Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Confessions of a (retired) 5k Champion

Confessions of a (retired) 5k Champion

There is no runner that will ever forget crossing the finish line of their first 5 or 10k race. It is the great accomplishment that they had spent weeks or even months training and working for. It is the dream that they thought they might not even accomplish back when they first laced up their shoes and began that difficult task called running.
For me, that feat was no different than it was for anyone else. I decided to run at the very end of my 20s. I had never participated in any form of sporting event. I was the one in school that lacked the confidence to try their hand on the court during a basketball or volleyball game. So when I decided one afternoon that I would try running, it was a completely new and unchartered territory for me. I decided that since my sister was a personal trainer and had completed several races, that it couldn’t be too hard. I was 5’ 8” tall and only weighed 120 pounds, so I could master the art of running. I figured that if so many people participated in this activity on a daily basis, it could not be so bad, right? Wrong!
I will never forget my first run. I clocked out a ½ mile distance from my house, deciding that my first attempt would be a short distance where I would just complete a there and back course, not straying too far from home. I was pretty excited. I fired up my iPod and started down the driveway.
Almost instantly my legs began to feel strange. They had never been asked to do something like this before and it was almost like they were questioning this feat. By the time I reached my turn-around point, I was full- fledged panting, completely red faced and was sweating more than I had ever before in my life. By the time I finally reached my driveway I had decided that I was going to parish.
The next morning was extremely unpleasant as any sort of activity using my leg muscles was completely out of the question. Even lowering myself to use the toilet was a full body adventure. But, alas, I had decided to begin this quest for better physical condition, so I once again went out for my mile long run. I have to say that it was not any easier the second time around. In fact, with my soreness, it seemed even harder to complete the journey that it had been the first day.
I continued to run on a daily basis. Over time the one thing that seemed like a torturous act in the beginning now became second nature. My legs began to understand and my body responded. Before long this girl that had never been able to complete any physical activity now seemed like she was born to run. My mile jaunts, overtime, turned into two and eventually four and five mile excursions, which I participated in every morning.
Eventually summer came and so did community racing season. Although I was completely nervous about doing so, I signed myself up for my first 5k race. Immediately after receiving conformation and my race number, the anxiety set it. I didn’t sleep for at least two nights before the race. I will never forget how it felt on that brisk morning, standing next to hundreds of other runners wearing race bibs, just waiting for the gun to signal the beginning of our race. It was terrifying. Everyone there seemed to be a seasoned runner and here I was, a girl who just decided one day to try something new. I felt like I didn’t fit in as I stood amongst the crowd in my mis-matching attire and cheap running shoes. What was I doing here?
I remember my time for that race was not very good. I finished fourth in my age group and just under 29 minutes. Still the pride that I carried for the remainder of the day was amazing. I had actually started something new and completed it. My reward for finishing the race was a new running outfit, which I wore to my next 5k race.
In face the remainder of that summer I participated in dozens of 5ks and even one 10k race. My times began to improve as the season went on and I also started to be recognized by the other runners and started winning medals in my age group.
By the next summer I was a seasoned veteran. I had spent the winter months cross training, running in the frigid Michigan winter weather and even purchased a treadmill for the bitter cold days. I participated in every 5k in my area that summer. I had more race shirts and bibs than I knew what to do with. The thing that seemed to scare me the most now had become my new obsession and regular weekend routine.
By fall, when the race season for the community was coming to a close, they posted in the local paper the standings for all of the age groups for the year. I was shocked and almost in tears to read that I was going to finish in first place in the 30-35 age group for the year. This meant that I was invited to the awards run and breakfast ceremony in September and I would be taking home a trophy for my accomplishments. How would I even top this feeling? What would be my next step?
After bringing home my trophy, which sat on the fireplace mantel for the next several months, I decided to retire from the 5k racing scene. There was no way that I would better my time and I wanted to go out on top. I decided from that moment on I would move on to the art of distance running, which was something that I had never attempted before. I knew that this would bring on a whole new list of questions and anxieties, but it was time to hang up my 5k race shoes non the less.
I’m so glad that I started running the way I did. All of those individuals out there that think that they do not have the physical or mental ability to give running the chance, take my story to heart. I had never even considered physical activity before and was horrible at it in the beginning. But I never gave up and now, over 10 years later have found a new outlet for my anxiety, frustration and energy. I have participated in dozens of half marathons now and even have a full marathon under my belt. It is an amazing feeling to cross that finish line after 26.2 miles of pure and utter torture. A feeling that you will never forget and a memory that no one can take away.
Whether you are a person looking to start a new physical activity or a beginning runner, looking for words of wisdom to continue on your quest. There are a ton of us out here willing to be mentors, give words of encouragement or simply just to cheer you on. You can do this. And, you are not alone.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Changing of the Seasons

