Seven years ago, one of AJ’s friends from high school was killed by a drunk driver. He was a student at Clemson at the time and a member of the Air Force ROTC. In his memory, the Clemson AFROTC decided to hold an annual trail race to raise money for a scholarship to be given out to cadets. Thus, the Doug Harris Memorial Trail Run was born. It has changed in distance and course each year; some years it is a half marathon, other years it is a 5k and half marathon, and this year it was a 5k and a 10k. Ever since I met AJ and his friends found out that I run, they have been imploring me to do what we call “The Doug Run,” and this year, I finally had the weekend free. I’m not going to pretend like I was overly excited about the idea. Clemson is about 2.5 hours away from where we live, and did I mention the race was on a trail? Baby doesn’t do trails. Nonetheless, I had the weekend free, so no excuses.
AJ wisely decided to start training for the race approximately 1.5 weeks before the event. Bless his heart, he’s a very good golfer, but that’s about the extent of his activity level. Sometimes I manage to convince him to go on “family nature walks” with me and the dog, but that’s about it. If you’re wondering how his training went, here is an approximate timeline:
- Miles 0 – 0.3: Run at 7:30 pace
- Miles 0.3-0.5: Walk after losing the ability to breathe
- Miles 0.5 – 0.7: Run at 7:30 pace
- Miles 0.7-1.0: Take a longer walk break after losing the ability to breathe again. Complain about shin splints. Stretch for several minutes.
This type of thing goes on for approximately 3 miles, during which time he sweats, curses, and tells me how hateful running is. Most of the time I run with him, but I’ve ridden my bike a couple of times if I had a hard run already that day. He managed to run about 4 times between the start of training and the Doug Run, and although there was improvement each time, it was clearly not his favorite activity. I’d been pretty cognizant about not offering too many “helpful hints” and not insisting on running with him if he didn’t want me to, because I want him to continue to like me/want to be my boyfriend, and I recognize that running with a marathon runner when you can’t run for more than about 3 minutes at a time is not the most enjoyable thing. On our last training session, though, I couldn’t help myself.
Me: “Babe, have you ever thought about running at a slower pace so you can maybe run for a little bit longer before you get out of breath? I can help you set a good pace if you want.”
AJ: “This is my natural pace. If you told me to just run for no specific time or distance, this is the pace I would run.”
Bless his heart. I considered explaining to him that of course your pace is different if you’re just running to the end of the street than if you’re running for 3 miles. I can run half a mile at a much faster pace than I can run a marathon, and with good reason. But I stopped myself, because no one likes a know it all.
So fast forward to the morning of the Doug Run. By the way, by this point I had run on trails intentionally twice in my entire life, both of which had been during the preceding two weeks. It’s a new thing I’m trying out – more on that later. On the trip up to Clemson, we talked about a “strategy” for the race, and I told him that we would stick together and get through it together no matter how long it took, and he seemed relieved by that. When we get to the run, there are approximately 20 people, about half of whom we know, who had come to run the race in Doug’s memory. Clearly, this is not a large event. There was a clock, but there were no bibs. We did get shirts, though. There was no actual start or finish line, just a general area. Not exactly what I’m used to, but it is what it is. At this point, I find out that there are 7 total people registered for the 10k, and two of them are me and AJ. Another 3 are friends of ours, so our little group was quite well represented. Most of our friends were hungover from going out in Clemson the night before, so no one seemed very excited about the thought of running 3.1 – 6.2 miles. I wasn’t even hungover and I wasn’t excited, so I don’t really blame them.
At the start, one of the precious little cadets from Clemson’s AFROTC shouted “GO!” and literally everyone took off like bats out of hell. It was actually kind of hilarious. We’re talking full on sprinting up a hill covered with pine needles. I just laughed to myself and started my Garmin, determined to run my own race. The best part? AJ TOOK OFF WITH THEM. My boyfriend, who made me swear I would stay with him, took off at about an 8 minute pace and left me in the dust. I figured that he had decided he wanted to run on his own, which was fine with me because I was interested to see how I would do on the trails by myself. I looked down at my watch after about half a mile and noticed I was running just under a 9 minute mile, which is great for me on trails, and I was way behind everyone else. Whatever.
