My Fourth of July started off with a bang. Literally.
Well as much of a bang as an alarm clock can emit at 5:45 a.m. A time I don't usually see during a work week, much less on a national holiday. But it buzzing. So I got myself out bed.
Because it was time to run.
I was registered to run the Fox Firecracker 5K in Kaukauna on the Fourth of July, a race organized by the local triathlon club. Last year was its first year and I wasn't able to run it since I was working. But I had the day off this year. So I ran.
They started with a kids run - I watched my niece and oldest nephew run their hearts out for an American flag and a piece of string cheese shaped like a firecracker - and then we were directed to look to the sky.
There was a small plane circling high above and then three skydivers jumped, falling to the ground with an American flag in tow. After they landed, there was a salute to those Americans who serve our country, complete with a gun salute and the playing of "Taps" (during which I almost teared up, thinking of the funeral I covered a few years ago for a young man who was killed in Iraq) and then the singing of the national anthem.
I was ready to run. But I couldn't yet. The race director told us to keep looking to the sky, directing us to look to the southeast. I did. And soon I saw, and heard, why.
A pair of Blackhawk helicopters were approaching from the distance. They did a flyover, twice. And you could see one of the pilots leaning out the side, waving at us runners.
Then the gun sounded. The run was beginning.
At the start it was chaotic. Lots of walkers who didn't quite understand they should have started near the back of the pack left me weaving in and out of people, trying to get around the groups of people who decided to walk seven across. A little frustrating for the first two blocks or so.
But the crowd thinned out eventually and I could settle into a decent pace. Just me. Running bright and early on the Fourth of July.
Of course, within a quarter mile that pace was lowered when I approached the first of many hills that I would be running up. It was a long gradual hill, nothing even close to the cliff road at High Cliff a couple of weeks ago. But still it's a hill. And considering I live in the City on the Water, which is completely flat, it was challenging.
But I kept putting one foot in front of the other and soon I was at the top. Then the first mile marker was staring me in the face. And the first water stop shortly after. And then I was running downhill - the plus to hills, what goes up must come down. Granted once I was at the bottom of that hill I had about a block before another one was greeting me. Repeat another three or four times and that was the final two miles of the course.
While running, and cursing the hills, I came to the realization. There is no such thing as a straight or flat street in the entire city of Kaukauna. Not so fun to run. Oh well.
Near the end, as I was running over the Veterans' Bridge and could see the finish line arch on the other side of the river, I was starting to get a little tired. And almost stopped to walk for a minute or two as I approached the - final - uphill portion on the course.
But I refused to stop and walk. Seeing the other runners on the course - including some military members who ran the 5K outfitted in all of their combat gear - I knew I didn't want to stop. I wanted to finish this by running the entire way, no matter how much it was starting to hurt.
So I kept running. And suddenly I was running downhill, towards the final turn into the chute leading to the finish line. And all of a sudden, with the crowds lining the chute, I realized I had a little bit of gas left in the tank. So I kicked it up a notch of two and sprinted the final stretch, which was a little less than a quarter mile.
I crossed the mat, got my American flag and some post-race food - including a slice of apple pie, which I gave to my mom.
My time ended up being 35 minutes, 36 seconds and I was finisher 731 out of 1,153. Yes, that's a bit slower than what I've been running in my neighborhood, but considering the hills I had to deal with, I'm pretty pleased with my time.
Besides, that's almost 1 minute, 30 seconds faster than the 5K time I posted at the Oshkosh 5K in April. I'll take it.