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!