the crowd was a little disappointed to not see him attempt that sprint.
That meant my race was down to just George and I. I knew that George had already checked in and I started to search the track to find him. Pretty soon I discovered him and his son, Bob, at the shotput where no surprise George is a national champion on the Senior Olympic circuit. I introduced myself after he had finished and taken second place in the masters division (over 30). We talked and then worked our way around the track to check in for our event. George got lane #1 and I was in lane #2. Bob said that he thought it would take George 34 minutes and I had turned in 21 minutes as my expected time, but I was afraid that might have been too optimistic of a prediction. The starter fired the gun and we were off!
Wow! I had forgotten how much fun it is to race. Running or walking, it doesn’t matter. The adrenaline of competition is a wonderful thing and it was also fun to finally be able to push myself again. Before I knew it, I had knocked off the first 200 meters and was shocked to see a 10:11 pace on my watch with seven full laps to go. I stayed pretty consistent throughout the rest of the race with splits of 10:54, 10:47, 11:29, 10:34, 10:38, 11:14 and 10:29 as I blew away my goal time and finished in 19:33 for a 10:49/mile pace overall. The crowd in the stands was very kind to shout encouragement throughout the race and I want to especially say thank you to Laura Kaulen and her daughter, Erica, for cheering for me on the back stretch all seven laps.
After a quick cup of water, I decided to walk the last two laps of the event with George. He was doing great and especially on the last lap the crowd really cheered him on and he finished with a big smile on his face. Sub 31:00 and well under his goal time. He and his son told me a few more stories while we waited to get our medals. Like how he started running when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president. And that he had been friends with Woody Hayes. And on and on. What a true gem!
It has not been easy to take another long break from doing what I love to do. But I’m kind of glad that I had this setback because otherwise I might never have crossed paths with George. He truly is an inspiration and I plan to follow his example of staying active for as long as you can in whatever way you can. His days of sprinting the 100 are over, but that doesn’t stop him from walking two miles at a brisk pace. Just like my injury didn’t keep me from working out altogether. I just had to modify things. That’s the key…do what you can!