  Spring has finally arrived in Michigan. For those people that live in southern states, you have no idea how much of a needed necessity this is for us Michiganders. In fact by mid April, when there is still snow on the ground, many of us can be found searching for the one patch of grass that has started to poke it's weary head out of the soil, or the small tops of the spring flowers that are beginning to make their appearance among the brown leaves on the ground. We live for this time of year when we can once again venture outside. It's the time of year when we finally see our neighbors again after hibernating for several months in our homes.
  Well for me this also brings the new task of trying to locate my spring and summer wardrobe, from shoes to shorts and T-shirts. The items that have been in hiding for so long that when you pull them out they are a wrinkled mess, not anything like you remember them resembling when you stuffed them into the drawers and closets last fall.
  This morning I was in search for my pair of slides, the kind of sandals that I love to wear everyday around the house. I was delighted to be able to slip my feet into these shoes without having to worry about socks for the day. As I opened my closet I was horrified at how it had taken a turn for the worse during the winter months.
  Since I share a small closet with my husband, things are not organized like I would like them to be. In fact it is so ugly in there that it took me over 20 minutes just to locate this one pair of shoes. Because I hate to get rid of any of my footwear, I had to sift through the dozens of pairs of running shoes, my winter boots and everything else that had made their way to the top of the stack. I finally located one of my slides, which was a personal victory, but the other was still in hiding.
  At this point I gave up the standing position and got serious. I sat on the floor and just began piling shoes out onto my bedroom floor, insisting that I would find this shoe. It had to be in there. I gave up looking on my side of the closet and began looking on Doug's side. This is when I came across his giant winter coat that he had obviously flung onto the closet floor. (Perfect place for that!) Fortunately for me, my missing shoe was hidden under his coat.
  Now, you would think that I would have taken this opportunity and time to organize my shoes and put them all back with the summer footwear at the top of the piles for the season. But instead, because I was in a hurry, I threw everything back into the closet, including the giant black coat, and closed the doors quickly before it could all fall back out on top of me.
  I will regret that decision next week when I'm desperately looking for my sandals to wear for Mother's Day, but for now, door closed and problem solved. Got to love living in a small house in Michigan!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Things that go slither in the light

  Growing up on a 300-acre farm had it's advantages. With both farm fields and woods on the property, we got to experience all types of wildlife up close and personal from the cows and sheep that my Dad raised, to the fox, opossum, turtles, deer, snakes and other creatures that made their appearance either in the yard or from a distance in one of the many outlying areas. You never knew just what you would run into while outside in the country.
  One thing was for certain though, my mother was scared to death of snakes. I'm not talking your normal fear, where you let out a shriek at the sight of one slithering past in the lawn, I mean a full fledged paranoia, where she would shove children to the ground to flee from the area before anyone else.
  My dad used to tell my mom not to worry about encountering snakes in our yard because they did not travel across the highway. Although we lived in such a rural setting, which would be a prime place for snakes to enjoy life sunning themselves in the many fields or barnyards, my mom somehow believed this horrendous tale and was never in fear of meeting up with a snake, even though she filled all of her spare time working in her many gardens that surrounded the house. So, we were told as kids that if we were outside and saw a snake to keep it under wraps from my mom, who would probably never go in that yard again, if she knew. With that said, the entire 18 years that I lived in that house, I think that between my sister and I, we only saw a snake a couple of times. Honestly there was just not a lot of them around, lucky for my mother.
  Now I hate to say that my dad was right with his obnoxious tale, but I now live on the other side of the highway and have a huge snake population in every portion of my yard. It is horrible. As a kid I was never afraid of them, like my mom, but they just startled me, never knowing that they were there until you are right on top of one.
  Just last week I was out working in my flower bed, trying to clean all of the perennials out for the spring, and suddenly with no warning, all of the leaves around my feet started moving and out shot a snake, making it's way into my tall ornamental grass clump, right next to where I was working. It scared me so badly that I started screaming 'snake' on the top of my lungs. Now, although all five members of my family were watching television in the living room, located directly next to my garden that I was working in at the time, none of them came to my rescue. Lucky for me it was just a Gardner snake and not a rattler or something because I could have perished and probably no one would have even noticed until dinner time when they got hungry! I instantly deemed this garden as Doug's responsibility from this moment forward and moved to a different location to work, keeping my eye out for more slithering friends.
  A few years ago I will never forget my snake experience in my garage. In the back of the garage, where the pool pump tubing comes in through the ground, we had two snakes living. I had no idea that they were even there and one day I innocently came into the garage to turn the pool pump on for the day. I think that I was wearing my bathing suit and was barefoot at the time, so I was perfectly ready for a snake encounter. NOT! I remember turning the knob on the pump and looking down to see two of the biggest snakes that I have ever laid my eyes on. They were brown and all coiled up together in a ball. It brought the term terror to a whole new level for me, who instantly shot out of the garage, screaming for my life.
  Come to find out later that the snakes were milk snakes and everyone told me that they are perfectly harmless and are good for the environment because they take care of the mouse population. Personally I am  not a huge fan of mice either, but I would much rather that they took up residency in my garage than this slithering duo. In fact I was so horrified by this revelation that I made Doug move my car out of the garage and I parked in the driveway, at a safe distance from their snake home, for the remainder of the summer months.
  Since that time I have had countless interactions with snakes. I'm not sure why but it seems like I see more and more of them each spring and summer. One year when we were having a pool party, Doug went outside right before everyone was to arrive, and was sweeping the cement area around the pool. I was out there watering my flowers and making sure that everything looked good for our guests, and suddenly a snake shot out from under the pool fence and started slithering across the cement. I was once again horrified because I thought that this was my one safe zone. The funny part was that Doug was trying not to panic and was leading it out of the pool area and as soon as it was fully in the grass, we heard my mom's voice calling out that they had arrived. We both laughed knowing that if she had only been there two minutes earlier, she would never have come outside for the party that day.
  I'm not sure if the snake population is growing yearly, or if they have just taken a liking to my property, but I'm ready for them to move on. Suddenly it does not seem so funny about how we laughed at my mom's fear so much as kids. But then again you know what they say, eventually we all turn into our mothers, so I guess it was just in the cards for me.