There’s something so invigorating about running a road race. I ran my first road race, a 5K, when I was twelve and a newly minted member of the Derby Middle School track team. After that, I was hooked. In the intervening two decades, I’ve run more road races than I can count or remember, although a few stick out in my mind as particularly memorable. There were the races I’d do every year with my cross-country team: the Howell Melon Run in the summer and the Birmingham Jingle Bell Run in the winter. There were the random one-off races in strange places; I seem to recall a 5K that largely took place in a series of iced-over shopping mall parking lots. There were the inevitable disasters: for example, the time I stopped to pee during a race and realized I was crouched in my friend’s backyard, which happened to be along the race course; or the time I missed a turn and cut off a good half mile of a course and thought I had set an astonishing new PR. Then there are the wack-tastic races I’ve run, like the Bay to Breakers, which is not for the faint-hearted, in any respect. Road races are the best.
Three years ago, I herniated a disc in my back, and my running habit — and thus, my road racing — had to be curtailed. Running made my back hurt, you see, and I was lucky if I’d run one road race a year, if that. Two years ago, on a whim, I signed up for a 15K race and felt great while running it, but my back screamed at me for the entire week afterwards. And so for the last two years, I stopped running races completely. So sad. But a few months ago, fed up with my wonky back, I went to a physical therapist here in London (the amazing Richard Game at Physio on the River — the man’s a miracle worker!) and he set my back straight (literally). Now, I can’t run every day, but I can run a few days a week, and it’s incredible.
Carried away by the spirit of my newly regained running ability, I signed up for a 10K race a couple of weeks ago. The race was yesterday morning, and it went really well. I hadn’t run more than five miles in years — literally, years — because I was afraid of hurting my back, but yesterday my back felt fine running the race and, more importantly, afterwards.
What was so great about running this first race in years was that it reminded me of all the road races I used to run — it felt like stepping right back into what I used to love about doing road races. After all, no matter where you are, there are certain common elements to any road race that make you feel at home. One of those elements is an old man with a megaphone who’s in charge of herding participants and shooting the (proverbial) start-gun. I love these old men because they remind me of the guys who used to run my middle and high-school track meets: former coaches and teachers who care about kids and care about running and want to spend their Saturday morning standing in a dewy field yelling into a megaphone. Those old men are the best. Road races wouldn’t be the same without them.
Now that I’m back on the running train a few days a week, I’m eager to sign up for more races in the new year. Anyone interested? Perks include a goodie bag with an energy bar and/or a banana, an old man with a megaphone, and a sense of accomplishment. Email me.