Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.
— Steve Prefontaine
Because of all the house stuff, I never did tell you about the five 5ks I ran in April. I’m really glad I challenged myself that way. Here’s how the weekly Friday 5ks went:
April 6: 45:00 – I was so psyched when I finished – I told David the over/under was 46 minutes, and I beat it!
April 13: 46:10 – not as good as week one, but I had just as much fun!
April 20: 47:44 – it was hot, I was sick, and I was trying to save my energy for another 5k two days later (more on that in a bit), so I walked a LOT.
April 27: 48:41 – I don’t remember what happened this week, but I clearly walked nearly the whole thing.
The course was flat and the same each week. It ran all through my neighborhood, which meant David could come cheer me on each time. I loved seeing his smiling face as I crossed the finish line.
A LOT of people finished ahead of me. In fact, every week, about 5 to 7 minutes and less than 1/2-mile in for me, the leaders would come running past me in the opposite direction on their way to mile marker 2. All kinds of people beat me: 10-year-olds. People way thinner than me. People way older than me. Bigger people. Tiny ladies pushing double jogging strollers. A golden retriever and her human. Guys in wheelchairs.
But, I finished ahead of all kinds of people, too – older, younger, thinner, heavier, a bloodhound and his human, moms walking behind strollers. No guys in wheelchairs, though; they were all super-speedy.
So here’s what I learned over the course of 4 races:
- No one but me cares what I look like when I’m running.
- Runners love to cheer each other on – I can’t tell you how many people waited at the finish long after they were done just so those of us in the back of the pack would have a cheering section.
- You can’t look at someone and tell just by weight or body type whether they’re an athlete or how fit they are.
My fifth race was actually the fourth in the month. The George Washington Parkway Classic. Karen and I did this race two years ago, but it didn’t turn out the way we hoped. I had been forbidden by my doctor and physical therapist to run, and Karen’s planned running training program did not go as planned, so we agreed to walk it. The whole time, I was champing at the bit to run, and about halfway through, I said, “Screw it,” and took off. Not fast, of course, because I’m a pokey runner by nature, but still. So we both finished, but overall, it was a disappointing experience.
So this year, when I started Couch to 5k on January 1, I set my sights on this race again, and Karen agreed to tackle it with me. I finished C25k in March and signed up for the weekly races in April to keep myself running until this race. Race day dawned dreary and rainy, just as it had two years ago. We headed to the starting line full of nerves. At the horn, we turned up our iPods and away we went.
My plan had been to run 10/walk 2, since I hadn’t managed to run all of any of my previous three races. But 10 minutes came and I felt great, so I kept running. When I hit the one-mile marker 4 minutes later, I knew two things: I was on pace for a personal best time, and I would be able to run the whole thing.
At mile 2, I checked my watch and realized I’d slowed my pace a bit, and I worried my PR was slipping away. I told myself, “Just don’t stop, just keep going.” Around the 3-mile mark, a course volunteer hollered, “Five more blocks!” I checked my watch and knew it was going to be close. Those were the longest five blocks of my life. I counted them down in my head as I ran them: “Four-and-a-half blocks . . . four blocks to go . . . three-and-a-half . . .” checking my watch every few seconds.
Because I’m terrible and judging distance and how long it takes to traverse that distance, I thought I was out of luck, that 44:56 (my time in my first 5k in Boston) would come and go before I crossed the finish line, but I kept chugging along. My face was red, I was breathing hard, my legs were burning, but I kept willing myself to go faster and not quit. Finally, about 100 feet from the finish line, I looked at my watch and knew I was going to do it. People lined both sides of the street leading to the finish line and they were all cheering. The red seconds on the official clock were ticking by. There’s video of me about 50 feet from the finish – I put my head down, put my hands on my head, and shook my head in disbelief, and when I looked up and crossed the finish – tears.
I did it. 44:07. I beat my best-ever time by49 seconds. I had no idea when I started the race that a PR was even possible, but once I realized it was, I fought so hard to hold on to it.
And that’s why I run. Because I love setting a challenging goal for myself and then trying to reach it. I do not like the act of running itself, but it turns out that I love to race. And to race, you have to train. Otherwise, you don’t get to feel the way I did that morning.