Okay, while it’s still fresh in my mind, here is absolutely everything I remember about my first 5k race this past Saturday:

The night before the race I was so nervous and excited. Everything I did made me think of the race– what kind of dinner should I eat to be fully and optimally fueled for the race? How much water should I drink now so I’m not dehydrated for the race? I had to say no to going out dancing with a dear friend when he called at 11pm on Friday night because I didn’t want to be tired for THE RACE. Random aside: I worked for Kaplan test prep for a very short time (short story: it was very weirdly corporate, homogenized and creepy). One of the things they really emphasized in their teacher training was working certain phrases into your instruction as much as possible. One of those “money” phrases was “higher scores.” Another one was “test day.” Basically they wanted you to say “OK, students, today we’re going to learn about the Pythagorean theorem! This neat little trick will help you get HIGHER SCORES on TEST DAY! Turn to page five in your text books!” The teaching evaluation actually had a little tally section where the observer would tick off how many times you managed to weave “TEST DAY” seamlessly into your instruction. Anyway, if you were observing my life in the days (and let’s be honest, weeks) leading up to RACE DAY, and you were keeping a tally of the number of times I referenced “RACE DAY” you would have at least five pages full of little tallies. RACE DAY was all I thought about, and I’m pretty sure I drove some people crazy talking about it.

So, I was really, really, really excited. I trained for ten weeks leading up to this race. I agonized over what to wear, solicited advice and strategy from every runner I know, all in pursuit of my singleminded goal: BETTER TIME on RAAAAAAAACE DAAAAAAYYYYY!

I slept only fitfully and bounced out of bed at six am. It was chilly and rainy. I showered, debated over what to wear, dressed and departed for the race. We arrived at the race location about thirty minutes before the official start time, so there was plenty of time to take in the crowd a little, pick up my chip, figure out how to lash it securely onto my shoe, etc. etc. I was afraid of missing the start so I made my way to the starting line about ten minutes to eight. There were runners everywhere!! Runners with bulging muscles in their legs. Runners in super super short shorts! Runners doing all kinds of stretches and warm-ups. Lots of people seemed to be in pairs or groups, and I wished I had a buddy to run with me. I jumped around a little bit and rubbed my bare arms in an attempt to keep warm. Brr.

After stalling forEVER and talking about the importance of preventing child abuse (the cause that the race was benefiting), the air horn finally sounded and we were off! Everyone had advised me not to go out too fast, so I settled into a steady pace right away and let the other runners flow around me like water in a stream. They flowed and flowed. At one point I glanced over my shoulder to see if every single other runner in the race had passed me in the first five minutes– it sure felt that way. Reassuringly, there were still lots of folks behind me.

The first mile seemed to take forever. There was one little uphill and I started feeling the burn a little bit. I didn’t wear a watch and I had absolutely no concept of how much time had gone by. When I finally reached the first mile marker and saw the split timer read “11:30” I was pleased, but also a little disappointed. I think I had this thought that the excitement and adrenaline of the race would somehow carry me effortlessly and breathtakingly fast to the finish line with very little effort on my part. I imagined surprising myself and everyone I know by finishing in under 30 minutes. 11:30 was okay, though, and I figured I could follow my plan to gradually speed up and run the last mile the fastest of all, without having to worry about running out of steam.

The second mile the crowd had really thinned out, but there were still people around me. I felt like I couldn’t tell if I was running too fast or too slow. I grabbed a cup of water from a line of volunteers eagerly holding out cups for me, and after gagging on the first sip decided to speed walk for a minute so I could take a drink. After that, I jogged and jogged and jogged. The second mile marker came up at 24:00. I was starting to feel really tired, but I kept thinking “this is it! this is what you’ve been training for, looking forward to, race day! Race day!” I remembered my original plan to speed up in the last mile, so sped up a little. I did some mental calculations and imagined myself running the last mile in eight minutes and finishing around 33 (got to account for that .1, don’t forget!).

