This past weekend I truly raced for the first time since June 21st, 2013, which is the race that holds my current PR. I did not anticipate racing a 5k when I packed my bags and started road trippin’ to Virginia for Hollie’s wedding, but when the bride and family are like “Hey, we’re doing a 5k, are you in?” there’s really no other response besides “Absolutely!”
I won’t sugarcoat it – I wasn’t gung ho about this race at all. For starters, I’ve been living in the tundra since October and Virginia is essentially the equator to me right now. Second of all, I haven’t raced in practically two years. Thirdly, I ran Thursday and Friday so a third day of running in a row screamed “bad idea”. And finally, the race at this point was $40 and my wallet didn’t love that.
I signed up when we made a Dunkin’ Donuts pit stop, then I whined practically every five minutes until the gun went off at 8:05 the following morning. “But this is going to suck. What have I gotten myself into? I tried to sprint across the street yesterday and I almost threw up! It’s so humid out, I might throw up. If I throw up, will you guys still dance with me at the wedding and be my friend? YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS I’M A BIG WHINER LISTEN TO ME.”
Seriously, I was obnoxious about this race. It’s a 5k. Suck it up, buttercup.
Due to my late registration and no race day pick-up, I had to navigate Chesapeake rush hour traffic to the hotel while the rest of the group went to the wedding rehearsal. I was assigned a bib from an iPad when I arrived, asked what size shirt I wanted and much to my surprise, I actually got a small. It fit very well, the design was simple but catchy, and I do intend on wearing it again outside the house.
On race day, we woke up bright and early, we actually left at 6:30am for the 8:05am race. Oof. Dad Lolz carted us all to the swamp where I quickly realized that I love the warmth, but this humidity might pose a wheezing problem. As such, I had to stick my Albuterol into the tiny front pocket of my shorts making it look like I was in fact, carrying a small package. Read between the lines on that one, folks.
Since I’m trying to be a smarter runner, I was excited to run a real warm-up. Hollie and I ran part of the course for two miles. I felt tight and achy in my right posterior tibialis, but not wheezy.
We headed to the port-a-potty lines about 15 minutes before the race and didn’t have to wait too long. Even though there was a decent chunk of prize money available, there were only about 900 people registered for the half marathon and 180 for the 5k. I did some short ankling while waiting for everyone to clear the bathroom and then we headed to the start after the half gun went off.
Heather, Hollie, and I started to make our way to the front of the line, even though I knew my pace was not front of the line material. We had no issues getting to the very front, it wasn’t a squished start like my races in Buffalo. I picked my spot to the left of the crowd so people could dodge me if I was, in fact, that slow girl that started way too close to the front.
When the gun went off, I was comfortable and my breathing was under control but surprised to find myself rather close to the head of the pack, aside from some speedy outliers. I glanced at my watch and saw a pace I was not ready to hold (6:xx), so I tried to settle down and reminded myself to stay calm when people passed me.
My Kryptonite has always been jetting out far too fast, usually weaving in and out, wasting energy. I wanted an even paced race, knowing that the course was 0 ft elevation gain and literally one straight line for 1.5 miles out and then 1.5 miles right back. I mainly tried to keep Heather and her bright orange Syracuse tank in my sights.
We quickly approached the half marathoners since they only started 5 minutes before us. Thankfully the pathway is wide enough where they were walking on the right side and we could pass on the left. I never had to weave to pass people or feel squished in my place! At the one mile point (7:37), I still felt good but I could tell my legs were approaching the “ick” feeling I haven’t dealt with in a while.
Seeing my first mile, I was pleasantly surprised because I still felt good. I told Laura before the race that I just wanted to see one mile with 7:xx. Check!
I never felt out of breath to the point where I was wheezing or uncomfortable during mile two. It’s usually my slowest mile and with trying to change that new leaf, I thought about my form and driving from the hips. I was convinced I was running with beautiful form, but my race pictures tell another story. [Sorry, Heeb!]
Sometime during mile two, I saw Laura on the side of the road cheering which was such a pick-me-up! “Britt, you’re THIRD FEMALE. Keep it up!” Ha, what? I saw some of the first men turning around, followed by Hollie as first female with nobody to catch her, and Heather in second with nobody in sight, either. We cheered for each other and gave some side high fives, but I knew that there had to be other girls in front of me running the 5k.
