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Crowd turns out to "Run with the Moose"

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Quincy's hills put race on the map

By Pat Faherty

In the central neighborhoods of Quincy, there is a range of hills infamous throughout the Florida Panhandle for their steeply sloped streets and ear-popping elevations.

While this is not exactly true, it certainly seemed so last Saturday during the second annual Run With the Moose 5K race. They were the kind of hills where you would expect to find Sherpa villages and yaks, instead of lawnmowers and dogs. To a wannabe runner, these hills were really steep.

And there were a lot more uphills than down.

You can't say enough about the Quincy Loyal Order of Moose Lodge 2672 when it comes to community service. After launching this fundraiser for the Special Olympics with a small race last year, they were back and prepared for a bigger event.

So the least I could do to support their effort  was to send in my entry. After all, at that point the race was still two weeks off so I had plenty of time to train and get ready.

Quincy is blessed with a public running track on Martin Luther King Boulevard. I guessed it was a traditional 440 yards, meaning four laps would make a mile and about 13 laps would have me in shape to run a 5K race -- and I had two weeks.

Then all I had to do was find a few websites and get some inside tips on running a 5K. Surprisingly, I couldn't find a two-week training plan. So I adapted the easy parts of an eight-week plan and began hitting the track.

I soon learned that coffee wasn't the best pre-run beverage, and those laps were taking longer than I thought they would.

So I forgot about speed and concentrated on distance. In my age category how fast could they go without using canes and walkers? As race day approached I was feeling confident. I had done a three-mile stretch on the track and had run a good part of it.

Saturday morning was here and race officials reported they had received about 35 pre-entries and others were checking in. But as 8 a.m. approached, people and vehicles started converging on the Moose Lodge on West Jefferson Street.

And they were strange people, scores of them, long-legged and thin. Many looked like they hadn't eaten in weeks and were now swilling exotic power drinks as they stretched their skinny limbs.

Many knew each other and talked in small groups and the one word I heard repeatedly was "hills!"

I hadn't included any hills in my training program and was thinking maybe the course would route us around the worst of them.

Then it was time to go and the crowd -- now more than 100 entries -- moved to the starting line.

There were runners of all ages wearing all sorts of outfits to beat the heat while looking athletic. Many checked and rechecked their watches, some bounced in place and some of us yawned.

Then we were off. The pack started off slow as faster runners streaked ahead and the rest of us spread out to find our stride or just stay out of the way. Suddenly we were careening downhill on North Ninth Street. It's not as easy as you'd think; you have to try and stay upright while not stepping on the heels of the person in front of you.

That ascent dropped us on a short flat stretch and rest of the race, as I recall, was all uphill. Now the pack had spread out greatly with many in the back half doing sort of a fast walk. It was a pace I could handle, but the hills were so steep I wasn't always sure if I was actually going forward or just fighting gravity to stay in place.

Soon the sun was high enough to be felt and at the one-mile mark where King Street goes skyward I knew it was going to be a long morning. Then I remembered something from a website: "pick a runner well ahead of you, concentrate on closing the gap and passing him."

I spotted my mark, an old guy who was kind of tottering along. It took a lot of effort, but I finally tracked him down and trotted past.

Just before the home stretch there was another perilous downhill before a punishing climb  up Church Street to the finish line. My feet felt like lead as I improvised a sort of run-walk shuffle step that at least kept me moving forward.

Then I heard it. It was a rhythmic foot-stepping sound and the old guy glided by me, up the hill and out of sight.
 
Now I was finally in the final stretch. I could see a crowd at the finish line and numbers on the electronic timer.
 
Again, I heard footsteps.

Someone behind me was getting anxious it seemed, but I was determined to hold whatever position I was in. So we raced side-by-side the last 100 yards, crossing the line on the same second. But those two weeks of training had paid off and I finished slightly ahead of him.

So just wait until next year. Training starts July 1.

According to Dawn Mackland with the Moose, the race and related activities raised $1,600 for the Special Olympics.

And during the awards ceremony, many runners praised the event and plan on returning.  For some runners, the hills are part of the race's allure, making it noteworthy on the North Florida calendar of 5Ks.