PUMPING IRONY: A 5K for the Ages

When my son showed up for the Commitment Day 5K, I had a feeling I’d be running rather than walking.

Late last night, as My Lovely Wife and I were enjoying a quiet New Year’s Eve, I got a text from my son, Martin, who notified me that he had registered to run in the Commitment Day 5K on New Year’s Day. This was a little surprising, since he hadn’t mentioned it since I invited him to join me a week or so ago, but I had to applaud his initiative. I knew it was going to be brutally cold in the morning. I called him back just to make sure he knew what he was getting into and then offered to give him a ride downtown.

It was indeed a cold beginning to 2013: 4 below as we headed downtown around 9. But I was well bundled, my feet encased in two pairs of warm socks inside my leather work boots, my new down jacket covering a couple of layers of shirts above my jeans. I wasn’t worried about getting too cold, once I started walking.

That was the plan, anyway. But Martin’s 22 years old and he was wearing sneakers, a hooded sweatshirt and a look of determination. He clearly wanted to run. This was his first 5K (as it was for me), and as we headed out of the Metrodome toward the starting line on Third Street, he was already bouncing around with a surplus of uncontained energy. The crowd (I’m guessing there were several thousand crowding the street) was moving pretty slowly, so I began jogging in place, more or else, just to keep the blood flowing, and was surprised to discover that my old work boots might not be that much of a hindrance.

So we set off at a slow jog, making our way through the clusters of walkers/runners, most of whom were treating this as more of a New Year’s party than a race. It took us a good five minutes, I’d say, to actually reach the starting line, by which time we found plenty of room to maneuver. My knees weren’t complaining and my calves felt loose, and I seemed to have plenty of wind, so I plugged along. Martin ran backwards from time to time, just to make things interesting. At the 1-mile marker, we both slowed to a walk. Nearby, a young man and woman were pulling a wagon with a large speaker blaring various forms of South American music while they loudly promoted their Zumba class. Another couple, wearing gorilla suits, were posing for photographs as we passed. A young woman in a tutu jogged past us.

“Let’s go,” Martin said.

I was concerned that any slackening of my pace would quickly lead to stiff muscles, so I was encouraged to find that I could resume my jogging without discomfort. At Martin’s urging, we picked up the pace (“The faster you run, the better it feels,” he argued) and we weaved among the crowd with some ease as we passed below the Third Avenue Bridge and the lock and dam a bit downstream. The Guthrie Theatre was in sight, near the top of a rather daunting hill that marked the end of mile two. I wondered whether those diehard runners in the Boston Marathon felt the same dismay when approaching Heartbreak Hill as I was feeling at that moment.

Halfway up the hill, the sensible sector of my brain (which had been largely asleep until this point) sent a message to my legs that it would be prudent to take a little break. Martin, though, was unfazed and sprinted ahead as I slowed to a walk. “I’ll meet you there,” he said.

A few minutes later, the young woman in the tutu passed me again. And I could hear the Zumba Crew approaching. Across Gold Medal Park, I could see the crowd had turned back onto Third Street and was heading into the home stretch. So I gathered what remained of my resolve and pushed up the rest of the hill, blowing by Ms. Tutu and feeling a surge of adrenaline as the finish line came into sight.

I remember, in my youth, sprinting around the outside of the house on summer afternoons, with a TV announcer’s voice in my head calling the final lap of some Olympic gold-medal race in which I would inevitably overtake my opponents in the final few yards to break the tape in record time. Here on Third Street, someone with a microphone was cheering on the runners just past the 3-mile mark, and I found myself lengthening my stride, my boots clomping comically on the pavement, surging toward the finish line. “It’s another guy in jeans!!” he announced to the crowd as we exchanged a high five. I spread my arms wide as I crossed the line and took note of my time: 46:17.

Martin had finished about five minutes earlier and was there to greet me. We compared our times and agreed that we should knock off at least five minutes, given the fact that it took us so long to reach the starting line at the beginning of the race. Walking back to the Dome, we also agreed that this wasn’t the dumbest thing we had ever done. In fact, it was surprisingly enjoyable. Next time, I told him, I might even wear sneakers.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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