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State Fair Parade Run

August 10, 2012

Do any of you have “that friend” that is just so many degrees of all-natural friggin’ awesome that you genuinely feel like your life is better simply by knowing them? That it is truly your honor and privilege to consider them your friend, especially if they consider you one of theirs?

I am extraordinarily lucky in that I have several of them. Kelly and Russell. Jeff. Rodd and Lisa. Doug. Patrick and Gina. Just to name a few. (And, for what it’s worth, damn near all of them I know thanks solely to the giant pile of hot steaming amazeballs that is Twitter.) This post is about a 2-mile run, but as it relates to the type of friend noted in the first paragraph, this post is about Gina.

As some of you know, right around this time last year, Ian joined the cross-country team at school, and really enjoyed it. And got really good at it. Watching him run not only instilled a great sense of fatherly pride, but also one of guilt for being such a doughy, out-of-shape ball of goo fat bastard. So, I decided I’d try to start running. Being a complete novice not just to running but pretty much anything even remotely resembling exercise, I knew I’d need some help. Pointers. Advice. Anything I could get. I wasn’t looking for a trainer, a coach, or even a mentor, to be honest. Just wanted someone I could talk to about running and off of whom I could bounce some questions.

Enter Gina.

Gina and I had been following each other on the Twitters for at least several months before I decided on the running thing. I had actually met her once. Can’t say we were close, but we had at least met before that point. Anyway, Gina had run in the Milwaukee marathon very shortly before I decided I wanted to start running so, perhaps to her misfortune, I picked her to be my running guru. I emailed her and asked if I could pick her brain about running. She [probably reluctantly] agreed, and I pelted her with a massive email full of a bunch of questions, to which she replied, “how about we have lunch and talk about it?” So a couple weeks later we met at Chipotle and discussed running. What my goals were. What my experience with running was. What her experience with running was. How she went about it when she started running. Shoes. Stretching. I asked her anything I could think of that might be remotely pertinent, and she answered everything she could. Best advice she gave me that day was, “Just get out and run”.

So I did.

I’m not exactly leaving “Back to the Future”-esque trails behind me as I go, but then, I have no intentions of setting any speed records. I have no designs on winning any races. All I want to do right now is to finish races. And that, I have done thus far. I ran the Jingle Bell Run 5K last November, the Homeier 5K in April, the Scheels 5K in July (hot as a crotch, that was), and now the 2-mile State Fair Parade Run last night. My eventual goal is to run (AND finish) a 10K, a half-marathon, and maybe even a full marathon some day, provided my knees hold out.

I got to run with Gina in the Scheels 5K as I documented here. (And by “I got to run with Gina” I mean “I got to run in the same race Gina happened to be running in”.) She was there at the end, cheering me on as I crossed the finish line in the brutal heat. She easily could have left and gone home and gotten in the A/C, but she stayed and waited [probably a good 15 minutes or more] for me to finish. That was pretty damned cool.

So last night was the State Fair Parade Run. Gina had said she was going to run in the Parade Run, but at 5:15 (with a 5:30 start), I had seen neither hide nor hair of her yet. I texted her and she said she was on her way but stuck in traffic, but that she would be there shortly. They started lining up for the race, so I took my position in the back of the pack. Suddenly, there was Gina! She said that she couldn’t stick around after the race because she had to leave to go teach her dance class, which she would be late enough for as it was, but she wanted to make sure she found me to say hi and good luck. Again, pretty damned cool. She didn’t have to do that, but she did it. She took her place up near the front with the real runners, and the race stepped off.

I do believe I was literally the last runner to cross the start line. I wasn’t worried about that- a last place finish is still a finish. What I was worried about was the nagging pain I was having in my left shin, almost from the get-go. It wasn’t shin splints, it was simply this nagging pain I got in my shin every time I stepped onto my left foot. But whatever; it wasn’t excruciating so I ran through it. And I swear, I couldn’t have gotten more than a block and a half outside the main gate of the fairgrounds before there were runners on their way back already. And running fast. Talk about a kick in the junk. But hey, screw it–they were real runners and I’ve just started- and haven’t exactly been very strictly training. So I silently cursed them and continued on. As I got to where I was close to going under the train tracks, and could see the halfway turnaround point, Gina went by. I waved, she waved back, I got momentarily bummed as I reminded myself she had to leave as soon as she finished the race (foreshadowing alert), and I pressed on for the turnaround. I hit it, grabbed my water, and walked for a little ways.

Even though my legs were killing me- my calves, specifically- I think walking may have been a mistake. Starting back up running was hard, much harder than I thought it would be. I wound up starting to running and stopping to walk three more times before I got back to 9th St. approaching the main gate. After a while I took a glance at my iPhone, and RunMeter showed I had gone 1.75 miles. So I said, out loud even, “A quarter mile. You can make a quarter mile.” So I stepped off running again.

