Can you run a mile?
The general rule of fitness is that an average fit adult should be able to run one mile in close to ten minutes depending on age, injury and body condition. It sounds simple, but the majority of people in the US are doing good to walk a mile in under 20 minutes, but running a mile for time in a race against others, now that is another story, but that is exactly what nearly 700 people did in five different heats this past Saturday to kick off Memorial Day weekend with a rousing tribute to those who serve our country and protect us from danger.
The Savannah Mile is the only one mile race in Savannah outside of kid’s runs and there was a lot of competition at the downtown event, but even those who were in shape admitted, almost unanimously, “that was a lot harder than it looked!”
The most popular race distance is the five kilometer, better known as the 5K which consists of 3.1 miles. Running longer distances gives the slower runner a little bit of an advantage, as they may not be able to outrun a five year old at 100 yards, but tack on another 5000 or so and eventually they will be able to pass the speedster and stay strong to the finish rather than sprinting all out and having to stop and walk to regain energy.
The Savannah Mile was rather tricky though. Unless you were in super condition, it was too long to run flat out from point A, which was located at the south end of Forsyth Park to point B on Broughton. You could actually see the Fleet Feet Finish line balloon from the race start and there were large timer clocks set up along the route at every quarter mile as well as clock monitors who cheered the runners on.
Kristin Baird, who monitored the half mile point said she really wished she had gotten the cherished three quarter mile point where she could yell… “You are ALMOST there”, rather than “You are half way there!” It was sort of a glass half empty, glass half full kind of thing, with most people running apparently seeing the glass half empty as well as their energy reserves. It was literally a matter of timing.
I had entered the race back in late March when the entry fee was only $15. My inner cheapskate could not pass up such a bargain. The last time I had run the mile, it was under a different title and I think ran the opposite way down Whitaker. I was in my early twenties then and remember having just joined the Savannah Striders and having a training coach follow me the entire mile down encouraging me to keep moving and not give up.
There were military troops running with us then and I tried to keep cadence, but felt like dying the last quarter mile and did not quite make my goal of eight minutes. I think I did it in something like 8:05. I had never run a faster mile since then, so was not sure what to expect today, but was hoping I would at least break nine minutes.
My last 5K run was at Benedictine Cadet (BC) Military School and I barely finished in 31 minutes and something… close to a 10:10 mile. Granted it was a trail run, but rather slow even for my standards. Twice this year I had managed to run a 5K in under 30 minutes, making it a new PR (Personal Record), but the magic seemed to have faded and lately I was struggling to even run at an 11 minute mile pace.
I was determined to train for this race, but bad weather, bad knees and a popping out of joint hip socket, a change in work schedule, a coworker leaving for greener pastures and people getting sick and going in the hospital and needing my help when they got home made even a short run hard to fit in.
Once I had woken up early and gone out to Daffin Park to run their well marked one and half mile trail and ran as fast as I could for a half mile, clocking in at four minutes, thirty eight seconds for what would have been a 9:16 mile had I been able to keep it up. I was elated then, but wondered how I was going to sustain that pace for a full mile. I was so wiped out after running that distance that I could barely walk the rest of the way around the park! This did not bode well.
The game plan was to get to the gym early. Since I work at a gym, you would think this would be easy, but there was always something getting in the way. Still, the plan was to get on the treadmill and crank it up to an eight minute mile pace and run as fast as I could at that pace for as long as I could and repeat it until I was able to do a full mile at eight minutes.
That plan never materialized so instead I took to running up and down the stairs until exhausted. There are three flights of stairs at work. I managed to do them one and a half times the first day before feeling like passing out on spaghetti noodle legs. My Yankie Doodle Macaroni pony legs rebelled by cramping up that evening and the next day my knees locked up and stung. So much for that idea.
As the weeks went by I ran on weekends with the Striders putting in five miles here, eight miles walk running there and fit in a few faster tempo runs twice a week. I was running faster, but it still was not comfortable and it was always a struggle.
For me, running has almost always been a pain. It is not something I really enjoyed doing. It was more of a habit or a challenge than it was fun, but then there were those rare times when I felt like I was flying; when the ground was eaten up and spun out from under my feet. Those were the times when I felt freer than I had ever felt in my life and while those moments were rare, they were worth all the pain and the struggle, but I just wasn’t feeling the magic the day the race began.
I arrived early to warm up, but my legs were stiff and still hurting and my speed was still slow. I watched as women I knew could run faster than me arrived and thought, ‘oh well, so much for a medal’. I am a pessimist at heart, at least when it comes to my own abilities.
The race was set up in five heats with the youngest starting first and the heroes heat going last, with each group leaving about twenty minutes apart. I was supposed to be in heat D, which I signed up for with the older people, age 40 and up, but my bib, even though it had my correct age on it, said I was supposed to be in heat C.
I figured someone had just made a mistake, but was torn over whether to run with the twenty and thirty year olds and not place or run with my own age group and at least stand a fighting chance at fourth or fifth.
