I laced up my running shoes and did another 5K yesterday. This time it was the Head for the Cure run, and it was at the office park literally just down the street from me.
I’ve been psyching myself up for this run for a while now. My regular runs — up to three times a week now, go me! — are all longer than a 5K. Some are more than twice as long. So, I assured myself, the 3.1 miles of a 5K really should be nothing, not a challenge or difficult at all. Yeah, that’s what I told myself.
But this race was different from the two others I have done. The first had only 300 participants. The second, fewer than that. The Head for the Cure run had more than 4,000! For some reason, this really intimidated me. As we all milled around waiting for the starting horn, all I could see were elite runners and high school athletes, and every single one of them was going to leave me in the dust. (Actually, there was no dust because something amazing happened — rain! We’ve had some decent rain the last few days, and it was even raining a bit on race morning.) Because of what turned out to be problems with their official clock, the start of the race was delayed for half an hour. This, of course, made me more nervous, but I’m told that such anxiety can be put to use for runners (and all competitors, I’m sure, but rarely allowing myself to be a competitor in any way keeps me from knowing this for sure).
To say that I started at the front of the pack is not saying much. There were so many people that nearly five minutes passed after the starting horn before I even crossed the starting line. Fortunately, we were chip timed (based on when the little electronic chip attached to my shoe crosses the starting line), so when I crossed wasn’t as important as that I crossed the starting line. My personal clock started then.
This race had a huge number of walkers — whole teams of walkers in matching shirts. I had understood that we runners were going to get a five-minute head start on the walkers, but apparently the walkers didn’t get this message. In the nearly five minutes it took me just to get to the starting line, probably a thousand walkers were already on the course ahead of me. My, they were having a jolly time. Walking and chatting and on their cell phones and pushing their strollers and walking with their dogs and waving to their friends and hanging in packs of six or seven abreast, blocking the road where we runners needed to hustle. I spent a great deal of the first third of the run going around these walkers. I heard one runner complain that it was going to be more like 3.5 miles when you took into account the distance devoted to diverting around the packs of walkers.
But, honestly, I can’t complain about the walkers too much. After all, they were out there. They were doing their part to raise funds and awareness to fight brain cancer. It was all just another learning experience for Pablo.
After the first mile marker — the first third of the way — all of us were thinned out pretty well. By then I didn’t have to get around whole groups of people and just faced the usual slower (!) runners and walkers. The rush I felt from being amidst the pack (and I did feel the rush, so much so that I think I ran faster at the start than I should have) was gone, and it was just Pablo against the pavement, me against the miles. That’s when the benefit of all of my solo running kicked in and when all of the counseling I had given myself about being able to handle a mere 5K was brought to bear. It worked. I’ve learned that I must both listen to my body and ignore my body when I run. Pay attention to problems and issues, but ignore the imagined fatigue. My left knee has sometimes given me some problems on my longer runs, and I worried that that might crop up on this run. And it did — before the race. My knee twinged and felt tight. Great! I couldn’t even get started without a problem. Yet as I ran, the knee offered no complaint at all. I suppose it was psychological before the race and physical during the race. Whatever the reason, I found my groove and just stuck to it.
It happened that at around the first mile marker, the course passed the start/finish line on the other side of the road. I made the mistake of looking over there and seeing some runners actually finishing the race while I was just getting started. I shouldn’t have looked. But I’m just a beginner, and I’m no longer 17, so I’m going to stick with realistic expectations of myself.
Not far after this point was the water station. I’ve learned not to wear my glasses on these runs any longer. I can see well enuf without them, and they are one fewer thing to manage as I trudge along. (Imagine taking them off, wiping your face with your shirt, then putting them back on, all the while trying to maintain your stride and not collide with anyone.) So when the kind person at the station held out a cup of water for me, I took it and threw it in the general direction of my face. A fair amount of water actually made it into my mouth. I’m getting good at this.
Because the course was so close to my house, Libby and I had driven over it a couple of times in recent days. I wanted to know where the hills were, and there was one that looked long and grueling. It wasn’t all that steep, but it was long. As I approached this hill, I kept telling myself to keep on keeping on. Try to maintain a pace, and take deep breaths. On hills, I tend to look down at the ground before my feet. The road looks level when you do that. So I knew this hill was coming, and I was talking to myself about it. And I kept my eyes down for as long as I could. But then I knew I had to look up and face the hill.
When I did, I found that I was already at the top. That felt great, but there was still a mile to go. Fortunately, it was all downhill or flat from there. Curiously, I was passing a lot of people. Sure, most were walkers, or runners who had pooped out and were walking, but I was passing a few runners too. That also felt great, but only because it told me I was developing some mad running skillz after these months of effort.
And then came the big finish. Now, I understand this is not a good thing to do, but in the past two 5Ks I ran, I sprinted to the finish line. Supposedly, that’s how injuries occur. Still, I wanted to see what I had in me, and with a couple hundred feet ahead of me, I hit the afterburners and tore past quite a few people. It felt great, but I suppose I should try to behave in the future. I crossed the line and staggered around and gasped for air, and then I stumbled over to the people with the clippers who remove the chips from your shoes and bent at the waist to make the spots before my eyes go away. As the woman snipped my chip free, I saw some familiar feet standing before me. Libby had been there waiting.
I was recovered in just a couple of minutes. (Did I mention that the humidity was recorded at 96 percent?) So we walked around the various booths that were set up to hawk this or that or to give away bagels, granola bars, donuts, Gatorade, coffee, cookies, bananas, fruit, and water. I snagged a bagel and a granola bar and got Libby a cup of coffee. It was then that I learned about the problem with the starting clock and that they couldn’t post our finish times right away. They would be emailed to us. Since there was nothing to wait around for, we decided to walk home. That, too, was uphill about a half mile away, but I was energized by then and had no trouble. A shower and some clean clothes later, and I was ready for the vegetarian combo platter at our favorite Mediterranean restaurant.
When we got home later Sunday afternoon, our times were posted at the race site. I won’t embarrass myself by telling you my actual time, but I will say that not only was it my Personal Best so far — shaving more than a minute and a half off my last time — but it would have put me in first place for my age group at the first 5K I ran. So, go me! Again!
I have a couple more 5Ks and two 10Ks coming up in the months ahead. I feel as though I’m getting stronger, both mentally and physically, so I’m looking forward to them (until the morning of the run, of course).