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Runners take off at last year's For Kids' Sake Superhero 5K.

To try to get myself back in shape this spring, I signed up for a 5K at the St. Louis Zoo in May.

Making Tracks Through The Zoo only really let you run through the zoo for about the last eighth of the race, but it sounded fun. About two miles around Forest Park, then a downhill finish past the giraffes, the new grizzly bear exhibit, and the polar bear. Proceeds went toward the local children's hospital, which treated my youngest daughter when she was being tested for cystic fibrosis, and has helped so many others.

I found a hotel room in St. Louis the night before, because the race was scheduled for 7:30 a.m., and found sitters for my kids. Then I trained for weeks, running around the neighborhood, mixing in a few workouts on my elliptical at home, and stuffing my face with pasta the week of the big event.

I felt good when we started down the hill. My headphones, which had gone in and out during my training runs, were working well, and I thought I'd be able to finish the 3.1 miles in about a half hour. By the second hill, I was looking for the water station, and wondering if we'd even crossed the first mile yet.

When I finally reached the zoo, my heart was pounding out of my chest, I'd lost about 12 pounds, and I strongly considered actually running the rest of the race. I'd walked about half of it, as the trail went around a winding hill, up another one that rivaled the Brady Street Hill of the Bix 7 back home in Davenport, and around more bends than I could count. I'd never struggled with a 5K as much as that one, but, I'd never attempted one at 43 years old, either.

Before the race I'd dreamed I would someday run a marathon. Now I'm pretty convinced I'll be walking the rest of my 5K entries.

When I passed the giraffes, they were all watching me as if they were waiting for me to collapse. When I got to the polar bear, he was asleep, and I can't even begin to explain how jealous I was. 

I was sore for about three days, and ecstatic I hadn't pulled a hamstring or something. My body found a way to tell me what everything else has this year: I'm getting older.

The 5Ks seem longer. Doing 10 pushups and 20 situps now features a 4-minute break during commercials. The elliptical is the devil. My 9-year-old daughter calls me "Old Man." Yesterday I put an ice cube in my coffee, like my mother. On purpose. I take the short walk with the dogs. When I get up after watching a movie my hips are stiff, and my back doesn't quite feel right until I start walking around.

So if you see me running around the neighborhood, waive politely and say a prayer. It's only going to get hotter, and I'm not getting any younger. 

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TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman. 


Sports reporter

Todd Hefferman has covered SIU athletics since 2008. A University of Iowa grad, he is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and a Heisman Trophy voter.

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