Saturday, April 23, 2022

Oral Cancer 5K

Oral Cancer 5K

Rangley, Colorado

The weather last night here in Rangely, Colorado was cold and rainy, and snowy at just five hundred five higher elevation, so I halfway expected to wake up to snow on the ground. But no, this morning is sunny, dry pavement, if still cool: people at Registration are wearing winter coats, though runners are in jackets or hoodies, with long pants of some kind. I am the only one in shorts, and regretting that decision. At least the race starts at 8:30 rather than, say, 7:00. Enough for the sun to come up and warm things a bit.

This is my last race here in Rangely (population 1500) in the northwestern corner of Colorado. A goodbye as I finish my semester teaching and go on to other adventures. I’d hoped to get more in shape these last two years after a previous two or three years of injuries, including a broken heel bone and a fractured ankle, both in the right foot. (Note: not from barefoot running, though the heel break happened when I was barefoot and landed hard on a wood floor, and the ankle was on a backpacking trip wearing huaraches). Rangely has a lot of dirt roads, and I’d hoped to get maybe back up to marathon levels, but it just hasn’t happened. I could maybe run a half-marathon, just on mental effort, but I fear my big running days are over: after being out, and gaining some weight, and just getting used to doing other things, I’m not sure I even want to run that much anymore. Which makes me sad to say. So, I’ve only this last year ever been running up to an hour at a time. One thing, motivation-wise, is being so far from civilization here in Rangely that races just are not usually an option, except for these occasional 5Ks.

The organization for this race has been about what all events here in Rangely are like: unorganized. First it was a run, then it got labeled a walk, and then the flyer for it I didn’t even realize was the flyer for the event, since the big letters said Oral Cancer, and in small type were the words 5K walk. A good flyer should be readable from ten feet away, and a race flyer should have to the 5K part in huge bold letter, with the charity in small letters: no one really cares about the charity, they want the run. Anyways, mostly stuff gets around by word of mouth here in a small town like this. But there seem to be about seven runners and maybe ten walkers—smaller than even the other two small 5Ks I’ve run here. But, I’m grateful there is a run and I shouldn’t complain. I just have that personality where if something isn’t being run well I want to step in and run it right.

This is a charity run for Oral Cancer, put on by the Dental Hygiene department at the community college where I teach, Colorado Northwestern Community College. The organizer, one of our instructors, whose name I can’t remember, gives a little speech beforehand with, for example, the statistic that one person dies from oral cancer every hour. So, wow. You may see more of this charity, as she told me she basically got a ‘kit’ from the main charity on how to put on a race.

 After a group photo, we vaguely line up under the balloon arch and someone says go, and we go. The group of six or so young twenty-something runners take off, with me a little behind, then the walkers, one of whom says, “Oh, is this a run? Are we running? I guess we’re running!” A half a minute later she’s like, “Ok, that’s enough.”

This is an ‘out and back’. We curve around the park to the west, do a zig at the baseball field, then a zag that gets us on a long straight paved road that heads out of town on the south side of the Rio Blanco. It eventually turns into a dirt road, but we won’t go that far before we turn around. And I am out of breath. I tried not to sprint out the start and I swear I’m doing my normal penguin waddle, but I am gasping for air. There is a slight uphill at this point, and just the excitement of running with other people. I try and calm my breath.

Kind of gritty right by the park, and I run on the yellow divider paint in the middle for a smoother surface. I’ve been shod all winter, getting out in my huaraches on the super gravelly roads around town, but only recently going out for barefoot walks to start building up my soles, especially earlier this week to prepare, which I think I overdid, so actually still a little raw feeling to start. Plus the cold makes bare feet more sensitive. But, I’ve run the Detroit Marathon in November, I know cold, and know that my feet will warm up in a bit as they get blood pumping to them. And it’s only a 5K: that’s my thought, that no matter what, it’s only 5K, no matter what happens, I’ll finish.

The river road does smooth out, and straighten out, though now there is a brutal cold headwind, coming up the river valley. The fast runners are farther and farther ahead, staying in a group. Looking back, the walkers are just turning the bend. So, it has finally come to this: I am the Last Runner. Given, there’s only seven of us, but still, it’s kind of a tough realization. Oh well. I’m twice the age of any other runner. I still got game!

I had asked the organizer is she’d had to coordinate with any police or anything to close city streets and she said the city just didn’t care. So, we’re on out own, and there is regular traffic on this road. Not a lot, but one truck seems particularly annoyed that the front pack of runners is taking up his whole road and honks at them. To their credit, they don’t move and he has to go around. Any other vehicle just seems surprised to see us. We’re not even wearing race tags or anything—we could just be, and basically are, randos out running.

The feets are ok! A little raw still, but now warmed up and don’t feel cold, though the headwind persists, and my two shirts and a shell jacket feels about right. The lead runners come back at me on the ‘back’ portion and we wave. They look at me oddly: I think I have their respect for the bare feet, if not the time. But, my time would be the same if I had shoes on. I don’t feel lithe and free, but I don’t feel encumbered either. But there is the turnaround: three women with a truck by the side of the road, and a table with some bottled water, which I pass on: water during this short a race would just make me feel sloshy.

Alas, since the road soon turn to dirt at this point, this lane of the road is much more gritty, from all the vehicles coming into town bringing some of the gravel in their tires. I try the middle yellow line a while, then find a long line of crack-sealing tar and that gets me to the point where the stray gravel starts to diminish. Over half way. My breathing is back to normal, has been, and I’m in simple trudge mode. Wind at my back now feels like no wind at all.

The running pack is long gone from my sight, but now I’m passing the walkers on their ‘out’ phase. See a couple colleagues. One young woman films me on her phone, yelling, “Woo hoo!” I guess I’ll be the conversation later today. “Dude, there was like this crazy guy running barefoot! I think he teaches english or something.”

Once off the country road, taking me home, to the place, where I belong, only now do I realize I didn’t bring a watch, and I haven’t been timing myself. Wow. Usually I’m pretty good about that. I guess shows my mental state: just go and finish. And I am the lone wolf, in between the good runners and the walkers. Back to the park, back to the gritty road, hard to get a sprint on, back around the corner and up to the balloon arch where some folks clap me in. The Last Runner. It’ll be fifteen/twenty minutes before the walkers come around.

I ask to see if anyone is keeping track of time, no clock is visible, and no, no one is. One of the other runners whom I know, a student, says she finished at around thirty minutes, and I’m about three minutes behind her, so ok. There was a time when I ran a 5K in 21 minutes, I swear. But, I’m just happy and grateful to still be out running! Time for a banana.