I stood looking over the water on Saturday, watching the last of the triathlon swimmers come in. It was a beautiful morning, about 72 degrees with a nice breeze coming off the lake. The water was really choppy, and it occurred to me how it was a perfect day for running and a terrible day for swimming. I watched, amazed, and cheered as they dragged themselves one-by-one from the water and ran towards the racks of bicycles. Amazing.
I watched the bicycles go by, riders with serious looks of determination. Admidst it all the 15K runners were starting to congregate near the starting line. I was nervous and ready to run all at the same time. I looked at my boyfriend and said, “I’m gonna run too fast. I’m too excited.”
I was really worried that I wouldn’t finish. I had done so many things over the past few weeks that every training program tells you not to. It’s not a secret that my ambitions for balancing my school and my running have far exceeded my reality so far. The last two weeks I got a serious flu, was running about two days a week, and I took a week off. I had never run more than 8 miles, and here I was entering a race that was 9.3. It was 10:15 in the morning, I knew it would take me at least two hours, and the sun was just going to keep getting hotter. I hate the sun. The course had some hills, including a monster one up to the turn around, and I always run my long miles on flat ground. I had been trying out some different fuels, but I hadn’t found one that worked right yet. Hence, I had a new bar in my pack.
My boyfriend looked at me and said, “Just keep your pace and you’ll be fine.” And I knew it was true.
The race was smaller than I expected, but that was okay. I hate the big 5k’s with all the runners and barely room to move. I started in the back, and when the race started I watched the majority of the group quickly jump in front. I was by no means last, but I watched this flexible wood-nymph looking guy, shirtless with flowing blond hair, almost immediately disappear from view. Just keep your pace I thought. Don’t start too fast, you want to run your fastest miles last.
Before the end of the second mile I saw a woman who had started too fast almost fainted. I passed her as she was being escorted by two people to a nearby bench. I felt bad for her, but there was a small part of me that felt a little relief. No matter what, I wouldn’t finish last. (I saw her later, she took a break and then ran the rest of the race a better pace for her.)
The course was hillier than I had anticipated, and it was pretty warm even in the mid-70’s. I had my belt, and I had thought I wouldn’t use the water stations. I was wrong. I passed the first one, but by the second I felt I needed some gatoraide. I was sweating. A lot. Half a cup down, and I was good to go. I alternated at each station, water then gatoraide. Half the water went down my back, All the time I kept thinking, “Stay hydrated, cool your core, and keep your pace.” It became like a mantra.
I was running a little fast, but it is bound to happen in a race. The first turn around was at the top of what looked like Mt. Everest from the bottom. I told myself, “You’ve ran hills. Shorten your stride, slow down, and keep the same effort. Get it.” Before I knew it hill done, through the first turn around, and 1/3 done. A little while later: half my fuel, and more water.
It was about that time that I started to see the triathletes running the marathon leg of their race. And this is why I love runners. No matter what, they always encourage each other. I heard so many good jobs and keep up the good work from others. It was great. Some of those marathon runners passed me twice, and they cheered me on every pass. I have a lot of respect for those people. For all you marathoners out there, I hope you realize what an inspiration you are to newbies like me. And thanks for the cheers, they really did help.
Anyway, around mile 5 I started running with a woman who I had been playing leap frog with most of the race. Having another person to run with makes the time go by faster, and I needed a little motivation for those boring middle miles.
It was around mile 6 that the toes of my left foot started to involuntarily curl in my shoe. It was just a little, and it didn’t really hurt so I didn’t really pay attention. More gatoraide and keep going. 2/3 done, just a 5k left.
I was doing great, and at this point there was no way I wasn’t going to finish. I would walk the rest of it if I had to, but I was feeling pretty good. Down a sand path, around the other turn around, and I was almost there.
One mile left, and I told my running partner I was going to run the last mile. I had fallen a little off my pace and I wanted to finish strong. A few minutes in and BAM! My left lower calf cramped up, and my toes felt permanently curled in my shoe. I hobbled, and walked until it let up. I ran that last half mile, sweaty, sore, and with terror that the cramp would return and ruin my life.
Nope. I finished in 2:13. It may seem long, but the first one is always a PR. My GPS also said I ran the best distance in 1 hour and my fastest 10K. They called my name over a loud-speaker as I crossed under that magical arch, arms in the air, and wonderful men were waiting with my medal and ice cold water. The wood-nymph had finished at least an hour earlier, and he was stretched out, reclining in the shade. Go figure.
What an amazing feeling, and I’m reinvigorated. One of my two running goals this year was to run a 10K, and I mark it as accomplished. My run this morning felt inspired, and I’m hoping the race high can take me through a few more weeks. I’m capable of more than I think.