I had been super excited about this race all week. I haven’t run an officially timed, well-organized race since technically early June but really late May. My last race was an untimed obstacle 5K, and the race before that was a 5K that was more a muddy trail run than the mud obstacle run practically was. For that one there was no course map, and it was billed as a Potomac River Running Store race but it basically got erased from the site after the race was over. Maybe enough people complained they wanted to pretend like it never happened.
In any case, I was getting hungry to bib up. I’ve been training hard all summer, and about two weeks ago I decided waiting THREE weeks for the Redskins Back to Football 5K was too long. I also follow so many people on Twitter that were participating in Disneyland Half Marathon weekend and knew I would be glued to Twitter and Instagram all day waiting to see costumes and medals. Might as well accomplish something of my own besides a training run.
In my past three races, my head has always been everywhere. I forget my training and just try to keep running. I get psyched out by the other, more athletic-looking runners, or I get anxious that someone who looks even more out of shape than I am is beating me, and push too hard to keep in front of them and end up feeling horrible the whole race and asking myself why I put myself through this hell. My race times got slower with each race.
Today, all that changed.
In my training I found that a 10:1 run:walk ratio leaves me feeling best and gave me my fastest times. I’ve been training with running for longer durations, but for a race I wanted to ensure I’d feel good. I still wanted to consider it a training run (3 miles on a Saturday morning is good! I’ll do my longer run on Sunday morning!) so I wasn’t going into it hoping to PR.
I almost hit a mental curveball. I was hired at my new job as temp-to-perm, under the impression the “perm” part was going to be based on my performance and abilities and whether they like me. I found out on Friday it’s that they’re not sure they have enough work to bring on a permanent full-time person. So all the financial stability relief I was feeling that had me so optimistic that, among many, many other things, I’d be able to race almost whatever race I wanted to whenever I wanted to, was gone.
I showed up to packet pickup at Fleet Feet Sports very glum after work. I wanted to soak in all the excitement, and normally probably would have even bought the sparkly gold with velvet lining running headband I saw on display had it not been that suddenly, I’m not sure if I’ll be yet again income-less in a few weeks. I got my bib and my goodie bag and went home ready to cry.
But I went to bed early. Just after 8pm, in fact. I was exhausted from the week, in a food coma from the pasta dinner I made my family eat with me, and emotionally drained from worrying. So when my alarm went off at 6:45 this morning, I was pretty rested. I also felt confident that, even if I’m totally unemployed in a few weeks, even if I can never register for another race again, that I would do well today. My legs felt strong and rested, and I’d run 4 1/2 miles on Thursday and felt great for all of them. I was ready.
First the kids run happened in waves – a tot trot, then it went by age groups. All the kids got medals and most of them didn’t give a rat’s ass about it. It was hilarious and adorable. A lot of them ended up running the 5K with Mom and/or Dad. I’m not sure if there was an age limit for the 5K, but there were quite a few 8+ year olds that would sprint then walk, spring then walk, swerving in between the adult runners, and it wasn’t my favorite part of the day. But it wasn’t too bad.
They started us in waves. I’m not sure how many participants it was this year but last year they had over 1100 runners, including some seriously elite athletes. I lined up in the 10-12 minute pace group, as I’m normally about a 12 minute pacer. We inched closer to the starting line as the waves got going, and soon it was our turn.
I focused on keeping a steady pace. My problem is always getting psyched out by the other people running, as I’m a solo runner. I don’t have a regular running buddy. I prefer to run at night. Running is very personal to me. Talking about running, races, gear, all of that I love to do with other people, but come time to actually put my body in running motion, it’s deeply personal for me. So even though there were bands playing all along the course (so cool for just a 5K!), I kept my headphones in and focused on my music.
When my Endomono ticked off the first mile at 10:48 (accurately too, as I was just a few feet from the mile marker sign and I had hit go on my app a few feet before crossing the start line), instead of feeling speedy, I felt a little worried. I didn’t FEEL like I was pushing too hard – was there something weird going on with the timer on my Endomondo? I tried to focus on keeping my pace steady, where I was feeling good, as we rounded onto a “walking” path.
A little after this bit of the course was the 2 mile marker, which my Endomondo ticked off at 10:54. Sure, I slowed a bit, but by only 6 seconds and I still wasn’t feeling like death? Am I really actually upping my pace?
