A Reluctant Runner’s First 5k: MLB All-Star Race

There’s no crying in baseball, or baseball-themed races, as one newbie learned at the MLB All-Star 5k and Fun Run in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, N.Y.

I stumbled upon my first 5k race while looking at baseball scores. After jogging on-and-mostly-off for a year, I had the vague notion of signing up for a run to pressure myself into a regular running schedule. And there on mlb.com, I saw the MLB All-Star 5k & Fun Run to be held in Prospect Park, just blocks from my apartment.

But why should I pay to run in the same park where I already jog? Oh, the money goes to victims of Hurricane Sandy. Fine, I’m in, I thought.

Two months after registering, after a three-week barbecue-and-beer-filled hiatus from running, I was walking out my door to run with more than 4,700 other people. People who, unlike myself, probably call themselves runners. Ugh.

The morning of the race, I was already running late. Peanut butter and iced coffee took longer to consume than planned. A quick calculation of my walking pace made it clear: I needed to jog a mile into the center of the park to pick up my bib in time for the start. Since my longest run is less than 5 miles, this extra warm-up was not appreciated. Especially on top of the fact I was awake and outside on a Saturday morning hours before my usual wake-up time. (Hey, don’t judge!)

MLB5kRace2After a bit of newbie confusion on my end, race volunteers kindly pointed me to the appropriate stations to grab my bib, swag, and stash bag. My usual park routine doesn’t involve stashing my keys, and as I made my way to the corrals, I regretted not leaving those behind. Clank, clank, clank.

At the start area, I watched everyone go through warm up stretches and tried to figure out the bib number system. My bib, 7312, sounded too fast. I mean, I said I ran 10-minute miles on the race form. Everyone in my stable had a phone out. I even spotted some other beer guts. So I relaxed, a little. Surely these folks were mostly joggers — not runners — like me. My shins complained  about my unplanned warm-up jog, so I did my only pre-run stretch: tracing the alphabet with my toes.

Even at 8 a.m., the park was humid and I was already sweating too much.

Corral time. As I lined up with the crowd, I tried to focus on my vague race strategy: don’t spook early and run faster than your pace, skip the first water stop, don’t walk (pride more than strategy), and save something for a sprint finish.

Then ceremony interjected. We heard a ton of sponsor commercials and some words from former relief pitcher John Franco — a good reminder that besides being a MLB All-Star game tie-in, the race was generating proceeds for Hurricane Sandy relief. That’s worth an entrance fee and waking up early on a Saturday.

Suddenly, we were moving, I was jogging, and people from time groups behind me flew by and I hadn’t even made it to all the baseball mascots yet. Crap, I thought, why isn’t my music playing? I concentrated on getting to the main road without bumping into anyone and resolving my iTunes issue without slowing down. Once that was sorted out, my phone showed my time for a half-mile: 4 min. That seemed way too fast.

I set my eyes on a pacer, a woman about 30 feet ahead who seemed to run just a bit faster than my average and held steady. After the first mile, an incline kicked in and she pulled away (they always do). After mile marker 2, I broke up with her. That’s also where I realized there were visible mile markers and pace clocks. Duh. I kept forgetting this was a race! That’s also when I realized my Nike+ app was .11 ahead of the race markers because I started my run well before the start line. Uh oh, I was running much slower than I thought.

After a hill, I was gassed and couldn’t breathe my heart rate down. All I needed was my pacer to come back in front of me, but no. True love is hard to find.

At the second water station, I clumsily grab a cup and manage to gulp some down without stopping.

Just down the road, my Nike+ app cheered something about a personal best, but my brain was too clouded to figure out the time difference between the app and the race clock. Either way, it was time to crank up the pace. On the race map, the finish line seemed to be tucked into the park on a cut-through road off the park’s main loop, and I expected to slowly crank up my speed as I approached.

Suddenly I saw a banner up ahead. But the runners around me weren’t picking up their pace. The finish was just off the loop, closer than expected. I wondered, Why is no one sprinting? I bolted — my last chance to make up for my poor pacing attempts. Lungs burned; legs flailed in my best attempt to sprint. I ran, did not jog, and thought “Why am I passing so many people?”

MLB5kRace1Then it was over. Nike said I came close to an 8-minute mile pace. To date, my fastest mile was 9:01. Sweet.

And then I run into a much younger, fit lady from my local coffee house. I’d talked her into signing up as a way to get back into running. I don’t dare exchange race times; I know she’s much faster. It was a race, but that’s not what it was about.

Looking back, I wish I’d caught more glimpses of baseball players, maybe high-fived some mascots, but I was busy: busy finishing in the middle of the pack, busy running a personal best, and busy making my way to reward myself at the farmer’s market on the park’s edge.

For race pictures, check out New York Road Runner’s photos

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