'There was no way I was losing to a clown' in the Carnegie VFD 5K
“What the heck am I doing here?”
That was the thought that crossed my mind as I stood behind a man wearing what looked like a decade-old Valley High School track uniform Saturday morning at the starting line for the sixth annual Carnegie Volunteer Fire Department 5K Run/Walk.
The thought came again when I saw Sleepy, a blue-wigged, blue-robed clown wearing SpongeBob SquarePants boxer shorts and carrying an old-fashioned bicycle horn.
Actually, the thought really had nothing to do with Carnegie's 5K. It's the same one I have every time I prepare to run a competitive race. If I had a million dollars, I'd wager that I'll have the same thought before the start of the half marathon in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
I'm a runner, you see — and we runners like to punish ourselves through competition, whether we're competing against others or the clock. And this was just my latest venture.
About two months ago, before I moved from covering news for the Signal Item to covering sports for three different publications in the Trib Total Media family, I promised Carnegie police Chief Jeff Harbin I would run in the 5K — his final one as race director. A month after that, I foolishly told him I was going to win — knowing all the time that I stood no chance of actually doing so.
Fast-forward to minutes before 8 a.m. Saturday. With the starting line staring me right in my face, I decided on my ultimate goals for the race. They were pretty simple.
One, I wanted to set a new personal best.
Two, I wanted to beat Sleepy. No offense to all you clowns and clown enthusiasts out there, but there was no way I was losing to a clown.
So when a fire engine blared to start the race, I pushed myself harder than I've ever done during a race — and my body almost immediately began to protest.
I began to feel the dreaded stitch in my side at about the 1-mile mark, as I ran through downtown Carnegie. As I approached the Y-Not Saloon, with the turnaround off in the distance down Main Street, the leaders passed me on their way back to the municipal building.
So much for winning.
But I kept pushing myself, hearing the disembodied voice of my smartphone's running app tell me I was on pace to smash my record.
The second half of the race sent me through downtown Carnegie again and toward the municipal building via West Main Street. We ran up Cubbage Street to Veterans Way, then into the busway parking lot.
Much as I tried, I couldn't catch the 16-year-old in front of me. But I still managed to cross the finish line in 20:56, more than three minutes better than my previous record. Still feeling the pain in my side, I put my hands on my knees and tried not to throw up.
Plenty of people crossed the finish line after me — men, women, children, dogs — and many of them with much more stamina than I'd had.
As always, it was great to see people cheering runners on as they neared the finish line. That's my favorite part about running — we're all in it together.
I ended up getting third place in my age division for my time. But I seriously treasure the experience more than the medal I received.
And, hey — I didn't win the race, but I beat Sleepy. That's not too shabby.
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or email@example.com.