by Suzannne Kinner
Okay, lets just face it. Racing is a little different when your at the back of the pack. It looks different, it sounds different (the porta-johns smell different), it even takes on a totally different personality. Yes, events have their own personality, particularly when you’re running a little slower than the Kenyan’s or your bike cadence is a bit – okay, a lot – less than Lance’s. That said, I’ve never been the leader, or second to the leader or third… and so on… so I can’t tell you a thing about that… but the back??? I’ve pretty much got that down and you know what? I really love it.
It’s not that I don’t try. I do some speed work running. Hill work on my bike has been the order of the day. I even joined a master’s swim group so my stroke actually resembles a stroke now. I train, I sweat, I lust for the finish but I’m 38, a mother of two very active kids and wife to a pretty competitive Tri-Junkie so I’m okay with doing my best and coming in, well, wherever I come in. When I hear those around me lamenting their pace or speed my question is this: “Are you having fun? Are you meeting cool people?” And although yes, I’ve been accused of Pollyanna-ish attitudes while on the course, I’ll say this: If we’re up at 5am, at an event and starting something that most people wouldn’t even consider by 7am, I figure we’re pretty much studs already. Who cares what happens. We won when we bellied up to that start line.
Last Sunday I was a pacer at the Kansas City Hospital Hill Run for the ½ marathon. I agreed to pace a 3:15 finish. (That’s a 14:53 minute/mile for the math challenged like myself). Usually I’d run about a 2:09 to 2:15 but this slot was needed and I figured with the Ironman Lawrence 70.3 series event the next weekend it’d be an easy way to workout and I’d be pretty safe from injury. Yes, even us back of the packers can be snooty about those slower than us. I giggled a little at walking for 3 hours and 15 minutes thinking it would be so easy and wondered what real help would I be. Not unusually, I was wrong on pretty much all counts.
That day was a learning experience for me. We sidled up to the start, my pace buddy and I with our 3:15 sign over our heads, my new Garmin 405 on my arm, my “Race Buddy” set. (Man, it may seem like a shameless plug, but those Garmins are pretty cool!) The gun went off and we started walking. Yes, walking. We had to slow down a few times because my little pace guy on the watch said we were going to fast. Everyone passed us, or at least it felt that way. People cheered us on from the sidelines although it felt a little less enthusiastic with a look of “walking already?” Maybe it was my imagination.
At first we walked pretty much alone, being passed… and passed… and passed. Then we were passed again by the 10k runners and then yet again by the 5K’s. Then we were alone again. Soon we began to gather our pack. There was “Pregnant Momma”. She was late twenties or so with a kid due in August. Seven months pregnant and walking a ½ marathon? What a badass! (Sorry for the profanity but if I hadn’t said it you’d have thought it.) Then there was “Stealth Walker”. Her constant pace and determination coupled with her great attitude and calm earned her that name. There was Rick a health director from Pittsburg, KS who told me about his walks in the New York Marathon, the Chicago Marathon and others often at a 3:15 pace. He wore kakis, a long sleeved shirt, wide brimmed hiking hat and glasses because, he said, he likes to stay out of the sun. He was a perfectly fit, middle-aged man who just preferred the benefits of walking to running. Go figure. Then there was Tracy. My heart went out to her. Her boss pushed the entire office to sign up to support the cause even though she’d never walked this kind of distance in her life. She was miserable. She didn’t have the traini