The first mile was an out-and-back kind of thing that ran downhill on the way out and uphill on the way back. I finally saw AJ again as I headed back up the hill, which he was walking. I, having set out at a sensible pace, just kept jogging up the hill, figuring that he didn’t want to run with me since he had blatantly sped off at the start. As I passed by and kept running, I heard an indignant “Wait, you’re going too fast!” Ohhhhhhh look who wants to run with me now! I gave him shit about that for a minute or two as we walked along. I knew from that point on that the rest of the race was going to be me and AJ slogging it out, one inappropriately paced run segment at a time.
On the out-and-back, I noticed that I was the only girl running the 10k, since the 5k runners had not done that section. I remembered that the ROTC people had mentioned having “incentives” for the first place male and female of each race. A race victory by default? T-Rex don’t care. T-Rex has no shame. I joked about my impending victory with AJ, who wasn’t holding up too well. I let him set the pace for about the first half of the race, which took us through some pretty ridiculous sections of trail. Some of it was so overgrown that you were constantly being hit in the face by various trees and plants. There were hills that were too steep to run down or run up – you were almost reduced to a crawl. We also had to literally climb over a tree that had fallen in the middle of the trail and been wrapped in yellow caution tape – it was about waist high. Let’s just say the event wasn’t exactly set up for any type of PR. While I will admit it was tough, eventually our walking segments started vastly overtaking our running segments, so I suggested that I lead the pace for awhile to keep him from running too fast. He agreed, recognizing that I might actually know what I am talking about. What a concept!
He started doing a lot better once we slowed the pace down, and we were able to run for about 3-5 minutes at a time before taking a walk break. Nonetheless, he started complaining before we even reached the 5k mark and was definitely ready to be done. He’s pretty funny, especially when he’s annoyed, so it occurred to me that I needed to start documenting his quotes in the event that I decided to write a blog post about this adventure. As such, I decided to start noting our precise location on the course each time he said something funny and then text the quote to my friend Chuck, who I train with during the week. It may have been the highlight of Chuck’s entire month. It certainly was mine.
Mile 3.89: “This sucks.”
Mile 4.51: “I want a hamburger. Actually, a cheeseburger. And a hot dog. And french fries.”
Mile 4.87: “I’m sore.”
Mile 5.92: “At this point you have over 20 miles left to go in a marathon? No. Fuck that. Absolutely not.”
That last one left me laughing for quite awhile. As we got closer to the end of the course, I knew I had “won” the race as the only female finisher of the 10k. Our time was pretty horrendously slow, which kind of made the whole thing that much more hilarious. AJ told me that I could cross the imaginary “finish line” first if I didn’t want to come in last, but you know what’s the only thing better than winning a race? Winning a race while simultaneously coming in last, of course. So with an epic finishing time of 1:31:14, AJ completed his first 10k and I was declared the overall female winner of the race. VICTORY IS MINE!
For my great victory, I was rewarded with a coupon for 40% off a new pair of running shoes at Clemson’s local running store. Although my shoes have been discontinued and I have therefore built an epic stockpile of them in my closet, AJ was running in horrible shoes, so I told him that we would be going to the store promptly to get him fitted for a good pair. He was not exactly thrilled by the prospect of buying new gear for a sport he hates, but it was obviously for his own good. When we got to the running store, I started chatting with the staff about all different races while AJ tried on many pairs of shoes. Of course, the ones he ended up getting were by far the ugliest pair and the ones that he was really hoping he didn’t like the best. Story of my life with running shoes, so I could totally relate.To his credit, he told me as we left that the race had made him think a lot about needing to get in shape. He made sure to be very clear about the fact that he has no desire to ever run a marathon, but he would like to get to the point where he can run a 5k or a 10k easily without feeling like he was going to die. Obviously, I hear this and my plan is immediately to trick him into training for a half marathon, but one thing at a time.
By the way, it’s Baby AJ’s birthday today, so make sure you wish him a happy birthday while simultaneously offering your sympathies for the fact that he has to date me.