I warned you that I might start making posts here about my new running mania. Here comes one.
I participated in my first 5K run over the weekend. 5K comes out to a bit more than 3 miles, and I’ve been able to run 4 miles at the dog park pretty easily in recent weeks. 5K should not have been intimidating, but it was. I was nervous on Friday night, slept fitfully, and woke early on Saturday morning. The distance should not have been worrying me, so I think it was the “officialness” of the run that was. I’d never done one of these before, and I guess I was nervous about being around “real” runners. When I picked up my packet the night before, there were plenty of these “real” runners at the shoe store, collecting theirs as well. I looked at them and knew I wasn’t part of their subculture. (Curiously, they didn’t look the same way at me. At least I didn’t feel any scorn or disdain or condescension.)
Libby and I got to the race site about 45 minutes early (the local junior college where I used to teach), and people were already gathering. Since I’d never done this before, I figured I would just look at the other people and do what they did, which was stand around and talk. Most looked relaxed. A few were doing stretches (which I understand is now considered exactly the wrong thing to do before running). I was too nervous to stand still, so I paced in circles. I think I was the only one there who was doing that, but I was a noob, so I had an excuse.
Eventually everyone began moving toward the starting area. I herded over with them, placing myself at the back third of the pack. (There were about 300 people running I was told.) We had little tags on our shoes (the green thing in the photo above) that would record when we crossed the starting and finishing lines. Although most were runners, there were quite a number of walkers, and as the race went on, many of the runners became walkers too.
I crossed the starting line at a run and quickly fell into my normal trotting pace. I’m told that a lot of noobs will start out too fast and run out of energy by the latter half of the race. I’d already determined that I could sustain a decent trot over a decent distance, so that’s what I committed myself to.
Shortly after getting through the starting gate, we were headed up a long hill, probably a half mile. Fortunately, this was at 7:00 in the morning, and the temps were not yet 80 degrees. I’d hate to have to run that hill in real heat. But so far in my experience, hills haven’t been a problem. It feels as though I’m using my muscles differently when I run up them. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t daunted by that initial hill. I did have to ignore the voices in my head saying that I couldn’t finish the run. This was really only the third time I’d ever run on pavement, and I was sure I was grinding my lower joints into powder by doing so. Or at least, that’s what the voices in my head were telling me. But there was Libby at the top of the hill, and I certainly didn’t want to disappoint her, so I ignored the voices and listened to my body, which was telling me I could do it.
And I did. After I topped that hill, I had a nice long, downhill stretch ahead of me. (It was an out-and-back course, though, so that nice long downhill stretch would soon be an uphill stretch.) I passed a water station where they held cups out for runners to grab on the fly. I saw people open their mouths and pretty much throw the water in the general direction of their faces, which seemed silly. So far, I’ve never gotten thirsty on my runs, so I decided just to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and maintaining my pace (really my best resource is keeping control).
Other runners were passing me. Heck, even some of the walkers were passing me. (To be fair, they were speed walkers.) And some of the faster runners were already on their return half, blistering by me and looking so effortless. But as I made the turn to begin my own return stretch, I could see that there were plenty of runners still behind me. Some were far behind me. At the dog park, I generally set a goal of how many circuits I will run, and I eventually reach a point where the voices in my head are quiet and I know I can reach my goal. That was how I felt on the return stretch of the 5K. Even though I was on the uphill stretch of that fine downhill run from a bit before, I knew I had it in me to finish.
As I approached the water station, a nice man was graciously holding a cup out for me to take, so I did. (I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t grateful.) It turns out that you can’t easily drink from a cup while running. I took a couple of sips and tossed the rest onto the parched grass beside the road then dropped the cup into the waiting trash can. Next time, I may just throw the water in the general direction of my face.
As I drew near the last turn, there was Libby again, cheering me on and snapping pix. (Sorry, I look terrible!) Then I made the turn and vowed to sprint to the finish line. Now, realize that sprinting for me is probably not what you have in your mind’s eye. Even so, I hit the after burners and starting blazing. (That’s probably a mixed metaphor. Sorry.) The trouble was, the finish line was not in the same place as the starting line. It was farther away than I expected, and when I saw that, I lost my wild enthusiasm and fell back to my trotting pace. Nonetheless, I did sprint two-thirds of the way to the finish after I made that final turn. It felt really good while I did it, and I’m determined to build my stamina to increase my overall pace.
After the run, when we were driving home, I opened the bottle of Gatorade that I had bought mostly as a joke and took a sip. I’ve never liked the taste of the stuff, and, as I said, I’m never thirsty on my runs. But by the time we’d driven the ten minutes home, I’d finished the whole bottle. So, surprise there! Another surprise is that I find I much prefer running on pavement than on grass. On Sunday I took Flike to the dog park to run a bit, and you can keep your tufts of grass on uneven soil. I’m surprised I never turned my ankle in all the laps I’ve taken there. Plus the scenery never changes at the dog park. The same roots, the same droppings, the same turns. Even the same dogs. I find I’d much rather have a little scenery. Plus I never really got a sense of the distance I’d run in all of those laps at the dog park. Road running certainly gives a different sense of the ground covered. So it’s been a learning experience for Pablo, who’s feeling a lot like a kid lately.
I got a great shirt for participating. It’s bright blue, much like the one in the photo above. (The one in the photo is made of some substance that is not found in nature. And it turns out that it really does wick away the sweat from my hulking flesh better than cotton. I may have to get myself some running shorts made of the same material. This could be an expensive sport. Really, I need some new shoes. Look at the ones in the photo for goodness sake!)
And I got the warm fuzzies for participating. I’m enjoying that runner’s high you hear about. I’m already looking toward other 5K races in the area, and I’m beginning to listen to the other voices in my head that tell me I can probably work toward a 10K (and beyond?).