The First 10K

When I returned to running earlier this year, it was primarily as a means of improving my physical fitness.  I entered my first 5K in over ten years this past April to challenge myself and keep myself on target.  Of course, it took exactly 40:12 minutes to remember how much I absolutely loved not only running, but the racing.  I have no illusions of being an elite runner but I love to challenge myself.  So with a few 5K races under my shoes and plenty of training, I entered my first local fun 10K. 


Standing at the start line Saturday morning, I immediately realized I stood out like a sore thumb or to be more accurate, a fat chick in yoga pants.  Of course, I wasn’t entirely alone.  There was exactly other woman of larger carriage among the 60 or so total competitors.  Granted it was a very small race, but one thing was absolutely clear:  If you were on this side of the park, you were here to run. 


At exactly 8:10, the gun sounded the start and we were off and in the most demoralizing experience of my life in competitive sports, within a matter of minutes I was a full quarter mile behind the pack.  Alone.   Worse, within the first half three quarter mile, we were running up a parade route in front of anxious and excited crowds.  I was absolutely defeated.


First, I need to give credit to the outstanding volunteer staff at the event positioned at regular intervals along a very complicated looping course.  They provided incredible support and encouragement to every single runner, including me dogging the back of the pack.  In a moment when I was engaged in an intense mental battle with myself, their encouragement kept me focused on just putting one foot in front of the other and running.


Second, I would like to beat several of the parents along the parade route who found it infinitely amusing to allow their children to either leap out in front of the runners or better, throw stuff in our general direction.  Really?  REALLY?  On what planet is it acceptable to let a 10 year old try to trip a runner?


But back to the race…  The course looped back to the start line then started us off in a different direction.  The pack had lengthened out into several smaller groups and I had a little bit of company in the rear until by the end of the second leg, I was cruising along and actually passing.  And then it was back to the parade route of death where we would run all the way to the top, turn around and come back down the parade route a third a final time.


I am not exaggerating when I refer to it as the parade route of death.  Barking dogs lunged out at me, children threw themselves in my path, the Starbucks mobile coffee unit almost took me out…  Then the 5K runners, joggers and walkers started coming at me by the hundreds.  I was suddenly a salmon in spandex swimming upstream among tutu-wearing, stroller pushing, dog walking throngs of people.  And then the first 10K male came back…  And then another and another and another…  And then the women…


Physically, I was more than prepared for this race.  Mentally, I was not.  And then it happened.  One of the first 10K women to come back from the turn-around game the thumbs up, made eye contact, smiled and said, “You got this, runner!”  I almost leapt across the divider to hug her.  Call it courtesy, call it pity, I don’t care.  She called me a runner.  And so I kept running.  Without even realizing it, I found myself at the finish line…smiling.  My goal was to finish in 80 minutes and I did it in 70:43, pacing 11:59 over 5.9 miles (a funny thing happened during measuring and it wasn’t a 10K anymore).  More importantly, I battled myself and won, finishing 58 out of 60…as a runner.  I did it.  And I will do it again.