Broad Street Runner warms up with Phillies 5k this weekend

Editor’s note: Two years ago, Inquirer Sports Editor John Quinn, overweight and feeling it, would never have dreamed of competing in the Broad Street Run. Now back at it for his second Broad Street experience, this time a trimmer version claims he knows what he is getting into.

I am running in the Phillies 5k on Saturday morning.

It is my litmus test. This is their third annual race. It was my first ever 5k two March Madness’s ago.

In its inaugural race, I sprinted the last 15 yards so I could break that mythical 40-minute mark, Roger Bannister be damned.

Fortunately former Inquirer Monica Yant Kinney was there to catch me as I nearly collapsed.

The first year, I was concentrating so much on not stopping that I lost perspective with my environs.

Last year, I was able to keep pace in the pack, sprinting the last 50 yards to break the 36-minute barrier. Being self aware, I was able to soak in some of the ambience until, in the last quarter mile, some full-of-hell large woman came bounding past me, saying, “C’mon there big daddy …” and by the time I looked up, she was gone.

This would become a trend, even as I became a little more svelte and slightly faster.

This winter, after the Norcross 10k Bridge Run punched me in the face with the biggest reality check of all time, I decided to run a weekly series of races in Glassboro, N.J. called the Browning Ross Winter Series. Every Sunday on the Rowan campus at 1 p.m., a group of between 30 and 50 would gather and run a 5k.

It costs just five bucks and everyone gets a prize. First week, I got a bottle of Glass Cleaner. Next week, I picked up a bag of pretzels. Third week, picking dead last of 32 people, I got a 10-pack of Coke. Either these health-conscious folks didn’t know Coke was a prize, or they decided it wasn’t healthy enough. Since my job after the race was to pick up the same 10-pack at Shop Rite, I thought I hit the jackpot.

As it turned out, every week got colder and windier (so much for global warming).

The first week, I finished last while running 34 minutes and 31 seconds. And I wasn’t even close.

These people know what they are doing, I am the interloper. After that, I was determined not to finish last, working my eyeballs out at the gym.

Next week, I beat two people, and you would have thought I won an Olympic medal. I also got a personal best of 32.41. But my elation was somewhat short-lived.

I didn’t mind losing to the 11-year-old girl, heck, she ran 23 something and will be a superstar one day.

As I related my experience to one of the runners who clearly is a serious track coach, I stated that somewhere just past the halfway point, a woman passed me and said something to the effect of thanking me for giving her a good pace to run at (and of course, a good pace to pass). By the time the race hit the last half-mile, she was long gone and beat me by more than a minute. When the race was posted on the tuffgangrunning web site, I saw that she was 65 years old.

After the race, the coach matter-of-factly asked me: “Why did you let her pass you?”

“Because I was tired and had nothing left …”

He didn’t like that answer and didn’t have to verbalize so. I ran track in high school. I know what he meant. You break someone’s spirit when you pass someone. You break their spirit if you fight them off.

But I got it.

The next week, she didn’t try to pass me until about a half-mile later than the week before. When she tried, I kept up her pace and stayed right behind her until about 100 yards left before she pulled away. In the process, I set a new PR, 31:23 … and I thanked her for that.

But be careful what you wish for.

The next week, I trained doing intervals and got a little too pumped up. The race day was the coldest of the winter, ice on the ground, wind gusts of 20-30 mph.

I pulled away from her, leaving space between us. I was headed to maybe, just maybe, that 30-minute mark when it happened. Right hamstring, then left hamstring.

It was a long ignominious walk to the end. DNF … did not finish …

I am happy to say that I have nursed the hamstrings back to reasonable health, running the series final race on Feb. 24, finishing in 33.22. My 65-year-old adversary ran the Glassboro 10-miler that day and did quite well, almost breaking 1 hour, 50 minutes.

That means I have a fighting chance to better my molasses-like 2 hours, 15 minutes of last year’s Broad Street Run.

As for the Phillies 5k Saturday, I will enjoy every minute and second, and hope the total falls somewhere under 34 minutes.

See you at home plate.

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