Well, at 2 1/2 miles I felt the wall. Usually the first mile is the hardest for me, but I’ve gotten so used to coaching myself into knowing “just get through the first mile, everything else will be easier after that” that my wall has moved up. I knew as I studied the course map the night before where approximately 2/12 miles would be and was prepared for the wall to hit, but it was even worse that it turned out it was on a bit of an incline. I got in my head a little that I was going too fast and surely I’d find out I wasn’t actually going a minute faster than my normal pace, or that I was and my body would kirk out on me at any moment. As I approached a band playing, I stopped to walk (not as part of my 1 minute interval), and took out an earbud to hear them play.
And they weren’t nearly as inspiring as Bonnie McKee’s “American Girl,” which always pumps me up like crazy, so I looked at my GPS for the first time instead of just relying on it announcing my mileage and saw I was at 2.48 miles. And that’s when I thought about my mom waiting for me at the finish. The longer I took to finish, the longer she’d have to wait. I wanted to get done and hug her and make her proud. I started running again.
And I didn’t stop until after the finish line. I sensed we’d hit 3 miles when I heard cheering actually through my headphones and saw the Whole Foods stand set up with free bananas, but it wasn’t til I rounded a curve and saw the blue balloons that I heard my mom crying, “Nevie! Nevie!” I looked for her and saw her waving and tried to give her my most flattering camera pose without stopping.
After that there was no time for fraternizing! I had those two people – the girl in the pink hat and the guy in gray – to keep up with and make sure they didn’t pass me right at the end! This was the first time in the whole race my competitive side kicked in. For the last 3 miles I’d focused solely on running my way, tuning out the people running to race, and tuning into running my personal best way I know how.
But with .1 mile left and feeling awesome, for the first race actually having some juice in my legs to be able to sprint, I turned on the jets and went for it. I left Pink Hat and Gray Shirt in the dust.
My first 5K ever my official chip time was 35:12. My wave started about two minutes after the gun went off and the clock as I crossed the finish line said 36 something. Even my Endomondo, which I started just before crossing the start line and hit stop on a few moments after crossing, said 3.17 miles in 34:44. I’m dying for the official results to be posted online but I know there’s no way my official time was over 35 minutes. So while I don’t have my official time yet, I knew I had PR’d and I felt like a champion. (EDIT: Official net time was 33:41 – a 1:31 improvement!)
The best part of the race wasn’t setting a new PR, though. By far and away, it was having my mom there at the finish line cheering me on, smiling broadly, snapping pictures left and right.
My parents are always proud of me, but until recently I haven’t been able to fully convey to them how much running has meant for me. It’s opened up a whole new world for me, literally. I have goals of running specific races while using it as a chance to travel. I’m inspired every day by people who overcome adversity and use running as a form of therapy. Running is a form of therapy for me. 2013 could have been and still be the worst year of my life. In January, right off the bat, I had to put my dog to sleep. He had been my everything. Since then I’ve had so much doubt about my future and my job. I’ve lost friends, some due to drifting and others due to incompatible personalities and fights. I’ve been lonely.
As a person with depression, all of those ingredients could add up to being terribly miserable and pessimistic all the time. All summer I was pretty broke. Not only did I not have many friends left in the area, but the ones I did have I was limited to hanging out with mostly on a cheap to free basis. Running is free and you don’t have to worry about gym hours or wait time for a machine. Sure you can get some awesome gear and races cost money, but at its core, running is the most basic thing in the world. All you need is a pair of shoes (some would argue you don’t even need those) and you can go. You don’t need a pool or a field with set boundaries or even a ball. It’s just you and your body. And for someone who’s felt like she hasn’t had much else of her own this year, reconnecting with my body and pushing it to do what I never thought I could has been my saving grace this year.
So when my mom took my arm, before I’d even started running the race, and hugged me and kissed my cheek and said, “I’m proud of you, honey,” it meant the world. And afterward when she said again, “I’m proud of you for getting out there and doing this, by yourself, even when nobody else is around,” it made up for all the loneliness. I may not have a running buddy, my best friend maybe hundreds of miles away in Boston, but I have my mom, and my family. And they’re proud of me.
Some more fun pictures from the race: