This race report is a story. An allegory. A what-if.
In no way does it purport to represent reality, or does it relate a tale of breaking race regulations and rules in pursuit of glory and earthly rewards.
What happened in REALITY is that Robert R competed in the West End St. Patrick’s Day 5k, racing as HIMSELF, and had a relatively off-day for his skills, running a time that is middling at best for him.
Any indication (such as pictures, eye-witness accounts or Robert R’s airline tickets) that says that Robert R COULD NOT have run the West End 5k, and indeed was in Miami at the time are SLANDEROUS ALLEGATIONS, and false, and not true, and LIES that probably originate with the Prince of Darkness himself, the King of Liars, Satan.
So, unless you want to be known as one of Satan’s cohorts and right-handmen, I suggest that you DISBELIEVE the following race report as FICTION.
But here’s what COULD have happened, on Saint Patrick’s Day 2013, in the Western End of Allentown.
Jeff, Mark and I gathered with our wives and children in Mark’s house, which was situated about a half mile away from the start line of the race. The race morning temps were hovering right about the freezing point, and opinions differed on the proper race attire.
Mark and Jeff both went with singlets, shorts and gloves, with Mark adding arm warmers. I went with two pairs of shorts, a shirt and a quarter-zip long sleeve shirt and gloves, which is unusual because on lunch runs with Jeff he’ll wear six layers in temperatures I’m going shirtless in. But he told me that there is a point of pride in wearing a singlet during a race.
We warmed up with the jog to the starting line, where we checked in. Katie D. was working the check-in table, and said “Alright, Jim Wa-” and I had to cut her off. “NO.” I said, non-suspiciously. “I’m ROBERT. Your good friend, ROBERT R.”
Pinning on the race bibs, I found that I was actually Robert O’R., as everyone is Irish on St Paddy’s day. I kinda wish Robert had registered, as he sometimes does, as Robert The Beast, so I could have been Robert O’The Beast.
Finding that we had ten minutes before the race started, Mark and Jeff stripped down, and we did another warm-up half mile, as the previous warm-up had already left our chilled muscles. Standing on the starting line, looking around at the 500+ participants, I realized that Mark, Jeff and I were probably the only ones not wearing some form of green. Indeed, we were all wearing some form of orange, the opposite of green. Protestant Ireland forever! Probably it would be a terrible faux-pas, if the West End of Allentown wasn’t 90% German and Italians.
Big Wayne from Pretzel City Sports started the race, and the pack leaped away. Well, the front of the pack did. I assume that the mid and back of the pack leaped, but they could have stepped, shuffled, or strolled, I guess. The very front of the race quickly dwindled to a tight-knit pack of four runners bunched around Jeff, a few stragglers in between (including a guy in shorts past his knee, beat up old basketball sneakers and a cotton tshirt), then myself. Just behind me, mainly to my left, was Mark, applying pressure to keep pace.
On the long-ish (about .3 mile) downhill that started the race, I picked off the stragglers in front of me, but the lead pack smoothly pulled away. Rounding the first turn, Mark was two paces behind my left shoulder. We ran a block, then made another left turn to start a long-ish (about half a mile) climb. On this street there were residents setting up their chairs for the St Paddy’s parade that would follow the race, and a few groups that had started the party early, including one rowdy set of frat boys. “Hey Michael Jackson! Nice gloves!” They yelled at me as I passed.
After about half a mile up, we made another left, keeping to the left of a series of cones, ran a block, then made the last left in the square to turn back to the start/finish line. The first mile marker was on the short block, and the man at it called out “6:03” as I passed.
“Huh,” I thought, “That felt harder than a 6:03. Oh well, no PR today – but let’s not embarrass Robert’s good name by letting Mark pass.”
Back down the south side of the course I ran, letting my legs roll beneath me on the long downhill, knowing that I would see another long uphill on the north side. At this point of the race the lead pack started to shed one of their members, as the fourth runner started to lose contact with Jeff and the other two.
Turning left on the eastern short block, I hit the second mile marker. “11:50!” yelled the man gazing intently at a watch.
“11:50?” I thought to myself, doing a little bit of race-addled math (you know the math where the numbers SHOULD be easy to add and divide, but your brain is too busy screaming at you to worry about arithmetic and your lungs are burning and all the blood in your body is busy pumping your legs, too busy to divide by two anyway). “11:50 would be… 5:55s? Is that right? And then… 3.1 of those is… something? I think I might PR?”
With the thought of a possible PR, but one incredibly difficult to calculate, in my head, I attacked the long(er) uphill of the north side of the race. The race was two loops, but the first loop was shorter than the second by a few blocks – so it was a terrible dejavu to start the back half of the second loop staring at an uphill that had grown by a quarter mile.
My second time by the frat boys I had warmed up considerably – after racing 2.5 miles, the sun had come out and the wind had stopped. So I peeled off my gloves and lobbed them to the frat guys, provoking a loud, confused cheer from the group.
Shortly after the frat I reeled in the fourth place runner, passing him strongly and cleanly – I didn’t want him to get too close, as I don’t have much of a finishing kick. The first three runners were well out of sight, but I wanted to lock in fourth place.
Making the final two left turns (staying to the right of the cones this time), I started down the final straight-away to the finish line. Coming in view of the finish line clock, I saw it tick over from 17:59 to 18:00. Knowing my PR was 18:23, I thought it was well within reach – I just had to sprint the final tenth of a mile. And sprint I did – to both hold off the fifth place runner and to beat the clock.
I crossed the line while the clock read 18:20, and raised my fist and yelled “PR!” This provoked a scattered, half-hearted and mostly confused smattering of applause. But I guess the people who are dragged to a neighborhood 5k to act as finish line cheer squad don’t really know about PRs? Or they just don’t care about the PRs of strangers.
Because I yelled out “PR!” at the finish, however, when they called awards and called out for “Robert R”, the announcer made a big deal to mention to the crowd that 18:20 was Robert R’s PR. So… sorry Robert. Sorry to have shamed your name with a mediocre PR announcement.
I’m also sorry for the amount of times I yelled “I’m Robert R, and I hate the Irish!” (This did not happen. I mean, the whole experience OFFICIALLY did not happen, as it is a TERRIBLE thing to run under someone else’s bib, but the racism against the Irish ACTUALLY did not happen.)