About seven weeks ago I ran my first 5k and I am proud to say, I haven’t stopped running. As anyone who has read my past posts on running knows the 5k was a goal I set to get my butt moving again and to prove to myself that I could actually do it. I wish I had written the story of the 5k day sooner so that the memories would be more alive and the writing more vivid, but I didn’t. And I can’t quite explain why. I made excuses for myself: I wanted the pictures my Uncle took to post with the story and I still haven’t received any; I wanted to take a day or two to process and slow my mind down; I was still waiting for those pictures; it’s been too long. So although I’d love to have to tons of incredibly flattering (sarcasm warning) pictures of me “running” to share along with the story, I don’t. And maybe for posterity’s sake that’s better. What follows is the day as best I can remember it.
I was signed up to run the 5k with my two cousins, Emily and Lauren, who live down the street from my parents. I picked a run that was closer to their house than mine since it was easier for me to come spend the night there then for them to sleep in my tiny apartment. As luck would have it, the 5k fell on my birthday so we turned the day into a birthday/you actually ran celebration. Emily had to drop out of the run due to injury, so it was just Lauren and I. Allow me to try and give you an accurate picture of the two of us. Lauren is about 5’8, blond, beautiful, athletic, and bubbly. She goes through life with a smile on her face and a kind word for everyone. She runs and works out on a daily basis. She has the body other girls look at and say “I wish.” And then there is me. 5’8, dark hair, stunningly beautiful as well ;-), not nearly as athletic, and no where near as bubbly. For me, running is a chore. For Lauren, running is a picnic. I got to my parents house the night before and, surprisingly, slept pretty well. My mom got a new bed for my old bedroom since I took the one that was in there, and this new bed is like sleeping on a cloud. Before going to bed I set out all of the things I’d need the next day. Since this was a 5k I obviously didn’t need an entire battery of supplies, but I didn’t want to be searching the next day for something simple like socks. I woke up the next morning not so happy. I am not a morning person. And waking up to exercise? Not in my list of fun things to do. But I was excited. Surprised that no one else in the house was up, my parents are early risers and I thought perhaps they would have waken up to smile at me as I walked to my death, I got ready in silence. Midway through getting dressed, my Dad knocked on my door. He thought I hadn’t woken up, and like he used to when I was in high school, came to wake me up. When he realized I had managed on my own, he went back to bed. As I headed downstairs in my yoga pants I run in, running tank top, running long sleeve shirt, and sneakers, I realized I forgot a jacket to wear in the chilly morning ride to the race. I grabbed one of my Dad’s hoodies out of the mudroom and went to pick Lauren up.
Lauren came bouncing out of her house with coffee and looking ready to conquer the world. We set out for the 45 minute drive to the race and chatted along the way. I have no idea what we talked about. We arrived at the school, parked, and went inside to register. We got our free tshirts and bibs and Lauren was quite dismayed there wasn’t a larger goodie bag. Apparently it is customary to receive more things. I stored this information away to remember to look for races with goodie bags. A girl loves a swag bag.
After registering, we went back to the car to deposit our t-shirts. Neither one of us actually wanted to wear it during the race. Then we set off to walk around the school a million times while waiting for the race to start. This 5k was part of a series and happened to be very family-heavy since it was at an elementary school. The day started with a family friendly mile run so we had the opportunity to see lots of small children running through the finish line with the biggest smiles on their faces.
When it came time to line up I wanted to be at the back of the pack but Lauren planted us firmly in the middle. I knew that she would overestimate my skills because she would think I was being modest and she always believes everyone can do better than what they think. She is a pusher, but a kind-hearted pusher. While we were waiting our families found us. Lauren’s Dad and Emily showed up and then my parents got there. I had also found my friend Rachel and her parents who kindly, and crazily, came to watch me suffer. My parents couldn’t stop giggling at me since this was the first time they had seen me participate in an athletic event since I was 3 and ran the opposite way of everyone else on the soccer field. We took a few pictures for posterity and they headed off to find a good watching spot. When the gun was fired (I don’t think there was actually a gun, but rather a woman with a really annoying voice who shouted GO), a surge of adrenaline pumped through me. No turning back now.
I fell into the pit-fall that most slow runners fall in to: I was running at a pace to keep up with everyone around me. Knowing that this was not going to bode well for the rest of the race, I slowed us down. I told Lauren that she did not have to stay with me, but she did, bless her soul. She ran at my walker’s pace and allowed me to slow us down. We turned right out of the parking lot and headed down a small slope before turning right into a neighborhood and heading down the first big hill. On our way down the hill, the first pack of racers started to pass us. A few of them were Lauren’s friends she knew from high school and college so it was cool seeing their focus as they bulleted up the hill while I plodded down. Going down the hill was easy. Going back up was painful. I quickly fell to the back of the group with the only people behind us being a group of girls who were mostly walking the whole thing. Halfway up the hill I asked Lauren to hold my hand for support. She thought I wanted her to pull me. I quickly told her not to pull me. Mile 1.
At the top of the hill we turned left and headed back towards the starting area, which also served as the finish line. I’m “running” towards the next leg of the course, and those over-achievers who passed me earlier are finishing. Yup.
My friends and family were standing on the corner to witness my suffering after that fun hill. I was proud of myself for only walking a small portion of the hill considering all of my previous running had been done on super flat land. I glanced down at my iPhone to see that I had been running steady for about 20 minutes. As we passed the starting area and approached the next hill, I told myself I would run all the way down the hill and walk when I got to the bottom. These little small goals were keeping me going. But I did not know how big that hill was. As we ran down the hill, I saw that we actually turned down a side street and turned around at the end to continue back down the hill. When we turned onto the street, I decided it was time for a quick walking session. We walked about 20 seconds before running to the water station. I was quite annoyed to learn this was the one and only water station. Girls like me need their water. Mile 2.
We turned around at the end of the street and ran to the water station again. I made sure to drink up. We turned the corner to run the rest of the way down the hill. Again, I made it a goal to run to the bottom of the hill before walking back up. This hill was huge and steep and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to run it all the way back up. Being realistic is one of my best qualities.
As we came to the end of the hill, we passed a mom we had passed many times throughout the 5k. This mom was amazing. She was running with her autistic son (this particular 5k was raising money for autisim) who wore sunglasses and noise-cancelling headphones and resisted her the whole way. She held his hand and dragged him through the whole course, never letting him stop. She would pull him hard and he would run for a few steps before walking. So she would pull him again and he’d run again. The whole time he screamed out in frustration. And she never stopped running. She was my hero. Here I am, able body and mind, screaming out in my own frustration and cursing the day I decided to do this when I’d look up and see her exerting energy to not only run, but to drag her son. Physical and emotional energy. When we passed her coming down, she was walking up the hill. I told her I had been looking for her the entire race and was in awe each time we passed each other. She started to run again. So did I.
Coming back up the hill I told Lauren I wanted to walk to a certain point and then run the rest of the way. All we had to do was get up the hill, turn the corner, and run a short distance to the finish line. There was no way I was walking in front of my fans. When we got to the top of the hill there was a great group of women volunteers cheering us on. One said “you’re almost there!” Another one said “there’s an ambulance waiting at the end.” That gave me a pretty clean indication of what I looked like.
When we got close enough for everyone to see us, Lauren took my hand and urged me to finish at as fast a run as I could. I finished in 47:38. Not bad for my first 5k. Really not bad for the hilliest 5k in all of Bucks County.