Trying to speed up after the second mile marker was my major tactical error, I think. Basically I got really excited that the finish line was only one tiny mile away, and I started running way too fast. I could only sustain that pace for about a minute or two before I was absolutely DYING. I was gasping for breath, panting, and my heart felt like a trapped seagull was trying to escape from my sternum, “Alien”-style. I bargained with myself that I would walk just until a park bench that was up ahead. Then I jogged again. The other runners around me were alternating jogging and running, too. At one point a girl in front of me started walking, and even though I was jogging I could. not. pass her. I rationalized that if my jog was slower than her walk, I might as well walk. I power walked a little. Then I started berating myself because one of my goals was to run the whole time continuously, and that had gone completely out the window. Plus, I was almost finished! Probably ten more minutes of pain and I would be at the finish line.

I made myself start running again. Time slowed to a crawl. Finally the finish line came into sight, and my heart dropped when I saw the timer was already at 37 minutes. I wasted too much time walking. Nevertheless, there were spectators lined up along both sides of the finish line, cheering me on. I mustered up a tiny extra bit of strength and stamina and RAN as fast as I could for the finish line. I passed a whole bunch of people in that last block, weaving around dejected-looking walkers and slow, elderly joggers. I broke into a grin as the cheers got louder. One guy caught my eye and I imagined he looked deeply impressed. He said “Whoa! Finish strong! Good job!” and clapped in my direction.

I staggered across the finish line gasping, bent over, laughing, crying, choking, all at once. There were volunteers there who snipped the chip off of my shoelaces (there was a moment where I really didn’t think I could lift my leg up to put my foot on the overturned bucket the chip-snippers were using for foot access. My legs felt like they were filled with lead, and my quads and the fronts of my hips were screaming from the final sprint. I did it!

I wandered around in the post-race zone for a few minutes, drinking water and nibbling on a bagel, trying not to cry or trip or bump into anyone. I started to feel really cold and wished that there was someone there to give me a tin foil blanket like I’ve seen marathoners wear on TV. I made my way over to the sidelines and cheered on the 5k runners who were finishing behind me. There was a mom towing two little kids, one with each hand. There was a small cluster of senior citizen runners with white hair and VERY short shorts who got a HUGE cheer when they jogged across the finish.

A few minutes later a race official on a bike rode up to the finish to clear the way for the first 10K finishers. One very fit runner all by himself flew by and across the finish line. The clock had been changed to reflect the elapsed time since the 10k start (15 minutes after the 5k start). I saw that the dude had just run a 10K in 33 minutes. Insane! A minute later another 10k finisher flew by, then more and more of them. It was really fun to get to see the slower 5k finishers immediately followed by the elite 10k runners.

I went home. Updated this blog and facebook. Showered. Collapsed into bed and immediately passed out hard. I ended up sleeping off and on for almost the whole afternoon, I felt completely physically and emotionally drained.

Sunday my quads were pretty sore, especially the left one. My abs are a little sore on the left side, too. Nothing else hurts. I’ve done some gentle stretching and no running since the race. I’m already looking at other 5k races I can do this summer– maybe one per month, so I always have a race to look forward to and plenty of time to train between races. The next one I think I’m going to do is May 11th– not too far off!

I want to start Hal Higdon’s 10k novice training, and I think I will, but I definitely want to run a few more 5k races and train a lot more before I try a 10k. Even with all of my weeks of training, I still didn’t feel completely prepared during the race on Saturday. I had a hard time regulating my pace, I didn’t know when to speed up in the last mile, and I felt hindered by my endurance towards the end– it got really hard. I felt like my muscles weren’t tired, but my heart and lungs were. I was a little disappointed in my time. I know I’m only competing against myself, but it seems like lots of other beginning runners can run a 5k in 31 or 32 minutes. I want to be able to do that, too. I think if I ran another one tomorrow I could shave my time down to 36 minutes just by regulating my pace and not walking. As for the dream of a sub-30-minute 5k…. I’ve got a lot more work to do!

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I finished my first 5K race this morning!!!!!!! It was chilly and rainy, but so fun to be out there with all the other runners. I reached the first mile marker at 11:30, the second at 24:00 and the finish at 38:00. I definitely lost some steam in the last mile and walked a little bit, but I powered up for the race to the finish line, soaking up all the cheers and speeding past lots of folks who were walking across the finish. It felt great! I tried not to cry but it was very emotional for me at the finish line and some tears may have squeezed their way out.

