Fate works in interesting ways.
I was not planning to run this race at all. Just wasn't on my radar but less than a week before the race, I was talking to a running buddy about, what else, running when Nitza walked in on our conversation. Nitza is currently fighting breast cancer.
I can't quite call Nitza a colleague from work, though we do work together in a way. She's in the human resources and labor relations office of one the agencies my Union represents, which means we very often sit at opposing sides of the table and have argued countless times. However I have no reservations calling her a friend. She has been with the agency for several years now and sure, we fight but its all with the best of intentions and absolutely no hard feelings. It's the job.
So, Nitza walks in on us talking about running, turns around and asks me "Are you gonna be with us on Sunday?". It was her look more than what she said. A million thoughts rushed into my head and flashed before my eyes. "Are you gonna be with us?" It wasn't that she needed me personally to be there. It was more about support. Group support for her and the many women suffering from breast cancer. All this happened in a millisecond but for me the answer was obvious. "I'll be there." was all I could say and left. Suddenly, I never wanted to do a race more than right at that moment.
Thankfully, the race organizers set up shop in an empty store on one of Puerto Rico's biggest malls to sign up people right up to the very last day so on Friday I walked in and signed up. It was all very organized and quick. I think it took me all of 10 minutes from filling out the form to paying and walking out.
I was not quite ready for what I encountered on Sunday. This was the biggest draw of any race I have ever done in Puerto Rico. Bigger than the World's Best 10K even. The atmosphere was electric. Everyone seemed happy to be there and there were A LOT of teams from different companies and organizations. All decked out in some form of pink or white, which of course made me stand out more than usual with a blue shirt. But the shirt included in registration was cotton and not available in my size so I got one for my wife.
The starting line was an interesting exercise. There were parallel starting lines for walkers and runners, which covered the entire avenue sidewalk to sidewalk. I guess it makes sense. The starting gun was for both groups at the same time, with the runners naturally taking the lead and leaving the walkers to bring up the rear. Eventually, both lanes converged into one huge group but by then, everyone is pretty much where they need to be speed-wise so there was no unnecessary traffic problems. At least not enough for it to be a problem.
Which brings me to the race itself. Running was not really the point here. Oh, I'm sure the runners up front had a great time sprinting down to the finish but for the immense majority gathered this was about something else. I was plenty happy with the PR in my previous race and had no intention of chasing a number on this one so after taking off and posting my first mile somewhere in the 12's I decided to step back and walk most of the way. There was just this great vibe all around and I wanted to take it all in. So without any set intervals I walked some then ran some all the way to the finish. At 43 minutes and change, this is my slowest 5K in years but who cares?
This is not the first time they do this race in Puerto Rico but I do think this was the biggest so far. Hopefully it will get bigger. I do want to give people who are thinking of doing this race next year some advice though. Respect the distance. Sadly, a lot of people came to the race thinking that since they were just walking, it would be easy. It wasn't. The heat and humidity conspired for some grueling conditions and the amount of people who ended up on stretchers or an ambulance was large enough for the news to report on it. So get some miles under you before the race and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
I never did run into Nitza that day. With so many people there it would have taken a miracle but still, I wore the tag and ran in her name. For her, and all the women suffering from the disease.