Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Peak Sports Challenge 15K

The PEAK Sports Challenge 15K was held on Sunday, August 25. Ellen and I signed up for it well in advance back in mid-late July.

The event also had a 5K team obstacle course for teams of three to compete in.

The proceeds from the event went to help fund the Winnebago County 9/11 Emergency Responders Memorial, being built to remember fallen responders who have given their lives in the line of duty. Two pieces of steel from the World Trade Center were at the race, symbolizing the sacrifice made by responders every day.

Little did I know, the road to running the race would not be easy for me.

Injury and Weeks Leading up to Race
While I was up at my church’s camp, Camp Harvest  in early August, I was roughhousing with high school students as well as other adult leaders. I was extremely sore from playing football, handball, basketball and other activities but was lucky to have not been hurt. That is, until the second to last day we were there.

My five-man team handball team made it to the tourney championship when it happened. I collided hard with another adult in the title game and messed up my hip. I kept playing on adrenaline and because I wanted to win (we ended up winning!), but I knew something wasn’t quite right.

After the game, the pain intensified and my hip stiffened up and it became harder to walk. That night, I struggled to walk regularly and even more so on the hills we had to traverse to get to our cabins.

When I got home, I had it checked out by the athletic trainer at Harper, and she said I had a strained IT band.  I initially thought maybe it was a deep bone bruise. The IT band is a group of fibers that basically runs from the hip down the outside of the thigh to the knee.

I began rehabbing the injury with whirlpool treatment, stretches that hurt like crazy, and icing after the stretches. During the first week of recovery, I played in two golf outings, which entailed a lot of twisting and turning as well as walking. Not a good idea.

I knew I needed to take my injury more seriously, so I began rehabbing it with foam rollers and the proper amount of rest it needed. After a little over a week, I still hadn’t ran, but the pain shifted into my knee.

It was a sharp pain that hindered my walking even more. After 12 days of no running, I finally decided to give a try. My pathetic attempt at running about 1.4 miles did not go well as I hobbled around and had no lift in my leg and a lot of pain. The next day, I ran about two miles with Ellen and still felt severely hindered.

I only had slightly over a week until race day. I weighed the options and tried to decide what to do. On one hand, I could run it and risk further injury because I’d be compensating and not truly ready/trained for the race. On the other hand, I could pull out and still be there to support Ellen.

In the final week before the race, I played 12-13 minutes in a basketball game and ran Wednesday-Saturday for a total of about 14.5 miles. The pain mostly radiated to my quads and hamstrings, but I felt like I might be able to do this despite the minimal training.

Race Day

Race day came around and I knew I’d have to temper my expectations. In July, I completed a 10K in 39:10 (6:19 mile pace), so I was hoping to step up to the 15K and maintain a pace somewhere in the 6:25-6:30 mile range. My goal was honestly to just be able to finish it.

Before the race, I was extremely nervous because I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it. I was stretching, but that only seemed to make my knee more purple and swollen. Additionally, it was a hot morning and I knew I’d have to stay hydrated.

The Peak Sports Club in Loves Park is a humongous, state-of-the-art facility on the inside and out. The race volunteers were holding maps before the race so we could be clear on the course route.

I was really encouraged by the PEAK staff on Twitter, constantly checking in on me and encouraging me. Ellen and I also had support at the race, as Mr. and Mrs. Larson would be watching.

The gist of the course was basically two big loops through a neighborhood and around the peak totaling about 5.4 miles, followed by a half loop or so, then going out on the Perryville path about 1.5 miles and making your way back  and to the finish line.

Moments before the start of the race, I went into a mini panic and thought I was going to pull out of the race. My knee just didn’t feel right. However, I asked the Lord to help me through this, and off we went.

The first two miles or so were through residential areas. As much as I wanted to be up with the lead pack, I knew there was no way my knee would allow it. I decided to settle in to a group that was well behind the lead pack and just run my own race.

Once I came out of the residential area, we made a loop around Peak and back towards where we started, so in total we had gone about 2.7 miles (in about 20 minutes). I normally am not one to grab water much during my races, but I knew with the humidity I’d have to. Ellen’s parents were very supportive the first time they saw me, with Mrs. Larson cheering me on and Mr. Larson asking how I was doing. I went back into the neighborhood for a second loop and felt o.k. during it. I knew I was more than half way done with the race after completing the second loop.

Instead of going back into the neighborhood, we made a half loop around Peak and headed to the Perryville path for the last portion of the race. I settled into the final portion of the race running alongside a guy who looked a few years older than me. For most of the race, he had been near or just ahead of me, so I thought he’d be a good guy to run by.

I saw Ellen for the first time as I made my way back to Peak. She was on her way out on the path and looked happy as ever. It always amazes me how she can be supportive, encouraging and have such a big smile when in the middle of a long, strenuous race.

Over the final half mile or so of the race, I felt a tingling sensation in my bad knee and couldn’t push the pace to finish the way I wanted to. The guy who I ran by ended up beating me by 15-20 seconds, but I wasn’t bitter in any way because he was ahead of me and helped me keep pace throughout the race.

I finished in 1:07:17.32 (7:13 mile pace), good for ninth place out of 56 total runners. I was just thrilled to be able to finish and have the support of the Larsons as I crossed the finish line. I am thankful to the Lord that I was able to complete this race.

I talked to the guy who I ran by for most of the race and found out his name is Greg Karlovits from Bettendorf, IA. A race junkie himself, it was cool to connect with someone and talk about the races we’ve ran this year.

In “something I would do” fashion, I became friends with him on the social media airwaves and we still talk about running races to this day. That’s what these races can do – bring total strangers into community with each other through a sick enjoyment of running 9.3 miles in late August morning heat.

I drank several bottles of water as I waited for Ellen to cross the finish line. I was expecting  to see her around the 1 ½ hr mark, but she came to the finish line in 1:25:05.26, good for 26th place overall and the ninth female to finish. She didn’t have to stop once to walk and did a great job!

Overall, this event was very well-run and had a good turnout. There is more potential for growth with it, too, because it is truly for a great cause.

Final Remarks
Race director Will Pedersen followed up with all race participants in an email on Sept. 5 and already laid out nine changes they’ll make for the race for next year. It’s awesome to have a race director who cares about what the participants think and values their input.

Here is a link to win the pictures from the race:

I am looking forward to running in this race again next year!

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