Jodi’s, Justified

This past Saturday marked a very special Saturday on my calendar every year. The first Saturday of June in Denver equals Jodi’s Race for Awareness. Those of you that have been with me for a while might remember my race report after the same 5K last year. If you haven’t read it, I had probably run just fine for my ability at the time, had run hard and felt I gave it a good effort, but, of course, wasn’t happy with my race.

Even a little success can be a dangerous thing for me. The instant I have any, I have to perform the same feat bigger and better next time, much like an involuntary reflex. I can’t help it. Two years ago at the Jodi’s Race, I quite unexpectedly took first place in my age group – well, technically second if you count the real first place finisher who also happened to be one of the top female finishers. Technically.

At last year’s 5K, I ran twenty-one seconds slower than my surprise age group placing performance the prior year, but alas, did not place. I hugged Nana Flora, race co-founder, now ten-year ovarian cancer survivor, and Jodi’s Race team honoree every year after my perceived race fail. “I’m sorry I let you down, Nana. I will win you a medal next year!”

So, of course, this year’s goal was to PR for the Jodi’s course. A medal would be nice, but the PR was my mission, and I chose to accept it. Coming off a big PR for the Bolder Boulder, I had set my sights on breaking twenty-three minutes for this year’s race. And, a good friend of mine offered encouragement in a way that only he could pull off – a motivational poem:

22:59 or you don’t dine.

22:59 or drink no wine.

22:59 or break your spine.

22:59 or get no stein.

22:59 or you are swine.

22:59 or reassign (yourself to another sport).

Everybody should have friends like mine.

Race morning arrived, and I was ready. Well, sort of. I got up on time, was ready to roll out the front door precisely on time, was my typical antsy self – about to jump out of my own skin and near literally unable to keep still – once we arrived to City Park to meet the rest of Team NanaFlora for a photo opp:

Team NanaFlora 2014!

Team NanaFlora 2014!

“OK, I’m going to start warming up in a minute.” I said it about four times as I looked around the park for the rest of our team to whomever was in earshot. No, better not go yet. Need to pay attention to my phone in case someone calls or texts to find us.

I got antsier and antsier until I finally took off. “Dakin, I’m just going to start jogging back and forth over here.” He looked at me, slightly irritated. “OK.” “You know how I get.” And he does, maybe better than anyone else.

Everybody should have friends like mine.

Of course, on my first out-and-back, I missed the arrival of our surprise guests-slash-teammates of honor. One of my best friends whom I have missed dearly since he and his wife Jess moved to Omaha last October – none other than the man who introduced me to the Irish Snug Running Club and single-handedly got me back to running – my one and only true love – Tarino!

BIG ‘hello’ hugs and lots of smiles devoured the moment, and then it was back to business. This time, Dakin joined me for a warm-up jog along the final mile of the course.

Here’s where that “Well, sort of” from above comes into play. I felt sluggish. Old. Tired. Fat. A stark contrast from how I felt while warming up for the Bolder Boulder not two weeks earlier. Ugh. That’s what a ‘warm up’ is for. Get the lead out. I hoped my self-talk was enough to snap me out of it and into the game.

Finally, we lined up at the start. OK, just run your race. You know what to do.

Even though I felt great and moved with seemingly no effort at a good pace, the first mile seemed to last forever. I could see the pace car ahead of me for pretty much all of it. And then, my watched beeped. OK, good. Keep it right here. You can slow it down just a bit if you need to.

Much to my surprise, mile two felt almost equally effortless and seemed to fly by. Until the very slightest of incline up a sharp left-hand turn, that is. Woah! That took a little bit of a toll. That’s OK. Just keep moving.

And I did. I recovered a little but felt my legs burning with the very slightest, gradual incline further up the road to a one-hundred eighty degree turn around in the course. Just keep moving. It’ll be a decline once you make the turn. That decline was just what I needed to not only fully recover, but even gain a little speed to begin mile three. Keep it right here, then punch it the last half mile or so to the finish.

That was the plan; and although feeling the hurt, I was sticking to it. And then, of course, there was a bit of a monkey wrench – another one-hundred eighty degree turn, the third in the course thanks to flooding from nearly daily, crazy downpour in Denver the week before.

I slowed to make the turn, but much moreso than I wanted to, which meant I had to push even harder to get back to my pace. I looked down at my watch several times as I played leap frog with another runner on my left. C’mon, fight him off. Don’t let him pass you! It was a nice mental distraction from the burning in my quads that had now spread to my lungs.

We now clearly heard the announcer and spectators’ cheers as we turned the last corner and headed full speed for the finish line. GO! And then, he leapt way ahead of me and picked up speed to a full-out sprint. Woah, dude. If you have that much left in the tank, you didn’t run hard enough. Peace out, homie!

Once I hit the finish line myself, I stopped my watch, walked a few steps, then had to lean on the gate off to the left, heaving and light headed, to keep my balance – TOTALLY worth it when I looked down at my watch for my unofficial finishing time.

I broke twenty-three minutes – just over one minute faster than last year’s time for Jodi’s Race and. . .wait for it. . .w – a – i – t – f – o – r – i – t. . .one minute and thirty-three seconds than my last 5K – the Frank Shorter Race 3 Kids’ Health 5K – in mid April.

And, unexpected icing on the cake – I was one of five total Team NanaFlora members who medaled:

Nana's smile is brighter than any medal

Nana’s smile is brighter than any medal

After that? I’m glad you asked. We shared an awesome picnic in the park, and then I headed home for a shower and a much needed nap. Later that evening, I dined with Team NanaFlora and without even so much as a shadow of the thought of reassigning myself to another sport. And, of course, partook in sharing a stein with this guy:

Tarino & IEverybody should have friends like mine.

Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy and practice at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.

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