Category Archives: 5K Races


“When you turn fifty,” one of my friends told me on my birthday two weeks ago, “you have more days behind you than ahead. That’s the reality, not fifty-fifty like some people like to think.”

And “Happy Birthday” to you too.

While he might have saved that Eeyore like insight for another day, my friend is correct.  The odds of a 50-year-old living to 100 are 1 in 37.  Although my paternal grandmother made it to ninety-seven and my father might have lived just as long were it not for a three pack a day smoking habit (the genes on that side of the family are stout) it is doubtful I will see my 100th birthday.  Although I share those genes and my mother lived into her early 80’s, from an actuarial perspective, it’s unlikely. That’s nothing to beat myself up about.  Not too many folks become centenarians.  Certainly I try to take care of myself. I am no longer much of a drinker, but I’ve had more than my share of booze over the years, like to smoke a cigar a couple times a month and other than a bowl of oatmeal each morning I eat whatever I feel like.  Not thinking that adds up to a 100 year life span.

So I concede my friend’s point. The end is closer than the beginning. Perhaps that is why, at fifty, we tend to take stock of ourselves more than other milestone birthdays.

On the plus side, I am very much in love with my wife, have two great kids, enjoy my day job and the people I work with and am able to express my creativity through writing. I enjoy good relations with my brothers, sisters, in-laws and have a wealth of friends, fellow parishioners and neighbors.  I live in a small town that allows me to not have to get in a car every time I want to do something. I walk to work, church, the post office and the American Legion for the occasional whiskey shot and cold beer. Once in a while after Saturday night Mass I combine my taste for booze, ability to walk and the practicing of my faith and stop at the Legion for a drink on the way home. How nice is that?

Physically, I’m in good shape.  At 6-2 and 180, I’m where I need to be height and weight wise. However, I have a cranky back as the result of an injury in my mid-thirties which caused two bulging discs to press on my sciatic nerve and caused considerable pain. Through physical therapy I avoided surgery and have had minimal problems since.  Last  year I was diagnosed with early stages of hip impingement (the ball joint of my leg is rubbing against the socket and will likely require surgery in the future.) It causes stiffness, not pain, and I do exercises every day to strengthen my abdominal and upper leg muscles, thus relieving the stress on the joints.  Every third day, I run three miles at an eight and a half-minute per mile pace. Certainly not fast enough to win my age group in a 5k, but better than most 50-year-old males I suspect.

As for stress, I confess to a lesser amount now that both kids are in college. Out of sight, out of mind in regard to worrying about them certainly holds true.  That, and the fact that my wife, Yolanda, and I know they are where they should be at this stage of their lives and are happy, makes for content parents. Probably my biggest concern is in regard to this country’s economic future. A concern that many folks carry these days.  While I’m employed with an income that provides for my family’s needs, I come in contact with hard-working people every day who cannot say the same. Economic well-being is not something I ever, or have ever, taken for granted, but what disturbs me about our current state of affairs is the lack of confidence in the future.  I have not encountered this among folks from so many walks of life as I have the last few years.

I wonder myself what life may be like when Yolanda and I can no longer work and our bodies start to fail us.  It seems that every time you pick up the paper another societal institution is crumbling down upon the individuals who supported it. Our national psyche is unsettled, too many Americans are living in fear, and without a dramatic change in the near future this may become what some economic forecasters call the “new normal.” If so, who wants to live to be 100 anyway?

That all said, I sleep well at night. Perhaps it’s because I was raised by two people who survived the Great Depression and WWII and they taught me to take care of what I can, turn the rest over to God and do my best to enjoy the day.  Let’s face it, life is a crapshoot.  How we all happened to be here to begin with still a subject of debate.

So, in response to my friend, yeah, I’m no actuary, but  I get it.  Sure, it’s unlikely that I will make 100  But as I sit  here on my screen porch with our Sheltie, Sammy, I’m OK with that.  The sun is shining and a soft breeze is blowing as I write. With rustling fall leaves signalling their approach, a friend and his three-year-old son, our God son, walk by and wave.  They’ll be over for supper later. I’ve got a pork roast in the smoker and Yolanda is making potato salad.  We’ll visit, eat, have a couple of beers, Yolanda will play in the leaves with our God son and we’ll watch the sunset on the screen porch.

Like everybody else, I have no idea what the future holds or whether I’ve lived more days on this earth than not. But in this moment, in this place,  I do know the odds that today is going to be a great day are better than fifty-fifty.  That’s good enough for me.

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Filed under 21st Century America, 50th Birthday, 5K Races, Baby Boomers, Economics, Family, Friends, Greatest Generation, Institutions, October 2011, Running

Setting the Right Pace at the Hoopeston Sweetcorn Festival

Things are hopping in the usually slow-paced Hoopeston, Illinois, also known as the “Sweetcorn Capital of the World” (confirmed by the town water tower for the skeptics among you.)

