This is exceptionally long and incredibly detailed and is meant mostly to commemorate the event for myself. You're welcome to read on, but consider yourself forewarned!
Until last night, I seriously questioned whether I would even show up for the 5K because I really hurt my knee after my last run. I wanted to run this week so that I didn’t lose any endurance, and I wanted it to be outside, but life got in the way. I ended up running on the treadmill Tuesday night. To compensate for how much easier it is to run inside than out, I ran faster (5.3 mph instead of 5.0) and constantly changed the incline (instead of 0 grade). Even with ibuprofen, Wed and Thurs off from the gym, and alternating heat and ice, I was still limping until yesterday night and in a considerable amount of pain. I tried unsucessfully to think positively. The thought of not being able to meet the goal I've been working on accomplshing for 13 weeks (!!) got me so depressed that, at one point yesterday, I laid in bed crying. My knee felt a little better after working out last night, though, so I decided, stupid or not, “I don’t care how much it hurts or how stupid of an idea it is, I AM running this 5K.”
Not only did my gym hold the 5K but the race started and ended at the gym. This meant that 1) I had to drive the course to get to the gym so I knew the route (mostly flat) , and 2) it was really close—only 5.5 miles from my house. When was I going to get this kind of convenience in a race again?
I woke up today scared, excited, and nervous. Scared about my knee and nervous about what to expect. With temps in the 90s and high humidity earlier in the week, I'd really worried about the weather. It was overcast with a slight breeze and temperatures in the high 60s/low 70s. Perfect! It literally could not have been better. Actually, I asked multiple times this week for this *exact* weather.
In the half hour between when I arrived and when we started I peed 3 times. I learned from week 8 of C25K that nothing, in my experience, makes for a worse run than having to pee! I saw some very athletic-looking girls stretching in the locker room when I went to the bathroom, and they all kind of gave me funny looks. I was very self-conscious and feeling more than a little out-of-place, especially outside where I was one of the only people to bring a water bottle with me, let alone a towel. But I told myself “Look, *everyone else* probably won’t get sick if they don’t bring water. They probably don’t sweat as much as you. You practiced with both these things because they’re what *you* need. You’ll use them now because they’re still what you need.”
My warm-up was some good old-fashioned pacing around the parking lot to get over my nerves. Before I knew it, it was time to line up. The 5K was a fundraiser for the local SPCA; because they wanted to save on money to have more to donate to the shelter, it was very low-tech. There were no chips, timing devices, or clocks. We pinned on paper bibs with handwritten numbers, and the race director used a stopwatch to record our times. The official starting time was when the beginner runners set off. I didn’t want any extra time tacked on to my official number, but I’m slow. I started at the back.
me with pre-race jitters
When we took off, I started up my playlist right away and set into my own pace. There were no mile markers for me to gauge my pace. I have, however, kept a pretty steady pace on all my runs, so I listened to my body and made sure not to go too fast.
As I exited the parking lot onto the road, I just enjoyed the scenery and the experience of running on the road. I’d never run on ‘real’ roads before today. I live in a rural area, which means that drivers speed and that most roads have almost or entirely no shoulder. When I’ve run on pavement outside, it was either around my development or on an asphalt path surrounding the nearby cemetery. [Because of this, I’ve also never run a straight distance; it’s always been laps.] So today was my first experience on a road, for all intents and purposes. There were fire police stopping cars at intersections and instructing drivers to go around us the rest of the time. I didn’t have to worry about getting mowed over!
I passed a woman watching the race from the driveway with a little girl. She clapped for me as I went by, and that felt pretty awesome.
The first 1.25 miles went great. I paced myself really well and wasn’t very tired. Then I hit the gradual but very noticeable upgrade. My dad was standing right there to cheer me on, and boy, he couldn’t have been at a better spot. I really needed the encouragement at that point. After about 0.2 mi, the grade leveled out—for a couple yards. Then we had to run up an even steeper hill to get to the halfway mark. I remember looking at the stopwatch on my HRM at the halfway point thinking “Something’s not right. They must’ve measured the distance wrong.” because it was at least a minute less than it’s ever been for that distance.
None of the inclines were particularly steep, but any uphill grade is really challenging for me. After hitting that first climb, my heart rate went up to the high 170s/low 180s and never lowered for the rest of the race.
HRM results for the race
Needless to say, I got very tired. I usually want to quit around 1.5-2 miles in. My dad was standing there waiting for me when I came back down from the mid-point, though. I high-fived him as I ran past. One of the gym’s trainers was also passing me in the opposite direction (she promised that no one would finish last because she was going to) and she cheered me on at that point, too. The encouragement helped me go strong for at least a quarter mile.
That’s when I wanted to walk. Oh, did I ever want to walk. But my goal wasn’t to complete a 5K; it was to run a whole 5K. That quote by George Sheehan kept running through my mind: “It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.” Well, since I’d started running, I’d never had trouble understanding who the competition was against. That voice in my head was loud today, and I had to work hard to fight it. It said “Walk. No one’s around you. They’ll never know if you walk. You could lie and say you ran the whole thing.” But *I* would know. And I’d run this distance before. I knew I could do it. I slowed down for most of the remainder but I kept one foot off the ground at all times. I refused to let the voice win. I refused to walk.
Although the last mile was pretty difficult, I had good music on and I felt a lot better once I resolved that I *would* run the whole time. I was very out of breath. My heart rate was through the roof. But my legs felt great, my knees didn’t bother me too badly, and I didn’t get blisters. (I remembered to moleskin and bandaid the crap out of my feet and toes beforehand). I thought about how awesome I’d feel when I crossed that finish line—er, traffic cones. LOL.
I chugged along, and one of the other trainers that was handing out water and taking pics at the halfway point rode by me, hanging out the window to take a pic. I smiled big, cuz I knew I was gonna do it! As I turned into the road to the gym parking lot, I saw the earlier finishers and the people recording times. I couldn’t see my mom yet, but I knew she was there getting ready to take my finishing line pic. This, this last tenth of a mile, is when I HAULED ASS. I kicked it up from a jog and I full-out sprinted, running like I don’t think I ever have before. I saw my mom, I saw how close I was, and I felt this huge wave of pride wash over me. I ran through the cones and glanced at my HRM a few seconds later.
What? What?! The fastest I’ve ever done 3 miles (not even 3.1) in the past was 36:29, and that was on a flat, cushioned hs track. My HRM said 34:42!
The “official time” was 34:48. It actually took me less than that because I started in the back, but really, I don’t care. I settled for the realistic goal of running the whole 5K without any delusion of achieving my pie-in-the sky dream of finishing under 35 mins. Even with the extra 10 or so seconds tacked on, I hit my time goal as well!
I didn’t win an award. In fact, I was probably one of the last in my age bracket to finish. The important thing, though, is that I did finish, and that makes me a winner.
it doesn't look like it, but I'm actually sprinting here
“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.”
- T. Alan Armstrong
As for my knee: it took me 3 days to get rid of my limp and 35 mins to get it back. It was totally worth it, though.