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.