After Hollie and Heather, I counted a woman pushing an stroller and then two girls running near each other. When I did my turn around, I knew I could catch the girls and probably stick with them. I debated back and forth whether I should trail them closely and make my move in the last mile, or push ahead and set the pace because I knew they must have heard Laura cheer. I went with the latter, despite knowing that wasn’t the smarter option. Mile 2 clicked at 7:29, which put a big smile on my face.
At this point, I knew I was fourth female, or third if the woman with the stroller wasn’t being counted. I just wanted to hang on, but I was tired. I could feel the screaming in my legs and my breathing was verging into out of control status. Heather had mentioned earlier in the trip that her mantra for a previous race was “Don’t be a pussy.” and I decided to run with it. I mean, come on, 5k’s suck. For me, it’s a disastrous 22+ minute run at a pace that’s basically too uncomfortable to do for more than 15 minutes, but you have to, because you signed up for it and that’s what you do. I honestly think 5k’s might be the epitome of that phrase “glutton for punishment”.
That last mile was a huge mental struggle. I focused on my watch way too much. The biggest downside of this race was that you could see the finish despite being a mile from the line. I saw Heather in her bright orange and all I could tell was that she was still running. Every time I thought she might be finished, she was still running. It was draining because I knew how much faster she was finishing than I was and if she was still running, oh man, I had a long way to go. To be honest, the course blows and if I were running the half marathon and had to stare at the finish from miles away, I might decide that jumping into the swamp is a better alternative.
As I heard the music start playing and the announcer calling people in front of me, I tried to pick it up for the camera (I won’t lie!) I was nauseous and only hoped I wouldn’t smell a strong smell because I certainly would vomit all over. “I only ran 3 miles and I might throw up, what kind of whimp am I? Or am I not? If you’re going to throw up after a race, a 5k is probably the best option, right? Or is it more bad ass to throw up after you ran really far? What is puking etiquette, anyways?” Seriously, the thoughts in my head during races are embarrassing. I listened to the people cheering as I passed to gauge if the girls were behind me and how closely. The cheers were about 10 seconds apart and I knew I had a little room during the sprint. The third mile was slowest in 7:46.
I was about ten strides away from the finish when the announcer started to talk about me. “Coming in as third female…” [ohmygod, what?] and I tried to look like a bad ass as I finished, but in reality I had total cry-face on. I sprinted the fastest I could, which was 6:36 pace and finished overall in 23:41. Then I sucked down some water and tried to shake it off like I wasn’t about to burst into tears after a 24 minute run.
Yes, I finished a 5k and almost bawled like it was the first half marathon I finished.
I was pretty embarrassed to think that I almost cried at first, but after a few minutes of reflecting, I think it would have been warranted if I let it all come out. I had no idea what to expect from this race. I knew my training has been getting better, but my paces were still slower than they were two years ago at this point. To finish quicker than I thought I was capable of without any hints of injury was emotionally overwhelming. Not to mention I never imagined that I would hear my name announced as third female overall in any race, especially behind two of my friends, even if the field was slow! During my injury, I really only had about 3-4 hefty cries over everything so this felt like I was closing the book, the sucktastic book that I have written over the past two years. Being that emotional was absolutely appropriate.
After we caught up with the rest of the family and determined we’d all get some kind of fun awards, we decided to do a cool-down. It’s a new experience for me after a race to continue running. I did just over two miles at a really easy pace and coach would probably be really upset at the “marathon shuffle” I had going on, but I was exhausted. My right posterior tibialis was a little upset before the race and after, but it wasn’t anything to write home about. I knew quality time with any self massager and some ice would help (it did).
We all managed to get our awards after a lot of bugging the volunteers. “She’s getting married tomorrow, we kind of have a place to be really soon!” was what we kept saying. Yes, they could have probably just mailed our awards but it was really awesome to all be in the same place holding them together instead. They’re actually hand carved and painted wooden “trophies”!
I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my “season”. I was terrified to sign up for a race because I didn’t want to be humbled. I was scared of what the clock would say, how I’d feel, and what I’d do afterwards – be upset? Want to quit? Hurt myself? Thankfully, none of that is true!
I’m grateful I have supportive friends who remind me that not every race has to be a PR in order to have purpose and the time on the clock does not reflect how strong I am. I’m also thankful that these same friends want to do races the day before a wedding, even if it’s their own, and convince me to join in. And when I’m not shutting up because I’m nervously whining about the race, or I’m stupid happy over the fact that I placed third because the only fast people to run were my two friends, and I also don’t shut up about that — they just let me talk, smile, and nod.
Guess what? I’m officially back. That chapter is definitely closed after this weekend.