For our second race on June 4th Andrea and I ran the NoDa 5k in Charlotte, NC. I had wanted to try two races in a day, and since this race happened in the evening it made that feasible. I had heard good things about the NoDa area of Charlotte but had never had an excuse to visit, and we could tie it with a chance to visit family (and make it a date night).
When laying out the weekend, Andrea and I planned to run the race side-by-side. After the 10k in the morning both us were hot and a little tired, and the idea of a casual and slow 5k still sounded like the best plan. As we got closer to the event, though, I felt better than I thought I would, and she sensed I was curious about what time I could run. The plan started to change, and it felt awkward.
When she first started running, Andrea and I sometimes would pile Monkey and Cottontail into a double jog stroller and run together. Neither of us ran more than three or four miles at the time and our average pace lined up fairly well.
With three kids we don’t get to run together as much as we once did, but on the few occasions we did, the situation had more stress than before. In the past year we both pushed ourselves to run farther and my typical pace dropped more than hers. She worried I wanted to push her to run farther or faster than she wanted, though neither was true. When I chose to run with her I knew my pace would be slower than what I might do on my own, and that was fine. I enjoy being out with her on the run.
In turn, I worried that I talk too much or that I seemed patronizing when I encouraged her. I worried that I excised the joy from her run, invading a space she needed to recharge.
We had unfounded, but natural concerns that made our runs together tense. It comes from a place of love for one another. We have found ways around it, but like any mental gremlins these have a way of coming back around.
Running with the Gremlins
As the start of the race approached, I knew that if we ran the 5k together I would have been fine and kept to the deal but my body would have kept urging me to go faster. I think she, in turn, would have felt this and felt obligated to run faster than she wanted. After some handwringing in the heat and humidity we decided to run separately and meet at the finish. I think we were both okay with the decision, but a little deflated and feeling we had let the other down.
We did line up at the start together, which we don’t typically do. She could “bill me” which meant bumping her hat into my back like a duck. We both laughed and relaxed, and enjoyed talking together for a few minutes. The start of the race occurs on a narrow side street off N. Davidson, so we were packed in tight. We wished each other good luck and shuffled through the start.
Jelly Legs and BBQs
The course wound through the neighborhoods surrounding the brewery and featured a nice mix of up and downhill segments lined with large oaks offering extra shade. In contrast to the race that morning, the turns on the course prevented me from seeing many runners ahead or behind.
The route showcased the changes in the neighborhood, as we passed tear-downs and homes in mid-renovation alongside the smaller mid-century homes that formed the staple of the neighborhood. Some residents came out on their porches to watch, some to cheer (one house holding a BBQ really got into the spirit).
I found a zone, though, and focused mostly on my own pace rather than worrying where I was in the race. Mile one was the hardest. The course starts on an incline and my legs felt like jelly. I wasn’t sure if I had enough energy for the race, but mile two and mile three went better. I settled into a pace and pushed myself to hold it.
I didn’t know the area or the course, so I wasn’t exactly sure where we would finish. In the last mile I thought we had about 1/4 mile or so left, but when I made the final turn I could see the finish about 200m ahead. I had planned my kick a little late, but ran as hard as I could through the finish with a time of 20:06.
This was a personal best for me, but I was a little frustrated I came so close to breaking 20 minutes. If I had realized the finish was a little closer than I thought it was then maybe I could have found seven seconds. I also could have skipped the 10K that morning and had more energy. Still, a PR is a PR and I was happy that my last mile of the day was my fastest.
Popsicles and Beer
After grabbing some water and my medal (yes, they had medals for a 5k), I walked back up the hill to cheer on other runners and wait for Andrea. She came along with a time faster than she expected and was happy with her race.
We didn’t run side-by-side, but I still consider that we ran together. We ran the same course at the same time and shared the experience. We could talk about the course, how we felt running it, and who we saw. We grabbed our free beer (NoDa handed out cans instead of pouring from mobile taps which sped things along) and enjoyed popsicles while we listened to the band and watched the awards ceremony. We continued the night over comically large pizza slices at Benny Pennello’s and then headed home, no gremlins in sight.
Neither of us knew how we would feel running two races in one day. If I was doing it on my own, I don’t know how memorable it would have been. But in this case I shared something with my kids for one and my wife for the other.