Thanksgiving morning started awfully early. I set my alarm for 5:45, but as always seems to happen when I have an early wake-up call, I was up at 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I then had the supreme pleasure of waking up everyone else in my family at about 6:15. Believe me, M is absolutely charming at that hour.
Off we drove to the Feaster Five. We were there bright and early for the 7:45am Kids’ K, which is actually a series of kids’ races broken up by age. The four-and-under crowd ran 100 yards on a paved track, but they even had a gated chute and a big finish line, so it felt just as “real” as the adult race, not to mention race shirts just like their parents and bibs to pin to the front.
It was a mob scene, so I ran with Rebecca while Daniel zoomed ahead. (Yes, that was me attempting to take photos while jogging. Daniel is in the gray jacket, Rebecca is the pink hood right in front of me.) They even had a police officer on a motorcycle start them off, and they all got finisher medals at the end. While it was over practically before it began, they were both very excited to do it and felt like they had a great story to tell.
At that point, there was still a good half hour until the start of my race, and M had three kids outside in 32-degree weather. He headed back to the car to let everyone warm up and make strategic use of the van’s DVD player. I made my way to the starting area. Holy crap.
They capped registrations at 10,000 this year. It was an unbelievable mass of people. But it was a beautiful morning and everyone seemed to be in a great mood. Sunny and clear, cold but not frigid. Perfect running temperature if you ask me – I’d much rather run in 30 degrees than 70. I hung out by the 10-minute-mile pace sign (which is NOT my pace, but the next one after that was walkers, dogs, and strollers), and between smartphones and sheer luck, I actually managed to find the other people I knew running the race.
When they blew the starting horn, my area of the pack (probably about halfway between the start and the way back of the crowd) barely moved. It took a full five minutes to get across the start, but then the congestion eased up and it wasn’t too mobbed to run. Oh yes, people were passing me on all sides. But I just trotted along at my pokey pace, reminding myself that it didn’t matter in the slightest what anyone else was doing. The other 9,999 people could do whatever they wanted, I just needed to keep running. My goal: don’t walk. No matter how slow I go, don’t stop.
Of course, that was immediately put to the test. The second half-mile was a brutal hill. Thankfully, I knew it was coming – I had read about it and had actually driven it a few days earlier when we picked up our race bibs. But holy crap, it was nasty. I arguably could have walked faster than I was “running,” but on I chugged. At the top of the hill, the 5K course split off to the left while the 5-mile course continued straight ahead. Sadly, it did not, then, turn downhill. No, I’m sorry to say that pretty much the entire first half of the race continued to be a gentle uphill. Occasionally flat, but the overall trend was definitely up. As the course took a few turns, I rounded each corner and couldn’t believe it was still an ever-so-slight incline. But dammit, I was still going.
It was right at about the 2.5-mile mark that it finally, blessedly turned downhill. I let out a very audible “oh thank God!” My Nike+ app announced the time in my ear every half mile, and I was right around where I wanted to be. Making decent time, even. Given my pace in previous runs, I guessed my pace would be somewhere between 12:30 and 13:00 per mile – slow as hell, but that’s how I roll. I really wanted to keep it under 13 and finish in under 1 hour and 6 minutes, but I’d take what I could get. Thankfully, much of the second half was downhill, and downhill is just free speed.
Around the 3.5 mile point, the course joined back up with the 5K people. By that time, anyone left on the 5K were walking groups of families and strollers and dogs (it was a very family-friendly race and walkers were welcome), so it was a bit more congested, but not too bad. Everything was very clearly marked, and the whole race was very nicely organized. I was in a pretty good groove, no longer having to convince myself to keep going with every.single.step. I knew the end was in sight.
The final half mile was more crowded – 5K walkers to my left, and long-since-finished runners to my right, walking the other direction to their cars. But even still, I only had to dodge around a couple of people, nothing problematic. I turned the final corner, and the last tenth-or-so of a mile to the finish line is one final, nasty hill. But damned if I was stopping now, and I knew my cheering section was waiting for me. The Nike+ voice chimed in my ear, “five miles, completed. One hour, one minute.” I couldn’t believe it was even possible. I saw my family, I gave my kids a high five at the very top of the hill and turned to hit those finish mats. I hit stop on the app and looked down to see my time.
5.08 miles. One hour, two minutes, forty seconds. Pace: 12:19.
I burst into tears.
Plenty of people would think that was a terrible time. Hell, there wasn’t even a pace group for it at the start – just 10-minute miles and then walkers. I was something like finisher number 2500 out of 2700 in the five-mile group. WHATEVER. 12:19 is about the best pace I’ve run recently on 2- or 3-mile runs, so the fact that I managed to AVERAGE that pace for FIVE WHOLE MILES, a distance I had never, ever run before… I was so proud of myself, I thought I would burst.
We don’t stop and say that too often, do we? Admit that we’re proud of ourselves? I mean, deadly sin and all that. But this wasn’t a chest-puffing, boasting kind of pride. This was about the fact that I am not a natural-born runner. I have short legs and am entirely too heavy. I’ve never been an athlete. But I worked my ass off for this. For the last eight weeks, I have had a training schedule written in my calendar and have followed it as best as I possibly could. I worked for this. I fought for it. I earned it. And not only did I accomplish it, but I did it even a little better than I thought I would.
By last night, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to walk anymore. I limped up and down the stairs, my left knee and right foot being the biggest complainers. But the soreness is fading, and the glow of accomplishment is still sticking around. I’m asking what’s next.
I need to sign up for another race. Not because I adore running – I still have to fight for nearly every slow step. But I need the goal and the deadline to keep me going, because the couch is too tempting. I’m not going to dramatically up the distance. I’m not ready for that from a fitness standpoint, nor can I commit the amount of time it would take to train. But I want to keep going. I need to.
It doesn’t matter how slowly I go, only that I do not stop.