Saturday, August 15, 2015

Day 3,149: A 5K at Nike's world campus!

On the running trail at Nike's world campus, you don't cross streets. You go over them.
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Whenever I go on a trip I like to check to see if there's a race being held. It's definitely a fun way to spend part of your vacation and even win an award sometimes.

The other day I came across a article titled "7-Must Do Races in the United States," saying the Bowerman 5k is one of the "few opportunities for runners to explore inside the gates of Nike's world headquarters."

Really? Well I had to check this out.

So I looked into it -- it looked like your average community race -- and signed up. Race weekend came and I found myself looking forward to this event in the Portland suburbs even though I had other activities planned that day -- including a daunting 7 hours in the car from Portland to Seattle and back. Plus I'd just PR'd the weekend before at the Vinings Downhill 5K.

Would I be up to it? Would my legs have any life? Plus the race was being held at a unique time for me -- 7 p.m., which translated into my Eastern Time Zone body, would be 10 p.m., usually the time I'm going to bed.

Luckily the I-5 traffic in between Portland and Seattle was kind and I got back to my hotel at a quarter until six, a little more than an hour before the race. I changed into my running gear (which I carried with me all day in case I got delayed and needed to change right then and there at Nike) and then made the quick drive over.

I entered at the designated spot, under a large white gate with the famous swoosh logo (it turns out these gates also dual function as overpasses for the Nike running trail, as in the picture above). and then made my way along a nicely forested curve of road until I found a parking space.

But it was the wrong one. A full-fledged soccer field was in between where I was and was supposed to be. So I drove around to that spot. Signs pointed me toward a cluster of modern and possibly futuristic buildings to a patio area on a pond that overlooks another part of the forest (the running trail goes by this pond so you can admire people blazing by on the wood-chips).

It sort of reminded me of being inside the Citadel in Mass Effect, or the place where you'd expect the Star Trek: TNG away team being beamed down in an old episode.

Anyway, races are races and I found myself at the back of a really long line for packet pickup. A lot of people wore the neon yellow shirts of last year's Bowerman AC 5K and many people were decked out in the company town gear (Nike shoes, shirts, etc.).

They had a DJ blasting out music near the lake. At one point they were playing the instrumental version of Young Jeezy's "Put On," which at one time was the intro to Hawks games at Philips Arena. While people mingled I looked over the lake, silently thinking the chorus ("I put on for my city, on for my city...") If that wasn't a sign, I don't know what is.

Once I got my bib and my neon blue T-shirt (for this year's race), I decided to stash what I didn't need in the car and make my way along the running trail (that typically is only for employees) to the start line.

Consider yourself warned: Runners ahead.
Seeing -- and plodding along -- the running trail reminded me of when Crash Davis talked about The Show in Bull Durham. Here, the trail was nicely padded with generous amounts of wood chips and even had at one point a statue of someone running along side it. Later on, after the race when I was leaving, I even noticed the trail had lots of little lights along it so you could run in the dark if you wanted to.

I made my way to the start line, which was just near the entrance afforded to us runners, and felt something I haven't felt in a long time -- intimidated. There were lots of fast looking runners in all kinds of gear. Many wore ultramarathon shirts and I was even jealous to see the technical shirts of runners who'd participated in the Hood to Coast relay (when I did it in 2000, cotton T's were the norm).

All I was wearing was a hodgepodge of gear that I travel with after losing a few prized race shirts on trips to Australia and New York -- my May the Fourth (Miler) Be With You shirt, which is a cool-looking charcoal grey but has the entire text of one of the race website pages plastered over the front of it. I wore a very worn-out looking pair of cobalt blue Nike shorts that I cannot wear here in Atlanta in the summer because of the humidity.

The only thing I brought with me that was part of my starting kit was my secret weapon, my Saucony Type A6 racing flats.

After seeing all these fast-looking runners, I told myself -- no need to worry, just do your best and have fun. You PR'd the week before and you have nothing to prove.

When the race gun started, I knew to expect a fast pace. And it really was. The thing that amazed me were the numbers of people who did not look like elite runners keeping up with it. I looked down at my watch at one point and it said 6:40/mile. Surely this would be untenable for some of these people. But I continued on.

After the first mile the race spills out of the world campus and into a wooded area that is a continuation of the running trail. But this surface was not wood chips, it was that smooth gravel stuff that I knew very well when I was 16 and running with the most basic of Nike trainers on a duo-exercise track called the Parcourse in Winston-Salem.

My racing flats had never touched this stuff. Suffice to say I don't know if they were meant for this slippery material. But I don't know if any shoe was. I decided to keep up with some pre-teen kids that were really killing it in the woods.

One of the kids came up on this trail, maybe 10 feet wide, on a guy who looked like he was in his 20s, really trying to burn it down (too much at this point?) and kind of moving back and forth on the trail from side to side like he was trying to prevent the little kid from passing him. That's what it looked like to me. The kid squirmed by and I told myself that we were going to have some words if his elbows touched me. I'd always heard about this kind of thing in cross country meets among school kids but had never experienced it.

Thankfully I was able to pass him. I kept up my pace, which was pretty much effortless. I told myself to just continue running, this was for fun. I imagined myself as one of the old Star Wars spacecraft -- like the aging A-wing fighter if you will, being led by, well, I don't know what you would call them in the Star Wars universe, young kids flying ... podracers?

Anyway, the two kids were pushing forward. I caught up with one of them and passed him. Right before we got out of the forest, the Mile 2 sign popped up and then I saw something incredible and unexpected -- two guys passed us from either side at the same time with a miler's kick. It looked like to me, still in analogy mode, as if X-wing fighters were starting their attack run.

Right before leaving the forest, and maybe now with .6 of a mile left, the kid I passed caught up to me, which was a relief, because he really was my fighter escort. We crossed the street, entered the campus again and was making our last turn before the finish, maybe .3 mile to go. The kid and another one entered the curve single file and I strode in behind him. I wasn't sure where I wanted to kick, if at all.

We passed Mile 3 and the kid really surged his kick. I did too, but nothing that fast. I crossed the finish line and then looked down at my watch: 21:20:83, basically two or three seconds off the PR I made last week on a downhill course.

My race time was good enough for 150th place out of 570 people. I was 15th in my age group (the Master's winner for the race, for example, is the current U.S. Master's 5K Champion and he dialed up a 14:59 race time).

I went back to the car and changed out of my tight racing flats for a pair of more comfy (and more rebellious?) Skechers Go Run 3s for the award ceremony and raffle of Nike gear, which included backpacks Nike gave to elite runners for the Hood to Coast relay. They had a cash bar and even healthy food like burrito wraps available to purchase. A little more than what you'd expect for your average Saturday evening race.

I stood on the patio and watched a trio of runners go by on the trail across the pond. In hindsight I should have taken a lap around myself for cooldown but didn't do so. I was elated. I'd never run under 22 minutes until this year and now I've done it four times.

I also felt like I earned this. It was a nice feeling to have.

Time: 7 p.m.
Temp: 79-80 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (May the Fourth (Miler) Be With You), shorts, Saucony Type A6.

A little blurry but even my Garmin knows where we are!

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