So, I started off the day by running... late.
Man, if this had been my first race I would have been panicking. Thankfully by now I've run enough races to know the usual drill, plus I knew where to go because I ran this race in 2007, though they have changed the course since then. I did insist that we go ahead and park in the zoo lot, despite the hefty fee - normally The Dude is a stickler for finding the best deal on parking and other matters. Good thing we stayed in the lot, though, since part of the new course involved running on the streets we'd planned to find parking on.
I got dropped off and waved a kiss to Buster and The Dude, got my race number and t-shirt, dropped off my jacket and juice, figured out how to attach the disposable time chip to my shoe, used the facilities, then joined the other people streaming over to the actual start post. I had barely time to stretch... and we were off! The big thing for me at the start of races is not to go too fast - I thought that would be easy this time since I hadn't gotten much sleep in the days before, plus was not warmed up. Mostly my body just hurt and complained as I tried to settle in to a steady pace and watched great streams of people move past me. That's my usual start to races - watching great streams of people move past me, that is, not feeling achy.
This was one race where at first I regretted not running with music. When I do my weekly runs I almost always listen to music - it helps with the run and also gives me a chance to listen more carefully to new music or music I love, since I don't get enough opportunity to do so otherwise. But on race days I feel it's important for me to be fully present for the experience - completely aware of my surroundings and what is going on with me. But that means I don't have it to fall back on when the running is harder.
So at the beginning, to keep my focus off of how hard it was, once the crowds thinned out a bit, I looked for who was near me and likely to stay there. Just behind me there was a mother-daughter couple - it was the daughter's first race. The mom was clearly an experienced runner, trying to coach her daughter as they ran (although her daughter kept saying, "Don't ask me questions! Don't talk to me!"). Her daughter had the right instinct, since one of the first things I heard the mom say was, "If you run a 10-minute mile, then this will only take a little over half an hour. Ten-minute miles, pretty good for a 9-year-old." Meanwhile I was thinking, "Lady, while I can run a 10-minute mile, I'm certainly not doing it now. And you're staying steady with me, so you aren't either. Don't set your daughter up to fail - let her first race be a success." And in fact, over the first 2K, they needed to take more and more walking breaks, until finally I lost them behind me.
The same thing happened for another group near me. A woman in her early 30s caught my eye - she had on a black visor, black running shorts and top just cut to cover her bra, but then white arm sleeves covering her forearms, white racing socks that went up to her knees, plus a tattoo of her kid's feet in the small of her back. Quite noticeable, to say the least. Then I realized she must be a pace-setter for a group, and sure enough, there they were, two frathouse-gone-to-seed guys, both dressed in black t-shirts and shorts, just behind her. I came up behind them just as they were starting a walking break and could hear her giving advice to them about pacing. As I passed them one of the guys said something friendly to me, I don't remember what, and I smiled and nodded, and said "See you at the finish line." I could tell by the way he looked at me that he wasn't expecting me to finish or not anywhere near him, at least. And soon after I stopped for my first walking break, a little after mile 1, and they passed me. But again, they started taking more and more walking breaks, I could hear their pacer talking to them about steady breathing, and then they were behind me and gone.
That's one of the things I love about racing, even a short distance. You can't be stupid about it - it's important to run a smart race. To think about your distance, and your pace setting out, and the weather conditions, and your condition particular to that day, and when you'll take your breaks if you are, and when you'll take water or food if you're going to, and the people around you, and the terrain... all of that goes into figuring out how you can run the best race possible for you on that day.
And even then there's plenty of room for surprises. I did take off too fast after all, and knew that I would be struggling over the distance, but I found I couldn't go slower - the adrenaline of racing makes that hard to do sometimes. So while I hadn't been taking walking breaks in my training runs, I knew I would need to in this race, and just hoped (through sheer determination) to keep them to once a mile.
I got to the first mile marker and saw that I had done it in just over 12 minutes, which was much faster than I had expected. (I hadn't been keeping careful track of pace in my training runs, but I knew it was somewhere between 13-14 minutes a mile, possibly even more. Back when I had been running more regularly my race pace was usually about 11 1/2 minutes a mile, and I knew I wasn't anywhere near that condition). At that moment, despite how difficult the first mile had been, I thought, "Huh, maybe I can maintain that pace. I'd certainly like to."
During the 2nd mile, enthusiasm and a water break kept me going at that pace. At the beginning of the 3rd mile, however, I realized I was going to need something extra, I was going to have to find a way mentally to keep going, and going strong. I slowed down a bit to give myself a break, and thought about what I could do to inspire myself.
At the beginning of the race, when I was surprised by how hard I was finding it, I thought about why I was doing this particular race in the first place (to raise money for child abuse prevention), and I thought about all the people who were supporting me, through donations and through their thoughts and prayers. That helped me while I was warming up, until some of the aches eased up. At this point in the race, however, I knew that thinking about things was not going to carry me through - I needed to find something inspiring that was beyond thought.
What I needed was a running cadence. I started with something we'd sung to Buster while visiting his Nana at Easter - "Hey baby, hey baby, wipe those tears away" - it was the first thing that came into my head. I sang that for a while but it didn't seem cheery enough, so then I switched to a song I'd been singing to him the day before that felt more appropriate - "We're walking, we're walking," - only for this I changed it to "We're running." This worked and gave me the extra oomph I needed. It's always very satisfying to find some mental key that unlocks greater effort when it's needed.
We're running, we're running, under the bright blue sky.
We're running, we're running, under birds that fly.
We're running, we're running, under the great gold sun.
We're running, we're running, we're having ourselves some fun!
In the last 1/2 mile things began to reverse themselves and I started steadily passing people. I kept looking ahead to get a sense of where the finish was, and then looking inward to see if I had the reserves to quicken my pace and sustain it for the duration of the course. At one point, actually, I misjudged how close the finish was and picked up my pace, only to realize a couple of minutes later that it was farther away than I'd thought and I'd better drop back down. And that was satisfying too, to see that I was going to be sensible about this, that as hard as I was willing to work to keep myself going and meet my goals, I also knew when to back down so that I'd end the race excited about what I'd done AND wanting to do more.
And then I saw the finish line, and knew it was a distance I could go ahead and push more quickly on, and then I saw Buster and The Dude smiling and waving at me (well, The Dude was smiling and waving, Buster was looking a bit grim - he's not wild about his stroller any more), and I knew I could step it up just a little bit more for those last yards (though no sprinting, not that day, not yet) and then I was done. And I walked around a little bit, decided not to eat an unripe banana, snagged my favorite kind of energy bar from a race sponsor and went and found my guys.
Final time for my 5K --- 37 minutes, 36 seconds, for a pace of 12 minutes, 8 seconds per mile. Two walking breaks.
Initial goal when I started the day --- 40 minutes, no more than three walking breaks.
I so rock.
Fundraising goal --- $200.
Final tally --- $385.
Thank you, my friends! You roll.