Strawberry Stride 5k

Above: Portland, Tennessee. Land ‘o flats of strawberries and flat 5ks.

When the alarm practically blasted me out of bed at 5:00 a.m., the first thought in my mind was, “Why?” Why get up at the crack and drive 53 miles to a small town 5k when gas is $3.75 a gallon? Why not do something more constructive–like sleeping? Why run a distance that I loathe? Why oh why? Nonethless, Cheryl and I were on the road by 6:05 with the radio cranking (oddly approprtiately) “Highway to Hell” happily as the sun rose.

As with all small town races, there were no signs or even remote indications that a race might be taking place any time during this decade. We drove down the main highway straining our eyes to read the teensy road signs. Some road signs were knocked down. At least a couple looked as though they might have been shot down. It brought to mind my days of delivering for Fedex up near this very same town (mostly Springfield and Cross Plains and Orlinda for anyone who gives a rip). Once, after searching forever for an address that didn’t seem to exist, on a road that was not on any map, in a town that was not really a town, I finally located the package’s recipient. When I vaguely mentioned that he was hard to find, he replied (without a shred of irony), “How could you not find me? I done lived here all my life.”

But I digress.

We made out way to Portland High School about 45 minutes before the start. I noted, with some alarm, that they were only beginning to set up the start/finish area. A few construction cones rolled around in the wind. A handful of teenagers were gazing quizzically at the wires hanging out of the back of the official clock. Several crows were pecking at the finish line tape on the ground. 

I picked up my number inside of the school and ran into a few other runners I know from Nashville. Because this is a flat, fast course held at a beautiful time of year, it apparently attracts a lot of the fast 5k runners. I was foolishly thinking that my only above-average 5k time might win the masters division in such a small (200-250 people) race. But alas, down the hallway I spot Amy Barrow. Amy, at 50, can still run a sub-19 5k. She has had both hips replaced. She runs with a limp. And yet: sub-19. Deep hatred. (Just kidding. There are no cheesy emoticons on this site to indicate sarcasm.)

Out to the track to warm up. Truly, it was a lovely day…cool, sunny, nice breeze (note that “nice breeze” will become known as “crippling headwind” within the hour). Cheryl jogged with me for about a half mile as I systematically ran through all my excuses for why I might not run well. I don’t usually do this except at 5ks. Today’s assortment included: slight ear ache, yellow fever shot for trip to Africa received a week ago may be creating a fever, still tired from Boston and CMM half, not “feeling it,” haven’t done any speedwork (as if I ever do), and I had gas (as if I ever don’t). Cheryl listened patiently as always, nodding and saying, “Well, I’m sure you’ll do great.”

We headed to starting line at about 7:50. I moved near the front since there was no chip timing and I wanted my time to be relatively accurate. Margie Stoll moved over to say hello–she’s my hero. More on this fact later.  She asked if I had set my watch, and as I was discussing how I could barely read my watch anymore without my reading glasses and how lovely that would be to wear reading glasses in a race, the gun went off. AAAAGGGHHH! I hate 5ks!! In my mind, a 5k is just one big explosion of blurred vision, nausea, and irritation. So, off we went.

Mile one came in 6:17. May I say two words here? As. If. I haven’t seen a 6:17 mile since I was 32, and I was pretty sure it didn’t just suddenly decide to reappear in Portland, Tennessee for laughs. Nonetheless, my mind was a phantasm of math equations for the next mile, multiplying and dividing seconds and miles like a mad woman. At the turnaround, I saw Amy Barrow in the lead, but Meredith Thompson was close behind. The 3rd woman also looked like she was over forty (cripes), and then I was 4th. I was not close enough to close the gap with the 3rd woman, so as I came back on the turn I checked to see if any other women were close to me. None were. This, of course, is not an incentive to run faster (for me anyway). I fall into the “well I am where I am and this is where I’m a-staying” mindset.

Miles 2 to 3 were along a highway and into a crippling headwind. At mile 2 my time had been 13:40-ish which seemed closer to reality, though the possibility that the first mile marker had been correct and I had slowed down that much in mile two freaked me out. Again, a maelstrom of math equations and angst flooded me. Also, along this highway were more than a few remnants of dead possum and raccoon. These really helped with the ever-present 5k nausea.

Then, suddenly, the turn toward the school appeared. I checked my watch, and I was still on PR time. My previous best had been 22:20, and even with my litany of excuses I had top secretly been hoping for a PR…maybe 22:05. But as the finish line came into view with that .1 k to go, my time was right at 21:00. Short of a meltdown, I was going to break 22:00. Easily. Heading down the parking lot to the finish, I saw Cheryl cheering and looking incredulous and pointing to her watch. I could barely breathe. My stomach was upside-down. My ears were ringing. Then, just like that, it was over. 21:41…a PR by nearly 40 seconds. How was that possible? I don’t know, and I don’t want to try and figure it out. All sarcasm and complaining aside, it just felt good to run fast.

On to the awards. Serious flustercluck on wheels. It took nearly 2 hours (two hours) to compile them. One of those hours was spent outside watching the Kiddie Run and drinking a covert beer. The other hour was spent in the Portland High gymnasium waiting. And waiting. The major upside of this, though, was getting a chance to chat with Margie Stoll. At 67, she is one of the top runners in her age group in the U.S. And never has a top runner been more modest and self-deprecating and softspoken. In a sea of “Look at me! Dammit, look at me!” runners, Margie is a serious oasis. She never mentions her times (hello, 23:something that day) and rarely brings up her national ranking unless asked. In fact, later on that day she was on her way to donate all her trophies to an organization that recycles trophies for kids. As a person who crams all her awards into a hideous display in the garage, I was truly impressed. “Well,” Margie said, “I don’t want my kids to have to get rid of all those trophies when I die.” God bless her. Margie’s my hero. (Read more about her here:

In the end, I was erroneously awarded the top master’s trophy. Amy came in 2nd and won Grandmasters. Ridiculous. They should just award top 3 overall and then top 3 masters. Anyway, the 3rd woman was 48, so obviously she should have won the trophy I was given. I didn’t know this until today, so now I’m trying to figure out how to get the trophy to her. I should have just given it to Margie to donate, for crying out loud.

And so, no more races until maybe July. Nice note to end on on a beautiful May day in a town full of strawberries and nice people. Great to be at a race where everyone seemed to be having a good time and cheered everyone on. Lovely to hit a huge PR and spend some time with a hero.

And still…I hate 5ks.


2 thoughts on “Strawberry Stride 5k

  1. Hi, Tanya
    Thank you for your nice comments about me in your article. And now I know that you are an excellent writer…a talent that I always admire. . I enjoyed talking to you and Cheryl too. Margie

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