You would think that after living in Queen Anne for 13 years I would have managed to participate in the annual Crown of Queen Anne Fun Run/Walk. But before Saturday's fiasco, never had I dragged myself out of bed to parade around the neighborhood with other devoted community members. Since I needed to give my own take on the event, my aunt Nancy came up with an idea: What better way to detail the occasion and soak in the vibe than running it myself?
So I sauntered over to the Metropolitan Market to sign up. When I glanced down at the pamphlet someone handed me, I almost fell down. Twenty bucks??!! 20???? OK, OK, it's for a great cause - Queen Anne Helpline. And maybe my editor would reimburse me (just kidding). At least I got one of those cool, marathon-looking race tags.
On the morning of the race, I showed up at Fifth Avenue West and West Halladay Street 40 minutes early to check out the scene. My mind wasn't quite with it yet, due to the 8 a.m. starting time. Obviously the organizers didn't have me in mind when they picked that number.
At first I wondered if I was even in the right place - it looked like there were more policemen than runners. But eventually other people came leisurely wandering in. Kids, teenagers, college students and adults all mingled around, stretching and chatting the time away before the race.
As I walked through the crowd, I saw a fair share of interesting-looking hats and T-shirts - notably a huge red hat with a second, smaller piece of headwear on top of it. Some people were definitely getting into the Queen Anne spirit.
After a few minutes I began to stretch out and scout the competition. Not having done any real jogging over the past few months, I knew that I'd have to rely on pure athleticism to get me through and take home the trophy. And even if I didn't win, the Queen Anne News had to be well-represented with a strong placing.
At 8 o'clock sharp the walkers took off with a flurry - well, they at least took off. As the 8:20 runner's start neared, I conversed with a friend's younger brother to pass the time. The crowd of runners continued to get bigger and bigger with each passing minute, and I noted with some alarm that several participants intended to run the race barefoot.
With about two minutes to go before the starting gun, my hopes for winning took a big hit. Gathered at the line were a few runner-like individuals who appeared to take this event very seriously. My worst fears were confirmed when I overheard one of them talking about some "marathon."
The horn blew to begin the race and I was suddenly on my own, separated from the rest of the contestants. I jogged the first few hundred yards with my friend's brother before settling into my own pace. The first mile was pretty easy, and I managed to hold my place somewhere in the top 10 or so.
As I made my way through the streets that I grew up on, people began appearing outside of their houses to cheer the runners on as they passed by. It was fun to see the community get into the event even though they weren't running themselves - people found their own ways to pitch in.
Unfortunately, the energy their encouragement gave me wore off far too quickly. I started to realize that I'd set too fast a pace. To make it tougher, people I knew recognized me and engaged in one-sentence conversations as I ran past. Of course I wanted to talk to them, but I was having trouble getting enough air into my lungs.
Former neighbor: "I enjoy reading your articles!"
Me: (gasp) "Thanks!" (gasp) (gasp).
Soon I began to hear some footsteps behind me and realized that I was definitely slowing down. A few minutes later a man around 60 years old passed me and kept right on going. As he pulled away, I noted with some alarm that the ink on the event notes I was carrying in my hand was beginning to sweat away; a good reporter never goes anywhere without his notes and a pen, even if he forgets to wear shorts with pockets.
Going up Eighth Avenue West, I hit the proverbial marathoner's "wall." Too bad I was about 20 miles short of where that usually kicks in. After being passed a few more times, I submitted to exhaustion and walked for a minute because I could do so without getting passed by anyone else. To my amazement, I saw two of the "marathon" guys running back past me the opposite way, having already completed the race and apparently hungry for still more exercise.
With that little rest under my belt I made a strong run to the finish at Coe Elementary. I was so tired passing the final line that I only managed to notice that my time was 23-something. At that point it didn't even matter - I had a cement wall to sit on, and for all I knew it was as comfortable as a nice fluffy couch.
After resting a bit, I joined my fellow racers at Queen Anne Lutheran Church for a little cool-down and prize drawings. It was great just sitting in the grass with everyone else, eating oranges and enjoying the sense of community that the race creates.
The hat contest was one of the morning's best moments. Kids cheered loudly as their friends stood up on the podium sporting hats that had things such as the Space Needle and large Q-A letters hanging down. The adult winners were my favorites - a couple of ladies who had hats and shirts representing the "before and after" features of global warming.
Publisher Mike Dillon took care of finalizing the race results, and lucky winners walked home with gift certificates and other fun items. Toddlers roamed the area while parents kept a watchful eye, and apparently my car keys can also be a children's toy, as two little guys managed to pick them up while I watched the ceremony.
In the end, it wasn't the exhaustion or 15th-20th place finish that I remembered from the Crown of Queen Anne run. It was the fun, community building, cheerleading and silliness, with a little exercise mixed in between. When the event rolls around next year, I'll definitely be there. This time with pockets.