Two weeks ago I ran in the Homeboy Industries 5k and while I was trundling around the course someone put a flyer on my windshield announcing the 3rd annual weSpark 10k.

Windshield Postcard

I had never heard of this organization so when I got home I went to the web site and found this on the home page:

A special place dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for cancer patients, their families and friends. We hope to provide you with the encouragement, support and information you seek to help heal your mind, body and spirit. 

I clicked around the site for a while and investigated the race – a 10k romp through Universal Studios back lot.  Sounded like fun!

Los Angeles can get kind of smoggy in the late fall.  I have a mild case of runners asthma so I am affected by the air quality at times so whenever I’m stepping out the door I try to gage where the air by how much I can chew on it.  The day before this 10k LA had a decent sized rainstorm leaving behind a crisp clear morning.  As I drove the 1.5 miles from my house to Universal in the pre-dawn light, the streets still glistened as though gently washed by a damp cloth.

Universal Studios sits on the north side of the Hollywood Hills and overlooks the San Fernando Valley.  Lankershim Blvd. skirts the bottom of the studio lot and from there it is an approximate 1/4 mile up a steep hill to the entrance of the park.  If you ever get to take a tour of the studio, trams wind their way through Mexican Villages, the old West, a mockup of the Jaws set and continue up the roads past the Bates Motel to a large Plane Crash set from War of Worlds finally ending at a very large cement lake with a huge blue screen.  The “shores” of this lake, sitting at the top of the theme park, is where the starting gate for this race was located.

As I approached the check-in area the sun was just creeping over the mountains.  I’m always amazed at the view on crystal clear days like this.  You can see for miles and miles and understand why people moved here.  Sometimes I’ll ponder the audacity of man.  To think we moved into a desert and turned it into an oasis.  From the top of the Studio Lot the view of the urban sprawl looks like a tidal wave washing up the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Our bulldozers have little footing on the steep rise out of the basin and the jagged edge where forest meets cement appears to be nature’s way of pushing back.  Our lives forced to tumble back around the coarse washes and settle into the flat valley floor – but enough of that – on to the race!

Since my less than stellar performance at the Bix 7 I’ve been working on speed and endurance.  Hills are something I haven’t quite incorporated to this point but after this race – it is something that will become part of my weekly mileage.

When the gun sounded I took off at a relaxed pace, about 8:15 per mile but soon realized that as we wound back through the park we were running downhill…  I’ve read in a lot of places that when running downhill a runner is supposed to let the hill do the work – sort of “fall” down it.  I let go and increased speed to a blistering (at least for me) 6:50 pace.  I knew I’d be working my way back up the hill to the finish line so tried to remain calm and just run.

Trading Leads Lap #1

All of us in the pack ran through the back streets of the movie studio, past lots of fun spots, Robert Zemechis’s offices, down Jimmy Steward Blvd. and round downtown anywhere USA.  As the course leveled in the flats of the lot I slowed down to my usual 8-8:15 pace and kept it up until I hit the hills back to the start/finish line.  As I rose out of the valley I realized that the 10k was two laps around!  So I really had to conserve my energy.

I crossed the half-way mark at 23:33 (that was only fifteen seconds slower than the Homeboy 3k and I was running hills!)  Seeing that time on my watch and with 5k left to go I began to worry that I’d not left anything for the back half of the race.  I’ve also read that it is a good idea to pace yourself with someone ahead of you.  It’ll help keep you focused – the experts say.  Since this is a 5k/10k walk/run those of us running the 10k “lost” a lot of runners at the halfway point because their race was over.  I found myself behind a woman in black.  We’d traded positions on the way around the first time, me in front, then her etc. There were two other guys trading positions with us but they peeled off at the 5k mark.  So there I was running downhill again looking for inspiration.

In the lead through War of the Worlds

She was in front of me and kept a good pace.  I was able to keep up though the flats telling myself I’d pass her near the end as we ran through the War of Worlds set.  However, when we ran through the sights of the studio this time around, all of the walkers were spread out across the streets.  We had to dodge people with cameras, strollers and canes.  It was an interesting aspect of the race – one that made me think I should invite my family to join me next year for a walk!

As the hill back to the top got steeper and began its assault on my legs I became nauseous.  A good sign I was pushing too hard.  I had to walk and to my surprise – 25 yards ahead – so did my pacesetter.  I only walked for about 100 feet but I didn’t want to wretch in front of the Bates Motel.

Running Downhill Lap#2

I started running again but at a much slower pace.  I found myself jockeying for position with two other guys.  We traded leads several times when I said out loud, “I don’t remember these hills being in the brochure…”  I don’t think either of them laughed as we were all struggling at this point.  I rounded the corner at Psycho Way, checked my Garmin watch and saw there was only .5 miles left and picked up the pace through the smoke filled plane wreckage from Steven Spielberg’s movie.  The woman in black had also picked up the pace.  She crossed the finish line 8 seconds ahead.

I didn’t bother to say good race or anything to her but did talk to the other two guys that were huffing and puffing behind me through the last mile.  I grabbed a banana and a bottle of water from one of the race sponsors and went to my car thinking I’d given it my all but would have to train more so I’d never have to walk to Psycho Blvd again.

About two hours after I got home I received a text message from a friend of mine who’d gone to watch his wife run the 5k.  He asked, “Did you run the weSpark 10k this morning?”  His son was also running in the children’s fun run.  That race took place about an hour after the 10k so my friend was around for the various award ceremonies.  We didn’t see each other at the race but when they announced the top three finishers of the 45-49-age range my name was read as 3rd place!  I went to the results page and couldn’t believe it but there it was:

Prime Time Results by Age Group

I also checked the overall results.  I finished 28th overall!  No wonder I got nauseous!

Overall Results

I still need to train on hills and even though she’ll never know it, I should have congratulated the pacesetter on a good race.

Crossed the Finish!