Happy just to finish
July has to be the worst possible time of the year to run a race. And yet, that’s what I did a week ago when my family and I participated in a 5K run in Omaha.
It’s a run my extended family organizes in honor of my late cousin, Justin Nealon. Justin enjoyed playing sports and loved running especially. He ran well enough in the 2003 Chicago Marathon to qualify for the Boston Marathon the following year. Unfortunately, Justin was killed in a car accident that winter at the age of 22. My family started the annual 5K “Run for Justin” that year to honor Justin and his favorite pastime.
I had missed most of the runs because of work or some other conflict, but this year I decided that it would be worth the drive to Omaha since it meant so much to the family to have all the cousins present.
It was hard to prepare for the run since the two weeks prior were scorching hot. There was never a comfortable time of the day I could practice since the temperatures were rarely ever below 80. I was worried about even finishing the race since I had only rarely run as far as five kilometers in practice, and I had never run five kilometers in a race. I planned to run in a local 5K in early May but a sudden foot injury sidelined me the day of the race.
The race took place at a large park in West Omaha called Zorinsky Lake Park. We arrived at the park almost an hour early to see our relatives and to stretch out. Luckily, the race began at 8 a.m. We hoped the blistering heat would do us a favor and stay away for at least a few hours.
The sun was shining brightly that morning. There were a few water stands along the track at which volunteers handed out cups of water to the runners. It was hard to drink the water, not only because I was moving but also because I was breathing heavily and I didn’t want it to go down my windpipe. By the time I came to the last water station, I made no pretenses of trying to drink the water and just poured it on my face.
The path we ran on was usually about eight feet wide, which was sometimes large enough to accommodate three lanes of traffic – and that’s exactly what it reminded me of. We all seemed like cars on the interstate jockeying for position in the left-hand lane.
One sight I won’t forget was a man who was running the race while pushing his child in a baby carriage. The thought that entered my head when I saw that was, “Andy, you cannot get beaten by a man with a stroller.”
The last 100 feet or so of the race were on a downhill slope, which I couldn’t wait to get to the bottom of. The only food that seemed appetizing at the time was watermelon, which they had plenty of at our tent. What amazed me most about the race was that the winner, who finished in just under 16 minutes, had another 5K race to go to later that day! And to think I was happy just to finish.