By Liam O’Mahony
This summer I became consumed with running 5K races. They took over my social calendar. Cruising through crowds energized me after years away from the friendly rivalries, social atmosphere and bursts of exertion that these events offer.
I never trained formally and did not compete in high school or college. In 1996, I developed an appetite by running around the Cornell University campus. Two years later, while working in Chicago, a mentor helped me catch the fever while jogging along Lake Michigan. As an accomplished runner, he shared his knowledge of training and I realized I was wired for 5Ks rather than marathons.
After extensive casual jogs after work, I signed up for my first 5K in Seattle in December 1998. It was an exciting experience and I became mesmerized by running with – and through – the masses, often with headphones to liberate my mind. Blessed with the power of young, skinny legs and 15 fewer pounds than now, I competed casually during holidays and in the summer without setting goals or tracking progress for many years.
In July, I researched a few websites and discovered old times. That first 5K time of 20:14 remains my record. Other highlights emerged as I put more thought into my renewed commitment to running:
From 1998 to 2015, I ran 29 races; in eight months this year, I completed 20.
In 2016, I finished first in my age group six times. I had never done that before.
I ran races in five states: Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina and Washington.
I participated in small 5Ks, such as the 2014 Daffodil Run on Nantucket with 112 runners, and sea-of-humanity ones like the 2012 Pat Tillman Run in Tempe, Ariz., with 23,460 participants.
My coldest race was the 2015 Penguin Run in Amherst, while my hottest race was the 2005 Susan G. Komen Race in Phoenix.
In the midst of this reimmersion, I watched “Without Limits,” a movie about legendary Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine. His legacy continues to inspire a new generation. Seeing it brought back fond memories of the ideal Pacific Northwest running climate and provided motivation to improve my conditioning.
I set out to complete the Fabulous Five 5K series, and I was one of 25 runners who finished all seven races that spanned June through October. It was a respectable feat, and feeling like I was just ramping up again, I scoured the race calendar to plan how many more I could run.
As fall arrived, I upped the ante by telling family and friends I was shooting for the ambitious goal of cracking the coveted, elusive 20-minute mark.
Initially, I had doubts about attaining the benchmark, given my limited training and 42-year-old legs and lungs. I relied on race-to-race conditioning to summon an increasingly stronger surge at the end of each course. I was pleased with my times, yet always looked ahead to trimming more seconds next time.
This quest began at 25:57 (8:21 pace) at the St. Gregory the Great Race in Williamsville on June 17. Five months later, I had shaved my time down to 21:21 (6:53) at the Tacky Sweater Race in Lockport on Nov. 26.
With two races in December, I am confident I will reach 20:30 before 2017 and aim to eclipse 20 minutes by March. While I am proud of the progress that took me from a novice to a contender, I will not be satisfied until the clock reads 19:59 or better when I cross the line.
For a schedule of races and past results, visit buffalorunners.com.