A friend I was running with said it probably would not matter and just to run with my own age group so I did. It was fun (no seriously, I mean it; well, mostly mean it). As we were lining up at the start, a woman about my age pointed to a lady up front and told her friend, “she is my nemesis”, she then looked at me and smiled wryly and said “you are too!”, as she winked at me half jokingly.
‘How about that,’ I thought, ‘somebody actually sees me as competition. Not bad English…’
We were about twenty feet back from the starting line and the pace seemed pretty on target for a nine minute mile, but when we got to the quarter mile time, it said only two minutes and six seconds had gone by. That was not possible was it?
I ran a little further and then the typical weakness hit me, draining all my strength and making it hard to breath, so I slowed down a bit and made it to the half mine marker at about 4:28 and resigned that I would not break nine minutes, but was okay with that as several women passed me by and I ran slower and slower.
The race was set up so that guys started on the left and ladies to the right. It was kind of nice that way. You could merge as you got further down, but since the whole double lane of Drayton, a one way street, had been blocked off, you could stay in your lane the whole race if you wanted.
I saw Mark Manocha off to the left and little bit ahead of me. We had started out training together for the first Rock n Roll marathon ever held in Savannah and we used to be about the same speed, but Mark was faster this day and I could not keep up.
A few strides after the half mile mark I saw Holly McGee. Holly had become a lot faster recently and I could barely keep up with her. She had beaten me in the BC race by over a minute just two weeks ago, but I thought, if I can stay near her I can still be on target to run a nine minute mile and not get any slower.
That was when something happened. I am not sure what. I don’t know if it is possible to get a second wind in a one mile race or not, but suddenly I felt like I could try a little harder.
I focused on getting my breathing under control. I was not breathing hard when I saw Holly and thought, that maybe I should take it up a notch. Within about a minute I had closed the gap and still felt strong. This was not normal!
As I passed Holly I attempted to say hi, but she had both ear buds in and seemed oblivious so I tried to wave and looked ahead at a number of women all about my same age who had passed me about two minutes ago.
Three quarters in and the clock read six minutes and something. Could I actually beat the nine minute mark and how was this so?
I tried to speed up, but did not have it in me so decided to increase my stride instead, covering more ground per turnover of feet. I really liked having the time displayed at every quarter mile and thought I really need to learn how to use that Garmin watch that Cheryl gave me and make a habit of this!
As the final quarter mile came up, I found I was closing the gap on the women who had passed me earlier and just kept pushing, trying to move my feet faster and further.
As the last 100 yards came into view I just pushed it with everything I had. I could hear the crowds screaming and cheering. I think they wanted to see a race.To me the end of the race is always the most fun part, especially when you have close competition or are running over the finish line with your best friend(s).
I was moving at a pretty good pace and the finish line was just ahead. I turned my head to look at the last clock and it read 8:16. No way!!!
I found out later it was no way, literally! I had actually finished in 8:20 by the gun time, but it was still my fastest time for the mile since my early twenties, so not too shabby. Still, it turned out that the flub on the bib that put me in Heat C also put me out of the running for a medal in my age group as well as every other age group, but it was a fun race with friends, so it didn’t really matter… that much…anyway.
It was funny because after the race, Mason, aka Mohawk, Smith said that he would have run faster than a 5:21 something but his legs felt numb. Mason isn’t even in his teens yet and has run endurance races and marathons, so I guess if his legs felt numb in a one mile race, then my 56 year old self should not feel too bad about nearly passing out at the end!
One military man in full garb with weighted vest actually did stop to vomit after the race and more than one person said it was one of the hardest races they had ever run no matter what time they had run.
Seeing the military, fire and police officers running in full gear in the final heat of the race, was really awe inspiring and the flag lined streets and local personalities who came out to cheer the runners made it even more special. It really had a family friendly, holiday, respect and appreciation for those who protect us kind of feeling to it that was the perfect way to kick off a Memorial Day weekend.
The race raised money for the 200 Club which provides financial assistance to the families of killed officers and provides scholarships to send their children to college.
There are some runs you enter and swear you will never go back to them because they were so poorly run, but the Savannah Mile, was definitely not one of those and may just have to become a Memorial Day tradition.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to break an eight minute mile or even maintain a nine minute mile pace for more than ten minutes, but it was fun breaking barriers and sort of amazing too. I still have no clue how I did that! I guess though, that is sort of how it is on a grander scale for the men and women who protect us from fires, criminals or strange minded individuals and nations who think they have a right to hurt others to get what they want. I imagine many of them go into a situation not knowing how they are going to get out of it or if they will get out of it at all, but yet they keep going knowing there is purpose to the madness and that God willing we will survive and move on and live to help again another day.
That dedication deserves respect not ridicule. There will always be people out there with wrong motives or who act out of fear not love, but it’s nice knowing there are people who are willing to act when others won’t or can’t and let’s hope our nation continues to remember and honor our heroes in uniform and that they continue to serve with purpose to protect the freedoms that allow us to do great things for all people, not just ourselves.
Happy Memorial Day and don’t forget to tell a service member how much you appreciate everything they have done to keep the world a better place for all who live here.