Bill Bowerman possessed all the qualities that made the Greatest Generation so great.  He was a native Oregonian (son of Governor Jay Bowerman), a star football player, a World War II hero, a track coach to numerous Olympians and American record holders, a bestselling author and one of the founders of sportswear giant Nike.  I recently finished reading his biography and came away impressed with how much one man could do in a lifetime.  Learning all about this Oregon icon inspired me to sign up for the 2nd annual Bowerman Athletic Club 5K on the beautiful Nike campus in Beaverton.  Based upon last year’s times, I knew there’d be some stiff competition, which would hopefully push me to hit my goal of a sub-18 minute finish.

It’d been 20 years since I last ran a 5K and I must admit I was a little nervous.  If given a choice I’d probably opt for a half marathon over a 5K.  The 5K may be short in distance, but it more than makes up that with its intensity.  From the second the gun goes off you’re pushing it right to the edge and those 3.1 miles can feel like an eternity.

I worked half a day on Saturday, changed clothes, and then biked and MAX-ed out to Beaverton.  I picked up my race packet at the Tiger Woods Center, wondering what crimes you’d have to commit before they removed your name from a building.  If Lance Armstrong admitted to doping, would they change the name of the Lance Armstrong Center?  If there had been an O. J. Simpson Center, would it have been changed?  It’s a real disadvantage naming buildings after fallible human beings.

The 80 degree temperatures were a bit on the warm side, but it was fun to do a race in the evening for a change. There were lots of high school runners in their track uniforms and bright Nike running shoes.  There were even some real Kenyans taking part, as well as a Ugandan guy who holds the NCAA record in the 800m.  Twenty percent of all race proceeds were supporting his efforts to build medical facilities in his native country.

At 7pm, several hundred of us lined up and then took off on a lap and half around campus.  I was planning on running a 5:47 pace, but as usual started off a bit too fast.  My first mile split was 5:40.  I felt alright, and thought maybe I could hold this pace.  I started passing lots of people and hit the mile two split at 11:20 (another 5:40 mile!).  Again I wondered if I could hold on.  Unfortunately, the answer came quickly…no way in hell.  Now I was the one being passed.

My watch showed that I had slowed down to a 6:05 pace.  At that point my brain was in no shape to do the math, but I felt like I was running much too slow.  Finishing in under 18 minutes now seemed like an impossibility.  A Mexican guy in a bright orange running singlet came up from behind and for some reason I decided that I would stick with this guy no matter what.  We ran side by side for those last few minutes (which seemed like hours) and turned the final corner together.  We both took off in a sprint, but he had more of a kick still left in his legs and beat me by a couple of seconds.  Afterwards I thanked him for helping me through that last half mile.  Without him I don’t think would have been able to finish in 17:52 and break 18 minutes for the first time.

Afterwards there was beer, BBQ and a rock band cranking out the classics.  Awards were handed out by 2008 Olympians Dathan Ritzenhein (in a walking cast), Matt Tegenkamp and Amy Yoder Begley.  The top three finishers each received one of those giant cashier checks.  My dream is to win one of those bad boys some day.  If I ever do, I’ll make sure to go to the bank during a busy Friday lunchtime rush just so everyone could see me standing in line with it under my arm.  “Oh this?  It’s just something I won racing against some Kenyans last weekend out on the Nike campus.  No big deal.”