Frank Z. Racing on a Whim

I played sports growing up—wrestling, soccer, and baseball—and always ran as a part of these activities. But I never considered myself a runner. It was always a chore, and painful one in that. I’ve had asthma since as far back as I can remember and running always seemed to flare that up. So my running was limited. It was a means to an end, having enough endurance for specific sports, but nothing more.

It wasn’t until Spring of 2013 when I went on my first proper distance run. Mike, a coworker I had been on a few hikes with, threw the idea out there. Apparently Mike was under the impression I was a runner. He was wrong. But regardless, I said I was in. We ran a route up 15th Street and then looped through Camel’s Back. I had that all too familiar sensation most new runners have: I thought I was going to die. My lungs screamed at me to stop and my legs burned. But I pressed on, made it through, and we finished the route at Mike’s place. Hands on my knees, gasping for air, I asked, “How far was that?” Mike replied, “Probably about 3.5 miles.” I was ecstatic. “That’s the furthest I’ve ever run!” Mike looked at me with a funny look, “You mean like ever?”

Yes. This was the beginning. I began running once a week with Mike and eventually started to mix in a few treadmill runs per week as well after lifting at the gym. We slowly extended the length of our runs and by the end of summer, we were running around 8 miles a pop. Mike threw the idea out there about jumping in a race. I asked what some good options would be and he suggested the City of Trees (COT) Half-Marathon. I’d never been in a race, had only recently learned the distance of a half-marathon, and was skeptical how running in a race would be any different from a training run. I decided against it.

Mike moved away and I continued to run a few times per week. And while I enjoyed (and still do) my solo runs, I missed the conversations that ensue when training with a partner. I searched the web for Boise running groups. This is when I found BAR. I came out for a Thursday evening run at Camel’s Back. I spotted a motley crew of unmistakable runners forming a circle. I went up and chatted briefly with a few people. We all exchanged introductions, talked about the potential routes, and then we were off. Up Kestral. This was my first legitimate trail run out in the Boise Foothills.  I still remember the peaceful feeling I had while cruising down Red Cliffs, watching the sunset over Downtown. This BAR group seemed to know some good running spots.

I continued to run with the group over the coming weeks. Late September rolled around and we were gathered in the Griddle after a Saturday morning run. Breakfast talk turned to upcoming races. Someone turned to me and asked what I had coming up. “We’ll I’ve never done a race, but I had thought about the City of Trees Half . . . .” I trailed off, failing to mention I had decided against that. My response was met with enthusiasm and encouragement. My cohorts quickly convinced me to give it a shot and see what happened. So I did.

Race day, COT 2013. I still didn’t have a watch. Or proper running gear for that matter, other than my pair of Saucony running shoes. Race day seemed cold, around 40 degrees or so. So I wore a cotton undershirt along with a long sleeve thermal. And basketball shorts. I still didn’t really think of myself as a runner at this point. Racers lined up and I found a spot near the middle of the pack. Someone asked me what my goal time was. “About 1:40.” In reality, I hadn’t thought about this very much. I didn’t even know what pace I would need to run a 1:40. I knew Mike ran low 1:20s and figured an extra 15 to 20 minutes seemed about right.

The gun went off. I went out at a brisk pace that still seemed comfortable. A few miles in a joggler passed me. I didn’t know the term joggler at the time. And for those of you who may still be unaware: joggling is the “art” of running while juggling. Simple enough. Except this joggler was beating me. Competitive instincts kicked in and I made sure the joggler didn’t pull away from me. This meant picking up the pace and stepping outside my comfort zone.

I kept with the joggler until mile 7 or 8 when he slowed at an aid station for water. I continued pushing, determined not to be passed at this point. I turned into Julia Davis Park for the final 5k (on the old COT course). I started to struggle pretty bad here. I was in uncharted territory, with my longest run to this point being 9 or 10 miles. Two runners passed me and suddenly I found a second wind. I grinded through the last few miles and the finish line came into site. I kicked with what I had left and saw the clock as I passed through the chute. 1:39:38. Grinning ear to ear, I knew I was hooked.