I’ll write more later– gotta shower!

First of all, thank you all so much for the kind and encouraging comments on the last post. They really inspire me to keep on going out there and working and improving.

It’s been an amazing, amazing week. I got a job offer for an AMAZING JOB that I LOVE. I’ve been on tenterhooks for months waiting to find out, and I got it! I got it! I can’t even believe I got it, I’m so happy.

I just got back from a run. I don’t even think of it as week nine, run two. It’s just a run. It was a beautiful, warm, windy day here today. I laced up my running shoes right as the sun was going down and set out for the lakefront. The lake path at dusk seems absolutely magical to me. I passed families with babies in strollers and children riding on their fathers’ shoulders. I passed walkers, mosey-ers, and lovers on evening strolls. Cyclists and other runners passed me. I ran past two campfires. I smelled hot-dogs roasting and smiled at at least ten different dogs. I saw daffodils in full bloom, trees with buds about to burst open into flower, and the deep, indigo blue of Lake Michigan at dusk.

The race on Saturday is at the forefront of my mind, so I pushed myself a little harder and a little faster than usual. I had a lot of energy the first mile, then started to slow down a bit in the second mile. My lower back and the muscles that wrap around the sides of my waist started to feel the fatigue first. The third mile I pushed myself to speed back up, to really focus on gliding forward and forward and not just up and down in little hops. Propelling myself forward is the goal. Forward, onward, forward.

I ran a little further than I did last time, north on the lakefront a block or two further, around two giant oak trees planted very close together, and then back home. When the bus stop shelter at the corner near my house came into sight, I thought “finish line” and started to run faster and faster. I sped up and really conquered those last few blocks, panting loudly and trying to smile. Will I know when the race photographer is taking my picture on Saturday? Will my hair looks as wild as it did today running into incredible wind? Will I have a chance to smile? I hope to run the whole race with a smile on my face.

After thirty-five minutes of continuous running, I passed the bus stop and walked the rest of the way home, feeling really physically exhausted, flushed and sweaty, twitchy and achy and tired and happy. Happy, happy, happy.

I just got back from an EXQUISITE run by the lakefront. Early on, when I was out there running in -19 degree weather, freezing my face off, huffing and puffing and aching and toiling, my dad told me to remember exactly how that feels, so when the weather gets better and the runs get great, I can really appreciate how great it feels. I remember laughing at him– great? Running feels great? I mean, I know people who seem to like it, but I always figured they were just wired differently from me. For me, running had always been hard, painful, and humbling.

Well, that’s starting to change. I went out from my house and ran along the lakeshore. It was cool and quite windy outside. I ran slow, slow, slowly, and even though the time went by slowly and I glanced at my watch from time to time, I did NOT feel the urge to walk or stop. I felt perfectly content to just trot along, listen to “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me” on my iPod, breathe in the nice fresh air and take in the twilight view of the downtown skyline. After walking for 5 minutes and running for 15, I looped around and ran back towards my house. There is something immensely satisfying for me about running towards home. I want to get there, it draws me in. Unlike on the treadmill, I can’t hit “stop” two minutes early and be done– I have to get home, and the faster I run the sooner I’ll get there.

I reached the bus stop near my house right at the 32 minute mark (see, I ran two minutes extra, that’s how much I was enjoying myself!!) and then walked the last few blocks to cool down. I put together a pot of split pea soup before I went out, and left it to simmer on low. The whole house smells wonderful. I’m sweaty and my muscles are twitching and I feel really invigorated. I hope I can run my race next weekend with the same sense of delight and wonder that I felt out there today. Two workouts to go before I officially graduate from the Couch to 5k program.

Completed at the gym right before closing on Saturday night. Right after the run I was brave enough to go into the weight-lifting area (a few times I’ve started to go in there and been scared away by varsity athletes grunting and lifting huge weights and staring at my tush, or so I imagine). I did two sets of curls, then some shoulder exercises with 5lb free weights, then I did a few sit-ups on the fitness ball, then they turned the lights out and I went home. That’s about all. Countdown to RACE DAY: 6 days!!!

