Parker cross country alum returns to Rockport Park
About halfway through the 22nd annual Janesville Parker alumni cross country run Saturday morning—not long after climbing an impossibly steep gravel hill in Rockport Park—I asked myself why in the world I was doing what I was doing.
I had another mile and a half to go to finish the 5,000-meter course, and I could barely keep my legs churning. The conditions were far from ideal: warm, muggy, overcast. But at least it wasn't raining.
I vowed never to race again. I couldn't find an answer to my question, and truth be told, it wasn't the first time that day or in the days leading up to the race I asked it.
When the run started, I found myself shuffled toward the back of the middle of the pack and thought I might have bitten off a little more than I would be able to chew.
The last time I ran in the alumni run—August 2006—I wasn't yet an alumnus. My last race was in May, and the field there was far more casual than the one at Rockport (a team of high school athletes gearing up for their season and a team of former high school athletes determined to keep the high school kids humble makes for good competition, apparently).
I hadn't been in serious training for a while after I took some time off in the middle of the summer to allow some hip pain to go away. I might've run a total of 10 miles in the week leading up to the race, far from ideal when you're trying to compete with good runners.
The field stretched out as it tends to do in long races, and it didn't take long for me to be by myself, left to ponder my question.
No matter how much you run—and I'm proud to say I run more than most—it seems you're always asking yourself what you're doing. For example:
When the cramp in your side revs up and you're not even halfway through the day's run: What am I doing?
When a blister starts bubbling up on the back of your ankle or ball of your foot or wherever: What am I doing?
When you're stepping off the curb and somebody making a right turn in his Nissan Altima almost flattens you: What am I doing?
At one point in my life, I described myself as a morning person. Those days are long gone. College and working on a newspaper sports desk killed them off in pretty short order.
My alarm rang at 8 a.m., and you can bet in the second it took for me to turn it off, I asked myself what I was doing.
My colleagues and I worked feverishly through Friday night, the first football night of the high school sports season.
Craig beat Beloit. Middleton took care of Parker. Big Foot and its new coach started with a win. Edgerton's Ricky Williams piled up hundreds of all-purpose yards in the Tide's victory. And you can't ever forget the Packers or Brewers.
The dust of writing, editing and updating gazettextra.com finally settled around 12:30 a.m., and after unwinding for another hour or so with a couple of cold drinks, I finally settled in for sleep at about 2 a.m., fully aware of the early wake-up call I had to answer.
I didn't find out when exactly the alumni run was going to be until the Tuesday leading up to it. I knew it had to be coming soon, but I thought I might have another week to get ready. No such luck.
Between college (move-in weekend at Marquette was always the same weekend as the race) and living in Kansas for a while, I had never run the Parker alumni race as an alum, so I had to do it.
But in the grand scheme of things, that's only part of the answer to why I was doing it. Another part was that when I pitched the idea to write about my experience, the editor liked it enough to give it the green light. So at that point, I really had no choice but to run the race.
My one day of serious training I put in came Wednesday, the day after I learned about the upcoming race.
I decided if I was going for nostalgia, I might as well go the whole way, so I went up to Parker and ran six 800s on the track. I didn't exactly burn it up, but I set a pretty ambitious goal for the last 800 of the workout and met it.
Anybody who saw me finish that last interval might've seen me pump my fist, excited to hit a mark I really wanted to hit. And that feeling, I think, is why I was doing what I was doing Saturday morning.
A funny thing happened after vowing I'd never race again: I got close enough to another runner to think I might be able to reel him in and pass him. I tried desperately to pick up my pace and did for a little while.
Ultimately, though, he pulled away as we climbed the last hill before the finish line. My finishing kick has probably been the strongest part of my race, but I just didn't have it Saturday.
When I finished, though, that feeling of accomplishment I had briefly during my workout Wednesday flooded back.
Presented with a challenge I gave myself, I was able to meet it. Perhaps I met it a little slower than I have in the past (my time Saturday was 21:14, about three minutes slower than my lifetime personal best), but I still met it. And whatever challenge is set out in front of a person, it's always satisfying to overcome it.
And there's no question about that.