It’s Labor Day weekend and the annual Sweetcorn Festival is in full swing.  Beginning on Thursday, the local park morphs into a carnival complete with rides, barkers, fleemarkets, tractor pulls, demolition derby, a beer tent, classic car show and live entertainment.  (Elvis looks and sounds great by the way.  At least the three from last year did.) Beauty queens buzz around town, thirty plus young women, runner ups in their state Miss America contest, they travel to Hoopeston to participate in the National Sweetheart Pageant.  It’s no minor event on the pageant circuit as seven former winners have gone on to become Miss America.

By Friday night empty lawn chairs line the curbs of Main Street as locals stake their claim to shady areas from which to watch the Saturday morning parade. Perched on the back of classic convertibles the sweating, ball gowned beauty queens force smiles and wave.  High school bands, drumline thundering, blast away.  Clydesdales and politicians hoof by, leaving you know what in their wake.  To be fair, the pols do toss out candy, especially in election years.  The Shriners zoom along in tiny cars, completing a synchronized figure eight every few blocks, the crowd cheering.

For the more health conscious, or at least those who want to offset the sweetcorn, tacos, strawberry shakeups and funnel cakes, there is the Bill Orr Memorial Sweetcorn 5K Classic.  Bill was a friendly, full-faced fellow who always called me “Pem” and was quick to buy me a beer when we ran into each other at the American Legion.  He was a local funeral home owner and organized the race for years before passing away.  Naming the race in Bill’s memory was automatic and unanimous.

The start and finish line is two blocks from our house and early Saturday morning my wife, Yolanda, and I, amble over to register and line up for the start.  We reminisce about Bill as we walk — “House looks good, Pem,” he’d holler when strolling by on a summer evening, Yolanda and I sitting on the screened porch.

Like most 5K runs there is a mix of people.  The top runners are already running, getting in a mile or two warm up so they can break from the gate at full speed.  Male or female, they sport racing shorts, mesh tank tops and black wrist watches to track their pace.   They will post times in the mid-teens for the 3.2 mile run.

There are gals and guys like my wife and I, wearing loose-fitting grey or black cotton gym shorts from Wal-Mart and t-shirts bought on vacation, sleeves chopped off at the shoulder.  Mine says “Emerald Isle, North Carolina.”  A fellow, whom I’ve never met from a neighboring town, stops and asks me when I was there.  We talk about Hurricane Irene and hope the best for the Carolinians who weathered the storm. Yolanda and a local farmer talk about the tomatoes he gave her to make salsa.  She canned them and gave him some jars “extra hot” the way he prefers.

Plenty of kids under twelve, escorted by parents, mill about.  They do not stretch or run warm up miles.  Loose as the proverbial goose, they chatter away with mom or dad.  When the race starts some take off like rockets.  Their parents catch up and slow them down.  The kids settle in for the long run.

Yolanda and I separate.  She is a walker and retreats to the back of the pack.  I position myself about halfway in, not wanting to get in the way of any serious runners (or stampeded by eager kids.)   As I run the first section of the race the mayor gives me a wave, he’s stopping traffic at a corner, as does a friend who works at the post office who is monitoring another intersection.  A local cop hollers at me: “Yolanda’s gonna catch you if you keep up that pace, Mike.”

I am off to a slow start, running a 9:15 first mile.  It’s hot and humid and I debate whether I want to put forth the effort to make up the lost time.  I hit the two-mile mark in 18 minutes, shaving 30 seconds off the second mile, but I remind myself there is a hill at the end of the course.  Feeling good, I pick up the pace and run side-by-side with a father and daughter.

“How old are you,” I ask the girl.

“Seven,” she says.

“Wow, you’re doing great.”

“And she loves it,” her dad says.

“I hate it, Dad,” she says with a roll of her eyes.

But the look she gives me as I go by reveals the heart of a competitor. I don’t think she’ll let me pass her next year.

I hit the final hill at a good clip (for me) and run hard toward the finish line.  It’s not Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, but for a few seconds I run as hard as I can and revel in the feeling.

“Go Mike,” someone hollers from the crowd gathered around the finish line.

“Way to go, Mr. Pemberton,” a young voice shouts.

I hit the finish line at 28 minutes and change.

Too slow, I think to myself.

I visit with folks, chug ice water and munch on fresh watermelon and cantaloupe slices supplied by the race organizers.  Bill would be pleased with their work.

Yolanda finishes and we touch base with more people before walking home, reviewing the race and hoping for cooler weather next year.  As we do, I think about my 5K  time and our small town.

And I know, I’m running the race at just the right pace.

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Filed under 5K Races, Family, Friends, Running, September 2011