No one told me that the zoo has hills. I take that back. Patterson told me, but I didn’t believe her. We were sitting at the Ale House Friday after work when I reminded everyone, as I ate fried pickles and drank sweet tea, that I was running my first 5K race the next morning. There are a lot of hills at the zoo, Patterson said. No there isn’t, I countered. I have always lived within a few hours of the North Carolina Zoo and have been at least a handful of times, if not more. I didn’t remember any hills. Apparently I have early onset dementia.
Z and I rose at 5 o’clock, so we could hit the road to Asheboro by 5:30 a.m. I drive through Asheboro and past the zoo every time I go home to visit my family, so I knew it would be about an hour and a half of travel time. The race started at 7:30 a.m., so there would be time to pick up our race packets and stretch before the start of the race. I banked on there being even more time since I assumed no one other than us would be on the road in the predawn of Saturday morning. I totally miscalculated. It took two hours and we got there just in time to make it to the starting line. [I won’t talk about how we took a wrong turn and lost even more time because Z trusted the GPS over me. I also won’t mention how snarky he was when giving those misguided directions.]
I figured my frustration would propel me through the race. I don’t think Z wanted to be near me any more than I wanted to be near him, so he bolted through the crowd. The starting gate was a narrow walkway leading back to the African exhibits. The beginning of the race was incredibly congested with strollers and walkers and shufflers. The serious runners were mad because the congestion cut into their finishing times. I was just glad that everyone didn’t break out into a sprint. The zoo is a beautiful place for a run though. Unfortunately, It was too early for the animals to be strolling around their exhibits. I don’t think they had to be at work until 9.
I felt good starting out. I decided to keep pace with a girl wearing an orange bandana in her hair. I guessed she was about my size and my fitness level. By the end of the first mile, she left me. Clearly, we are not the same fitness level. I lowered my expectations and focused on a middle aged man and his son. The kid was probably five or six. The dad was a runner. He had that lean look about him. If nothing else, I could keep pace with the kid who was verbalizing the whines I was screaming in my head. Another hillllllll?! By the end of the second mile, they left me. Turns out that kid is pretty scrappy when promised a breakfast of ice cream. By then I was running down the hills and walking up them. I settled in beside a huge kid in his early 20s. You could tell he played the defensive line in high school football. He was probably 6’2″ and chunky. He huffed loudly as he pounded down the hills, gravity pulling him along. That’s OK. When I was keeping up with Orange Bandana, I could barely hear my iPod over the sound of my panting. We only had a 1/3 of a mile to go (Big Kid asked a route volunteer.) when I saw Z coming down the trail toward me. He had already crossed the finish line but came back to finish with me. He finished in 30 minutes and I finished in 44 minutes.
My goal when I concocted this goofy 5K plan was to run my entire first race without walking. Well, I didn’t meet that goal. I probably split the time between running and walking. I didn’t really keep up with it. I was more focused on avoiding runaway strollers on those freakin’ hills that weren’t supposed to be there. So new goal is this: By the October races, I should be running all the way. Then as I work my way through the November and December races, I just want each one to have a better finishing time than the last. I have a long way to go. To make it happen I need to follow my training schedule. I need to lay off the fried pickles. And maybe next time they should just release the lions to motivate the chubby runners in the back of the pack.