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Surprises! We all love them, don’t we? A few weeks ago, on September 10, 2017, I ran the Buffalo Run 5 mile race at Pioneers Park here in Lincoln, Nebraska. ‘Twas a race with some surprises (some good, some challenging). The first beautiful surprise of this experience was the beautiful glowing pink sunrise (see above in HDR). I took many pictures of the sunrise as the sun suddenly alerted me this was a rare opportunity and I needed to capture it for later to remember and to share with you. I will try to put them in an album of some sort to keep them together. Due to running, work, and morning school transportation, I miss many sunrises or see them while I am running. After watching the beautiful sunrise, I was filled with inspiration and energy for the race. But I had to rush back to warm up and get to the start. I decided not to run my usual mile warmup before this race and that helped. That’s right, not even a dog run before the race.

My heart was heavy on this day because of all the people affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. So I decided to dedicate the race to everyone affected by the hurricane. Running for others gives us focus, purpose, and direction. It helps us forget our own issues, challenges, and struggles. I had previously donated 3 pairs of “gently used” running shoes to Fleet Feet Lincoln/Omaha to send to the Hurricane Harvey victims/families in San Antonio and Houston so moved my mind and heart towards focusing on these folks.

Last time I raced here was in 2015, I had a schedule conflict so I missed last year’s race.

One goal I set for this race was to break my PR from 2015 (35:52) on this course. That didn’t seem too demanding (although faster than I thought it was) but the hilly course and summer humidity can always create some challenges. Another goal was to place in my age group if possible. I was aided in this by having 5-year age-group spans (I have a tougher time placing in the 10-year span).

I tapered a little for the race, taking it easy the week before, not doing anything too strenuous. I think just one speed workout that week (fartlek on Wednesday instead of my usual Friday, too close to race day).

As I drove to Pioneers Park that morning, I noticed some lightning off in the distance and I hoped that wouldn’t interfere with the race. We were fortunate that it didn’t. Although lightning flashed after the race was over.

The second surprise of the day was the humidity, much higher than I expected. We can’t do a whole lot to overcome this other than to adjust the pace slightly or insert walk breaks if needed. But it was a factor. Maybe a more significant factor than I thought it would be.

The third surprise was beneficial: cool, pleasant weather. 68 degrees at the start. Sometimes we can expect temps near 80 or so for this race.

Moving back to the start area, I had about 30 minutes to prepare, not much but plenty to walk around and stretch and finalize my strategy. I took a couple pre-race pics to remember. Here are those moments.

Due to focusing on the race, I decided not to take pictures during the race. We were summoned near the starting line with about 10 minutes left. The national anthem was played and a few minutes after we raced!

The Buffalo Run course makes 2 laps around the buffalo statue at Pioneers Park. Somewhat hilly course. I decided to try to run solid 7:00 splits. I needed to run about that to run below PR pace of 7:05 per mile. So the target was set.

Now it’s time for the fourth surprise: not really a good one. My Garmin fell asleep after acquiring the satellite so as the race was beginning, I was seeking satellite again. I had already reset the altitude to fix the issue I wrote about in a previous blogpost. But now I was waiting until everyone had crossed the starting line and my Garmin Fenix finally said: START! So I cruised past the starting line after everyone else just as they were about to block me with barricades. It’s a good thing it was a chip race. For quite a while, I was passing people trying to establish a brisk pace, fully realizing that I would have no idea where I was by overall place or age group due to my later-than-intended start.

Before I go further, I must tell you about the Mizuno shorts that I wore for this race. Specially made by the Lincoln Running Company. Everyone loves the Buffalo Run shorts, the official race souvenir (instead of shirts). It’s traditional. And we get to pick which ones we want, too. I chose patriotic red white and blue stripes. I broke the rule of not wearing anything brand new for race day for this. I run in other Mizuno shorts. I trust the brand for shorts and shoes. And I run faster and better in Mizuno gear.

