2011 Race 1: Groundhog Run 5K

The Hunt Subtropolis underground is a fine January party for runners. Sure, it may be 10 degrees outside as you trek two-thirds of a mile from the parking lot through the snow-furred streets, looking around for tundra wolves. Inside and underground, it's 68 degrees. The atmosphere is more carnival than carnivorous.

Everybody's here, from superfast freaks craving their midwinter PRs to families doing their first runs together.

I was glad to be racing with a friend, BT, who rides bikes with N. We got there a sensible 75 minutes early, before the kybo line stretched 100 people deep. Ah, Groundhog Run! You are a cruel mistress to the challenged bladders of Kansas City!

BT and I predicted our races. He thought he would run just under an 8 minute pace. I thought I'd finish in around 26:30. We were both very wrong.

Groundhog Run! 3500 souls cram into the start tunnel and hand over heart, sing The Star Spangled Banner. I lined up with Carol from Colorado and Lola from California.

"You didn't come all the way for this," I joked.

"Why yes," said Lola. "I did!" She and Carol, fast friends, are running a race in every state together. They'd done the Kansas-side 5K associated with the Polar Bear Plunge the day before, though not the Plunge itself. Groundhog would check Missouri off the list.

"Have a great race!" I said.

"You too!" they said.

I love you, Groundhog Run. Even when you hurt me.

So far when I've run 5Ks, I've started at a pace that is comfortably hard but that I know I can hold for three miles. At a mile and a half, I forget what I just ran and ratchet it up to a pace I can hold for a mile and a half. Do the same at a mile, half mile, quarter mile out, then bust everything loose for the last stretch.

Well. This little Groundhog went out fast. Before I hit the halfway point, my core heated up and gentle waves of nausea broke. I couldn't ratchet anything anywhere. But I could get some practice ignoring discomfort. I refused to let go of my speed! My legs were on their own, and they held up for me! I ran the whole race flat out, with everything I had, all the way. And watched people gently loping by me, looking easy. Finished in 27:18.

And immediately learned how much I never again want to pin my satisfaction to my time predictions. I ran a great race, more slowly than I thought I would. And then almost threw up on Carol's shoes. She had turned back to cheer me in after she and Lola took 1st and 2nd in the 65 and over bracket.

I can't wait to see the pictures from the last 100 yards. My face contorted as though I were birthing a gila monster.

Being the kind of runner who cheers the next one in, now that is something to pin some satisfaction to. Time be damned, I want to celebrate YOUR great race.

And I would've cheered at the finish line for BT. But he finished in 22:15. With a 6:58 first-mile PR. After "relaxing" in Vegas for a week. Holy smokes, BT.

I will just cheer for you a while now.