Back in May, on the eve of my first 5K, I jotted down a “running bucket list.” To run a 5K had been on my bucket list for a couple years, because I had made this grandiose bucket list of things I didn’t actually believe I could all do, including everything from backpacking through Europe to EGOTing. But when I started running a little every day, I realized a 5K was entirely possible.

Today I got to cross off that “finish a 10K” goal, at the Ringing In Hope 10K/5K/1K For the Sake of Children.

3.1 miles is now my warmup.

The before shot. That Bondi band came off and I went with my trusty purple velvet to keep my hair in place.
The before shot. It was cold and I was neeervous.

I was really nervous going into this. Like I said in my last post, it didn’t look like a very popular race and it seemed like, while in 5K’s I’m usually middle of the pack, and at a lot of half-marathons my pace is pretty common (though I would have to be slower in my current pace to last a whole half-marathon at this point), it looked like I was going to be pretty close to last place.

The front of the pack.
The front of the pack.

When I got to the race this morning, my fears were confirmed. Almost EVERYONE at the race looked unbelievably fit. I know you can’t determine someone’s health and fitness just by looking at them, but this was a Potomac River Running Store sponsored race, and a lot of these people seemed to be really involved with the store. Many were wearing PR Running shirts, running faster than I can just to warm up, and had some of the strongest looking legs I’ve seen at a race. This was no Redskins fun run. While for these people, 6.2 miles was probably part of their marathon training, it would be the longest distance I’d ever raced, and had only run once before.

Needless to say I lined up toward the back.

You can see the nerves all over my face at the starting line.
You can see the nerves all over my face at the starting line.

It took about a mile for the crowd to thin out, but once it had thinned, it was really sparse. The front runners were long gone and, being a small group of participants in the first place (less than 200 people total had signed up for the 10K – others ran or walked the 5K option), the 10-11 minute pacers were a tight group of maybe 10 of us.

Honestly? I was so nervous starting out that the crowd was so small that I would get so far behind I would even lose the route.

That fear propelled me to run a little too fast in the first mile. When my tracker told me calmly that I had run 1 mile in 9:58, I was both shocked, overjoyed, and terrified. I NEVER run a single mile under 10 minutes unless I’m at the track specifically working on speed. I couldn’t believe it. I tried to slow down for the second miles, but I had found a rhythm and the weather was gorgeous – mile 2 came in at 10:07, just a 9 second slow down.

Screen shot 2013-09-14 at 4.47.36 PM
Miles 1 and 2

I took some water just to try and cool my body a little (I had been freezing the race started, but then we got in the sun and I kind of wanted the cold back). Still working on trying to regulate my speed. It worked a little bit, as my third mile ticked off at 10:29 – still, sub-10:30 for three straight miles? My 3 mile time was 30:38 – my fastest ever. And my 5K split was 31:35 – which would have been a PR by a whopping 1:58, if the race had ended there.

I was losing a little steam, running mile 4 in 10:34, but I was still surpassing my best training and my expectations. 4 miles and all of them sub-11, only one over 10:30? Is this my new pace group?! Can I really not honestly say I’m a 11-12 minute pacer anymore?

Apparently not, because mile 5, all uphill, was my slowest mile and it was 10:49. It was a gradual, subtle uphill, but it lasted a mile and it was a little bit of a bitch. I kept telling myself, like I do in my training on routes I know – so it’s true when I say it, as opposed to today, when I didn’t know when the uphill would end – “earn the downhill! Conquer this! Everything that goes up must come down!”

The green is my pace - the gray is the elevation. Ugh.
The green is my pace – the gray is the elevation. Ugh.

I had a couple of mantras working for me today. Most of them came from three specific songs I kept repeating on my Spotify after the 4 mile marker, and one bible quote that my mom loves and that really helps me in my scariest moments in life.

“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” -Philippians 4:19

I even saw a girl wearing a t-shirt that said “Team 419” with that quote on the back before the race started. I quietly hoped she would be in my pace group but she was much faster than me and I lost her quickly.

Just knocked out 6.2 miles first thing Saturday morning, NBD.
Just knocked out 6.2 miles first thing Saturday morning, NBD.

Just past the 5 mile marker, coming into the last mile, a song I snuck onto my Spotify a few weeks ago and purposely forgot about came on. I had lined it up on my Spotify so that it would be where I estimated would be the last three minutes of my race, but I had run faster than I wanted and I would end up listening to it 3 times in a row.

The song was “The Only Way I Know,” by Jason Aldean, featuring Luke Bryan and Eric Church. I LOVE country music when I run (the upbeat songs of course), and this song is so motivating and rock and roll. I was so happy with myself for forgetting about it once I’d put it on my playlist so it hadn’t been worn out by the time it came on when I really wanted to stop and walk for longer than my designated 1 minute.

Once the song hit the chorus I, without even realizing it, was singing along. I was smiling. I was GRINNING. I was running the longest race I’ve run, with only a few, maybe 18(?) people behind me out of almost 200, and I was happy as a clam. I sang along – “full throttle, wide open, you get tired and you don’t show it, dig a little deeper when you think you can’t dig no more. That’s the only way I know.”

As I rounded the bend, the song on its third play, cruising, even wanting to dance to the song, I heard the words in the song – “hit the wall, smokin’ and spittin’ – still ain’t thinkin’ bout nothing but winning.” Talk about a final push!

"Still ain't thinkin' bout nothing but winnin'."
You know, clearly a front runner.

I saw my Dad just before the finish line, smiling. He was meeting us at the race because it was out by where he worked (God bless the man for working on a Saturday… and a Sunday tomorrow…), and hadn’t been there in time for the start. I’d told him to take his time because it was going to take me a while. I had texted my mom simply “3,” “4,” and “5,” as I hit each marker, sort of as a motivator, a reward to myself for each mile, and by 5 she was frantically texting my dad he better get there soon! I was so happy to see he’d made it I couldn’t wipe the ridiculous, goofy grin off my face. There I was, huffing in from the last of the 10K runners, the only people behind me still not around the last bend, looking like last damn place, and I was grinning like a fool.

Totally goofy looking! Approaching the finish line!
Totally goofy looking! Approaching the finish line!

Then I saw my Aunt Marcia! The race was in her neighborhood but her number had changed and we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her to come to the race so I was totally surprised. I heard “Go Nevie go!” and thought it was my mom – I looked and there was my aunt, holding up her phone to take pictures, right next to my mom! I was in total elation. Turns out my Aunt Cynthia was there too!

Aunt Cynthia, my very proud Mama, very proud Papa, me, and Aunt Marcia

While I was hanging around after my finish (official “gun” time – a chip time wouldn’t have been more than a 5-10 second difference, as small as the race was) of 1:06:28 – less than doubling my previous week’s 5K PR time! – a song came on from the DJ booth that I felt I could rightfully claim for myself, just for the moment.

I’ve never been athletic. I’m still not athletic. I’m not fast. I’m not thin. I’m not physically strong. I’m not really even very disciplined.

But I’ve got three things going for me that give me an edge in this running thing.

I’m tough as hell, stubborn as an ox when I want something, and I am brave.

“There goes a fighter… This one’s a fighter.”

10K Finisher :)
10K Finisher 🙂