By this time, my calves were screaming and starting to cramp. Every step was starting to hurt. (I know, right? “It’s a two-mile race- what a puss.” I felt the same way.) To make matters worse, for about half a block I had to dodge rocks being thrown at me (well, into the street in my general direction) by some of the little urchin children along the parade route. I have sweat running into my eyes and severely dicking with my contacts, so now my eyes are stinging. But then…

I look up, and guess what I see? None other than Gina running in my direction. I thought, aw, that’s nice, she’s running out to say goodbye on her way back to her mom’s house where she parked. Just as I started to form the words to say “Bye, Gina”, she turned around and started running alongside me toward the finish line. So NOW I’m thinking, not only do I not want to walk any more because I’m so close to the finish line, but now I can’t start walking, because if I do, I’ll TOTALLY look like a tool in front of my “hero”. She kept with me, step for step, and considering how fast she runs, I can imagine how hard that must have been for her to run that slowly. She was giving me encouragement along the way, telling me to breathe, saying “you can make it”. I think at one point she actually kinda punked me out by saying something like, “You’ve run 5Ks and you can’t finish two miles?!” (Gina, if you’re reading this and that’s not what you said, I apologize, but that’s what I remember hearing! 🙂 )

So now the battle between will and lack of strength begins. I’m so close- about a couple hundred feet from the finish line- but my legs are in such pain (due largely to dehydration, I think) that I’m literally groaning with every other step. I even started falling behind Gina, who was already running much slower than she is comfortable doing. But I had to finish. And finally, I crossed the line and I heard the beep. I got that rush again of “I finished!” mixed with “Thank God THAT’S over!”

According to the race results that were posted last night online, here are my results:

2012 State Fair Parade Run
Thursday, August 09, 2012 John Stearns

Age 44
Gender M
Bib # 1284
Overall Place 399
Age Group Place 24 M 40-44
Gun Time 00:27:43.3
Chip Time 00:27:10.5
Pace 13:35

Considering there were 407 runners, a 399th overall finish sucks. But I don’t look at it as having finished 399th out of 407 runners. I look at it as having finished. I was dead last in my age group, as well as the very last male of any age to finish, but so what? That’s not what it’s about for me. It’s about finishing the race, and trying to improve my time. I am realistic enough to know I’ll never win a race, and that’s okay. I actually like just getting out there and running. I’ll get better, if I keep at it, and even if I don’t [get better], I’mma continue doing it as long as I’m physically able to do so. [knock knock knock]

However, the biggest thing I’ll take away from last night’s race is how my friend Gina, already well late for her dance class, not only waited for me to finish, but she came running out to me and ran with me the rest of the way. She easily could have (and probably SHOULD have) left so she could get to her class, but she stayed. For me. That was simply friggin’ HUGE. Even stayed and talked with me for about 10 minutes after I finished.

That final time I went from walking to running, as much as I wanted to run the rest of the way, I truthfully don’t think I had it in me physically to do it, so I was starting to work out in my mind how much further I could walk before I absolutely had to start running so I could cross the finish line on a run. Having Gina alongside not only kept me running, but I believe also kept me under 30:00.

So Gina, I thank you profusely. You may not think what you did was that big a deal, but trust me- for me, it was absolutely huge, and it meant the world to me. I’mma keep trying to improve, baby step by baby step, and hopefully one day be able to push you to go faster because of my being hot on your heels. One day. 🙂

think she told me she is going to run the Abe’s Amble 10K on the last day of the fair next Sunday, but I’m just not there yet. Hell, this two-miler last night kicked my ass. But I will be running the Jingle Bell Run 5K again in November, and there is a 5-miler along the Lost Bridge Trail from Springfield to Rochester in October that I’m very seriously contemplating. Lot of time between now and then… I just have to make myself get out there and run, if for no other reason than to improve my cardio and, hopefully, the length of time I can actually run before I have to start walking. If nothing else, I need to “cheat” and go use the treadmills at the Y when the weather sucks. I hate running on treadmills- breathing in a nice climate-controlled gym is a hell of a lot easier than breathing outside in wind, humidity, rain, cold, heat, whatever. Plus, yes, you can increase the incline and speed of the treadmill, but the treadmill is still doing all the work. All you really have to do is find a speed you can keep up with without sliding off the back of the treadmill and looking like a total dweeb. It’s still providing the momentum for you, whereas outside, you- and ONLY you- provide the momentum.

But let me say one more time, thank you SO much, Gina, for staying and coming to get me. It meant a lot to me. I genuinely feel bad for keeping you from your dance class for so long, but I’m very appreciative and extremely grateful!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2012 2:28 pm

    FYI, St. Patrick is holding a benefit 5K on 9/29:

    Also, a treadmill isn’t really cheating. You still have to run, which will get your heart rate up, which is the whole point of cardio. As long as your heart rate is elevated and you are still breathing, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Cardio is cardio.

    And nice job on the run. At least you’re out doing it.

  2. August 13, 2012 8:23 am

    That is seriously inspiring, bro. And I love those intense moments of generosity; sometimes it’s something that wasn’t a huge deal for the other person but it came at the right moment, and when you were emotionally vulnerable, and ends up meaning a lot.

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