I was just about to cancel with the personal trainer, when she called me and apologized for being so slow to get back to me and offered to meet with me right away. I was apprehensive, but agreed. I’m so glad I did! She was warm and friendly and encouraging and inspiring. She did a comprehensive fitness assessment on me, which was quite humbling. I know that I’ve come a long way in my fitness already in the past 9 weeks or so since I’ve started running, but I still have a long ways to go. I’ll probably post a chart with my results soon, but the main things were:
Body fat 36%. When I started it was 40%. The top of the “healthy” range for women, and the number that the trainer thinks should be my goal is 21%. That’s still a LONG way to go.
Upper body strength: Poor. I was able to do 14 “girly” pushups before I had to stop. And it was hard.
Flexibility: Average
Cardio: GOOD!!!
This was a pleasant surprise because I’ve always thought that my cardio fitness was very, very low. Nine weeks ago it was. Today it is categorized as “good”!! For this test I had to step up onto a step for three minutes. By the third minute my heart rate had climbed to 173 and I was panting and starting to sweat. It was embarrassing, the trainer had to ask if I was okay. Then I got to sit in a chair and rest for one minute to see how my heart could recover. Guess what? In just one minute my heart rate was down to 69 bpm (resting was 60) so I was almost fully recovered in just a minute! The trainer said this was “awesome” and really impressive.

The trainer wants me to meet with her assistant instead of her for training since she knows I want to get started right away… I’m tempted to tell her that I would rather meet with her instead of her assistant, even if I have to wait a while. I’m really focused on my race in NINE DAYS so I wouldn’t mind starting a strength routine after that, anyway. I’ll think about it and call her tomorrow to discuss.

Anyway, after the fitness assessment I got on a treadmill and walked for five minutes, then ran for 28 minutes. It was very hard. It’s been a while and I’ve been sick and am still not 100% healthy. I paused the machine after 14 minutes of running to take a short break and get a drink. Then I cranked it back up and finished the rest. OOF it was hard. The race is coming up so soon I really want to do whatever I need to do to be ready. Also I am in an EXTREMELY STRESSFUL situation at work and I think running really helps me blow off some of that steam.

Anyway, if I can continue to run every other day up until my race I should be able to finish the Couch to 5K program by race day, or maybe count the race as the final run. I’ve been tempted to just sluff off these last few runs, workout however I want to and move on to some other training plan, but I do want the satisfaction of having really, truly completed this program for real. So I’m going to keep doing it. Four workouts left!

So, after being extremely disciplined about running every other day for about two weeks, I took the weekend off. Then I took Monday off because I was tired from being back at work. Today I ALMOST talked myself out of going to the gym… I’m on Week 8 of the couch to 5 k program and now I’m feeling the urge to quit? Maybe even write here that I’m done and not actually do it? I don’t know why, but I’m SCARED to finish the program. I’m scared that the 30 minute runs of week 9 will be too hard, I’m scared to be finished with it… it makes no sense, but I’m going to push through this fear and do it anyway. I am.

I went to the gym today, went to the toning class (good for abs and arms, some legs… no cardio involved though), then I thought that I signed up for a treadmill but I accidentally signed up for an elliptical. Oh well. Al of the treadmills were booked so I got on the elliptical machine and spent 45 minutes cruising along at a mellow speed. I kept my heart rate around 150 the whole time. I didn’t want to push it too hard since I want to run tomorrow and I want my legs to be fresh and not sore. American Idol was on and the time went by fast.

In great news, the scale continues to creep down bit by bit, I’m losing about a pound each week. I ate very well all during break, and on the days I didn’t exercise my appetite was significantly reduced, which made it very easy to eat healthy food and not over-do it. It was also a luxury to be able to prepare all of my meals at home. I find myself making less than stellar choices when I’m at school, haven’t packed a lunch, and have to choose something from the school cafeteria for lunch. I like eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch– I need to buy some more bread and keep that up. Along with an apple, it makes for a healthy, balanced lunch, and it helps me save a little money as well as a few calories.

I’m excited that the weather is supposed to be warm (50!) and sunny all week– I can run outside, enjoy the sunshine, and get my body ready for my first ever 5K race: 18 days away! Holy crap!