A year ago, on May 4, 2013, I ran my first 5K ever. I had started the year out with a goal of exercising a little bit every day, which then grew into a goal of running a 5K. Something to check off the bucket list. I started the C25K program on my app, forced myself into yoga pants and a fleece sweatshirt during the cold evenings of February and March, started learning a little more about running and racing from online Facebook communities, and looked up upcoming local 5K’s to try out. In April I guessed that I might be able to finish a 5K by May, and signed up for the Run for the Bay 5K. My friends Dennis and Ashley were also running it, living in Southern Maryland, which is where the race was located.
Like with the half marathon, my first time out was a little faster than some later attempts. I was so pumped with fear and excitement of being there on race day that I ran faster than I realized I was running. I honestly wondered if I would be in last place. I crossed the finish line in 2013 at 35:12, when previously my only attempt at going the full 3.1 mile distance had taken around 42 minutes while training at home. I flung myself into the grass after the finish and laughed with delight. I had done it.
And I was hooked.
This year the 2nd annual Run for the Bay 5K was held the same weekend, on a Saturday again, making it May 3, 2014. This past weekend was prime race weekend for so many great races across the country, many that I hope to run one day. But first I wanted to celebrate the anniversary of my racing. I also of course wanted to run a half marathon this past weekend because I’m stupid, but I hadn’t yet gotten injured when I signed up for the Frederick Running Festival Nutjob Challenge, which is a 5K Saturday night and a half marathon Sunday morning. The timing allowed me to also run the 5K that started it all on Saturday morning.
Chesapeake Beach is about an hour’s drive from my house and the race began at 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t know what I was going to wear for all 3 races this weekend but I’d bought a few bright pieces at Fleet Feet a couple weeks before in prep for Nike Women’s that I hadn’t worn yet, so I figured a race by the Bay deserved some summery brightness. It felt great to put on shorts. For the first 24 years of my 25 year old life I was pretty self-conscious about my thighs. I even used to walk around at the pool with my hands placed on them. It was pretty awkward looking. Only after I’d been running a little (and admittedly with the help of women like Lena Dunham), I decided who cared what other people thought when they saw my thighs? I wanted to wear shorts when it was warm.
And after the long and arduous winter we had, oh, I wore shorts this weekend.
My immediate impulse reaction when I saw this picture was embarrassment. I thought I looked fat and thunderous. Then I noticed the bulge of muscle in that back calf, the muscle rippling through that front thigh down to my knee, the flying up of the shorts fabric because I was sprinting to the finish line in this moment – who cares what I look like? What I am, in this moment and wherever I take my body, is athletic. Just because I don’t have Shalane Flanagan’s 1000-pack abs or Kara Goucher’s ripped biceps (and granted, nor am I an Olympian) doesn’t mean my body isn’t valid or wonderful.
Anyway, the race itself was wonderful and perfect and I recommend it to anyone in the area for a 5K, whether it’s your first or your thousandth. It is a T-shaped out and back course along the Chesapeake Beach Railroad Trail, and most of it looks like this:
I started out toward the front of the pack because when the man over the microphone called for “Faster runners up front,” everyone shifted back, so there was a wide open space at the front. I shrugged and figured, okay, when most of these people realize they’re plenty faster than me, I’ll get passed, but for now I’ll start with some space around me. This led to me running a lot faster than I could sustain when we were sent off, because the few people that were around me at the front were like, 6-7 minute milers.
Eventually I settled into a comfortable but fast (for me coming off injury) pace and drank in the course. I remembered how much longer it felt last year, the first stretch of the pier looking more like what 3 miles looks to me now instead of its actual half a mile length before you turn right for the first mile “marker” (there were no markers set up this year, unlike last year, but having run last year I knew without even looking at my watch about where the mile points were).
As you’re running the trail way you can spot so many different birds including some Osprey and some Great Blue herons if you’re lucky. I learned my lesson last year when what I thought was an Oriole bird I looked on some signs later to find it was actually a male Red-winged blackbird, but as much as I looked I didn’t spot one this year. I saw plenty of swooping swallows and lots of runners were pointing out different birds as we ran too.
Can you tell yet how much this wildlife and water loving girl LOVES this race? For more pictures of the course, check out its webpage on the Chesapeake Beach township’s site. The race benefits the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. It was the perfect way to kick off my “Maryland girl” race weekend.
As I was running along to the finish, a couple sprinted past me which made me kick up into a sprint myself to pass them back. I was amazed at what my legs could do on the spur of the moment – I felt like I was tearing down the last stretch. I crossed the finish, stopped my watch, grabbed a water and a banana, and couldn’t stop smiling.
For me this is the kind of feeling running is all about. I didn’t PR (it was my second-fastest 5K) but I beat last year’s time for this race by almost 5 minutes, with an official finish time of 30:44. Though I’m still chasing that elusive sub-30 5K, and this almost all flat course that I know and love would have been the perfect race to hit it on, I didn’t care. I’m coming off an injury and the morning was perfect.
The sky may have looked like this:
But I was absolutely thrilled. I hung around a little while longer and then got in my car to check out the Memorial I’d spotted on my way in. I had a full day ahead of me of expo-ing, craft-showing, race prep, and another 5K that night, but the day I pass up the opportunity to sit by the water when it’s 100 feet away from me is the day I am no longer me.
The Chesapeake Bay Veterans’ Memorial honors every branch of the military and those residents of the town who served in each one. My dad’s dad is a retired U.S. Marine and my mom’s dad graduated from the Naval Academy and served in the U.S. Air Force, so I took some time for each of them.
Once you wind your way around the Memorial there are several sitting benches to take in the view of the Bay. I sat on one for a while but got antsy to be even closer, so I climbed down some rocks to get as close down to the water slapping against them without tempting any neighborly residents to remind me no swimming allowed in that part of the Bay.
It was a perfect morning. I really never wanted to leave, but eventually I had to get back in the car and head back up the Beltway toward the suburbs that are home.
Overall I finished 86th out of 248 finishers and 35th out of 157 women. The race is so small they don’t bother to do age groups. While I always love to see races bring in big money for whatever charity it is benefiting, selfishly I’d love for this race to stay small. Everyone enjoyed it, there was no jostling, and the course was beautifully quiet that morning to take in the sound of the birds chirping and the grass rustling.
I may just have to run it for a 3rd time next year.
What was your very first race ever? Have you run it as a repeat?
What is your favorite course you’ve ever run? Why?