After passing many people to re-establish some momentum in this race after my slow start, I realized that I was closer to 7:00 pace and sped up a little to remain under that speed for the first mile. My usual strategy of running the tangents was obliterated by my late start and having to pass many more people than usual. Although my position was unknown, my pace seemed to be on target (although I was running longer than 5 miles I realized early on). I reached mile 1 early by the watch. The official split was 6:53, a little under the target. Very early on, my Garmin Fenix gave me the green light to run fast. I think it was +8 or 10 range, an unusual sized improvement from baseline but not unprecedented for a race.

Feeling pretty good after the first mile, I decided to try to keep the second mile steady or even with mile 1. Mile 2 was a critical mile in this race. And the number 2 became relevant after the race (remember the 2 I held up before the race?). The second mile passes by the buffalo statute the first time. We were very grateful to some Lincoln Pius X student-athletes who held a rope line keeping runners from colliding with each other going opposite directions. I had to accelerate a little at the end of mile 2 to keep the pace up but was able to keep it under 7: 6:56 pace for mile 2. I was aided by nasal breathing, modified a little by what I learned from Headspace: breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth. It was working during the race so I kept it in place mostly.

By this point, another surprise occurred: rain. Not much but a little. Misty mostly. But enough to get us wet and the volunteers were challenged a bit.

We stretched our legs on the way to mile 3, a long downhill before that and then some uphill before turning around. The uphill part taxed me a little bit and I slowed the pace down a little. Mile 3 split was 7:22, acceptable but slower than I wanted.

Unfortunately, by this point, we circled back but were going by an area where there was some campfire smoke. (Maybe we can do something to prevent this in the future, at least preventing the fires until after the race is over.) The smoke gave me a bad memory of my very first asthma attack in 1979, caused by a campfire. This changed my breathing pattern, I switched back to nasal breathing to keep the smoke away. It made my heart rate increase a little. And I realized I needed a walk break, hopefully the only one I would need.

Miraculously, it started raining again and this kept the smoke out of the picture mostly. After burning a :15-:30 walk break, I resumed running and tried to pick up the pace. The hills were affecting me a little, slowing me down. Mile 4 was the slowest: 7:37 pace.

Finally, we ran around the buffalo a second time, this time in the rain. I really appreciated the volunteers for this stretch they were soaking up the rain for us and still holding the flagged rope line to keep us from colliding. I didn’t have a lot of energy left. But I punched the pace going downhill after the buffalo and tried to boost the pace as much as possible, passing several runners who I ran with around the buffalo. One volunteer urged me to chase the runner in front of me and catch her. And I made my best attempt to do so. But she pulled away with a strong kick.

Reaching five miles on your watch and then seeing you are over by .1 of a mile is frustrating but that is what happened to me. I kicked as much as possible. I was immediately disappointed because I knew I had missed my PR by a little bit. However, I had no control over the campfire smoke. I ran a 36:57 or 7:24 pace officially (*7:15 for 5.1 miles though;)

Here is where it gets interesting. Remember than peace sign I held up before the race? Actually, I was secretly (but subconsciously) imprinting my brain with the number 2: for second place in age group. I had no idea I was imprinting this way but I posted it on Instagram and Snapchat that way so it was a double dose of pre-race 2s. Somehow that worked. Surprise!

Ran 2nd of 15 in my age group (M45-49), 74th place out of 459 overall, 61st of 221 men.

When I checked my age-group place, I was shocked. I kept checking again to make sure. Yes, it was true. Second. There was lightning to accentuate the results after the race and I decided it was time to go. I snapped some pictures and later picked up my award finisher shirt for the Buffalo Run place.

It was a good race, full of some pleasant and unpleasant surprises. I’ll treasure the pleasant ones and forget the others. All in all, it was a fun, exciting, challenging race. So happy to be able have moments like this when everything just clicks and a race where the wheels don’t fall off at the end.

Maybe the next time you see a buffalo (or statue of one), you’ll think of running this race. After all, we get to run around it twice.

Thanks for your support and encouragement to all who have helped and supported me. I appreciate you!

Happy healthy running! Enjoy your Throwback Thursday! What Throwback Thursday memories do you have or can you create?