It seems like forever since I last lined up at a start line, anxious and excited, joking with other runners. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing on Saturday morning in Texas City at The Nick Gary Foundation 5K.
I found the race by looking for 5Ks that historically happened in late September. I needed to get a new training pace, and I only push myself when there are other people to witness it. (Hence my love of CrossFit.) When I came across The Nick Gary Foundation 5K, I honestly was shocked that it was going to happen. Yes, a real, live race! And even better, proceeds would go toward scholarships for local high school seniors (including those in my district). Sign me up!
Of course, I spend the entire two weeks after I had signed up worried that the race would be canceled. It’s been happening everywhere: local health departments pull permits, and runners are out of luck. The Nick Gary Foundation 5K would happen in Texas City, part of Galveston County, so I felt a tiny sliver of optimism. And the organizers had promised an event with appropriate distancing protocols.
Honestly, COVID-19 is the least of my worries. I’ve been struggling so much with lockdowns, with worrying about the effect of school closures on my children, and with the direction of my career that I honestly don’t care if people wear masks and stand six feet away – or are bare-faced and give me a hug. Just don’t cough on me, and we’re good, ok?
Anyhow, two days before the race, I received the final information. The race was on! Volunteers would wear masks; runners could if they wanted, but they weren’t mandatory. Bottles, not paper cups, would be at the one water station. And because it’s a small local race, it’s unlikely that there would be herds crowded into a corral.
On Saturday morning, I once again found myself driving before the sun came up to a small park. The entire time, even when I was eating my Clif Bar, I wore an ear-splitting grin. Here I am, driving to a race! I hadn’t raced since March, and had I known that would be my last race for a while, I might have done things differently (with very poor results… but differently).
Anyhow, when I got there, I was immediately impressed by the race. The organizer, LaTasha Gary, did an amazing job! Packet pickup took about a minute, and the volunteer handed me a reusable grocery bag with my bib, safety pins, my race t-shirt (a really nice tech one!), a baggie with wipes and sanitizer, and some swag from the sponsors.
After I pinned my bib on (stabbing myself in the left thigh in the process), I jogged a nice, easy 1.25 miles to warm up before stretching. I also chatted with some other participants who were so excited to be racing again. I’ve got to say, it was so incredibly wonderful and normal to be milling around the start line and eyeballing the bananas and oranges again!
The Nick Gary Foundation 5K: Let’s Goooo!
And then it was time to line up at the start! As usual, I looked for the people in the bright green shoes and tried to line up behind them, but to no avail. Only one person had those particular shoes, an older gentleman that pointed at me and said, “That’s our first female finisher right there!” I laughed. I’m not that fast. But I was wearing a different type of bright shoe: the Brooks Hyperion Elite that came out earlier this year. This would be my first race in them.
During the national anthem, I sang. I’m off-key and have a terrible voice, but I sang with more tears in my eyes than ever before. This is America: a group of people who are bound together by a common love of running, who are a variety of pigments, who just want to live our lives as best as we can. And when the bullhorn (not gun) sounded, I ran.
In fact, I probably started out a little too fast. What can I say? I was excited to be on an actual road race course again. I clocked my first mile at 7:30, so we all know what happened next, right?
7:50. 7:55. Those were my next two miles. As promised, volunteers handed out small bottles of water about 1.5 miles into the Nick Gary Foundation 5K. I waved them off and kept going; the older gentleman had passed me, and I could see his green shoes in the distance.
At the end, one of the volunteers on a bike cheered me on for that last 400 meters or so. He kept telling me to push hard, to keep the pace, and I did – to the tune of a 6:33 pace! I crossed the finish line with an official time of 24:11, a 39-second PR. And first female finisher, which shocked me. As I write this, I’m still in shock.
I can’t say enough about how well LaTasha Gary organized this race! Packet pickup went very quickly, and each participant received a swag bag. The course for the Nick Gary Foundation 5K was incredibly well-marked, and volunteers at every turn directed runners.
At the finish line, I expected bananas, oranges, and water. Ms. Gary had arranged for G2 (the lighter version of Gatorade) and breakfast tacos as well. A DJ played music, and age group awards were provided.
Would I do this race again? Absolutely! Not only is the experience incredibly well-organized, but the money goes toward a good cause. I’m not going to lie; when Nick Gary’s brother spoke at the beginning of the race to thank us all for coming, my eyes misted up.
Seriously, if you’re looking for a small local 5K in Galveston County, run the Nick Gary Foundation 5K in Texas City.