Adventure: Running My First 5k

Crossing the finish line of my first 5k

I look like I’m dying as I cross the finish line.

Here I am trying to reformat my blog, to feature more recipes related to my adventures. And since I’ve actually been exercising lately, I wrote a whole post about my plans to run a 5k. The post ended with a lovely recipe for salad dressing: power food at its finest. Since the race was planned for the end of October, I wrote my post and put it on ice. I needed to make salad, photograph it with dressing, and then post that sucker with enough time to motivate me to stick with my workout plan.

Then I kept getting emails at work about a fundraising 5K that the university’s cancer research center was sponsoring. The registration fee was reasonable and included a sweet long-sleeve shirt. The race was two weeks earlier than the one I was already planning to complete, but on a whim, I decided to go for it.

That was how I found myself at the starting corral of a road race for the first time in my life.

I’ve been training for the Monster Dash 5k with the goal of breaking 30 minutes. On the morning of the university event, I was terrified. Although I’ve competed in my share of athletic events, they never depended exclusively on my physical fitness and preparations. (The triathlon didn’t count – I was competing just to finish, not to perform). What if I wasn’t ready for it? I was short two weeks of training, after all. All morning on the way to the race, I debated whether or not to shoot for my goal, or save the effort for the Monster Dash in two weeks.

To make matters more exciting, I had been convinced that the race started at 9:00 am. My amazing cheering section and I arrived at the course at 8:00 or so. We took our time retrieving my bib and exploring the scenery. At one point, we noticed that someone was leading a group stretching session. Then we noticed that everyone was slowly migrating towards the starting line. “Let’s check it out,” we decided, and that’s how two non-racers wound up in the chute. They said farewell and left me there, and as I jogged in place and tried to stretch my calves, I casually asked the girls behind me why we were lined up so early.

“It’s 8:30!” I said. “Are we supposed to just stand here for another half hour?”

They looked at me like I was dumb. “Um, the race is starting now.” Sure enough, I heard a horn, and the crowd slowly began to move through the gate.

It was slow. Packed elbow-to-elbow with my fellow runners, getting through the gate was quite an ordeal. But finally we were through, and I began jogging cautiously. The first mile was a mess: I passed quite a few people, and in turn was passed by some. I tried to ignore that and focus on maintaining a sustainable pace. Fortunately, running slowly has never been a problem for me, and I happily succeeded at my goal.

Things picked up at the mile marker. Since I was listening to music from my iPhone on an armband, and using my Nike Running app to track my progress, I received a welcome interruption in the form of my pacekeeper. (Use that app if you can. It’s amazing). Fortunately, my pace was right on target with a 10-minute mile. I was feeling pretty good, surprisingly. So in that moment I reconsidered my goal of breaking 30 minutes and upped the ante a little bit. The course was starting to clear out, and I enjoyed having a little more space to myself. To make things more exciting, I passed my cheering section around the two-mile point.

Goofy smile for my cheering section

Seeing them made me happy, so I waved and mugged like a champ as I passed. But then things got a little dicey. Suddenly, I discovered, I couldn’t breathe so well. My legs burned and struggled and fought as I tried to make them move. I had reached a stage of utter exhaustion.

So I’m going to estimate that the last six minutes of the run were spent in sheer panic as I wondered whether I could keep going. This part of the course was sort of twisty with lots of turns. I tried to remember where the finish line was, and with every turn I peered ahead anxiously, just hoping to see that gate. Although I really wanted to stop running, I repeated in my head, “Keep going! Keep moving!” And surprisingly, I did. It was really an exercise in mental toughness, just trying to forget the pain and focus on finishing strong. Those of you who have been running for years already know this, I’m sure – but hey, for my first race, it was quite an experience!

In the end, I crossed the finish line with a gun time of 29:56.07. It was awesome, because I saw my cheering section as soon as I was through – such a relief! I could hardly breathe, and I wanted to puke, but I managed to gasp “Guys! I beat my goal!”

And the next day, when results were posted online, I learned that I’d not only beat my goal, but crushed it: my chip time, or total time on the course, was 29:30.23. It wasn’t easy, and it hurt like hell, but it felt surprisingly good at the same time.

Next, I’m competing in the Monster Dash 5k in just a week. I would like to break 29 minutes at this race, so my training plan will include some sprints during my longer runs. We’ll see what happens.

You can kind of see me behind a streamer at the very end

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