Race 3: The Mayor’s Two-Mile

Having survived 5k and one-mile races, I registered for the Mayor’s Two-Mile Race. Our mayor, when she got elected, made physical fitness a priority for Amarillo and so once a year she sponsors a race in Medical Center Park (and beyond). There is a two-mile race, a five-mile race and a half marathon. (That’s 13.1 miles, in case you’re not a runner.) I really was interested in the five-mile, but wasn’t sure I could run that far yet in race conditions…so yeah, the two-mile for me.

Early to bed, early to rise…gets a runner to the starting line on time. The conditions were perfect: 60 degrees and foggy. I drove to the park whilst choking down half a Power Bar and 8 oz. of sports drink. (The perfect pre-run combination of protein, carbs and electrolytes, according to Runner’s World Magazine. And let me add that Power Bars taste like crap.) Arriving in plenty of time, I picked up my race number and complimentary t-shirt, then spent a little time walking briskly and jogging slowly to get warmed up before the start.

I spent about ten minutes silently observing my fellow runners. I recognized a few from the other two races I’ve run, but I don’t know anyone’s name and no one ever talks to me. I’m curious about a few women I saw, who appeared in full makeup with hair fixed. They had half marathon numbers pinned on and I couldn’t help but want to see them after they’d run for 13.1 miles. I’m pretty sure lipstick doesn’t hold up that long. Maybe it’s that semi-permanent stuff Queen Latifah touts on TV. Who knows?

When it was time, we all lined up to hear a short speech from the mayor, who does not run or walk the races. She said what she had to say, fired the starting gun and off we went.

I neglected to drive the course for this race, so while I had a vague notion of what it would be like, I did not realize the first mile or so was UP A HILL. Let me repeat that: UP A HILL. And not a gradual grade either. My neighborhood, where I train, is flat as a pancake, so hills are not part of my regular running. I think they will be from now on. I really really really thought I was going to die. I really really really wanted to walk, starting at about half a mile. But that was when I passed the five-year-old.

Yes folks, there was a five-year-old boy running in this race with two adult companions. One of the guys with him kept up a steady Zig Ziegler-style commentary to keep the kid on track. So I passed the three of them, but then they stayed about 20 feet behind me. I have to say I was encouraged, right up until the guy yelled, “Yeah! You’re running like an 8-year-old!” (I hoped I was running more like a 10- or 12-year-old.)

Made it to the first mile marker, where we passed some random guy watching the race from the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. As I ran by him, I found myself enveloped in a puff of smoke and it was DIS-GUST-ING. I actually got nauseated and I thought I might have to throw up. When you are running a race and you need every bit of oxygen you can get, running through smoke is the equivalent of someone putting their hands around your neck and attempting to choke you. YUCK.

Okay, made it up the first hill, made it past the gross smoking guy, now we were at a slight downgrade, but I could see another hill ahead. I was discouraged, but my mile split time was 9:30 and that’s pretty darn good for someone who never runs hills so I felt a little encouraged. I actually made it up that small hill and that’s when the five-year-old started crying. I wanted to cry along with him, for real! I just kept listening to his cheerleader yelling, “This is the last turn, buddy! Just keep breathing! You can do it!” (I think God puts me next to people who yell for a reason.) At that point I really had to talk myself out of walking, just for a minute, that’s all I wanted, just a minute of walking. I kept going.

We did turn that final corner, only to find another uphill grade. Not too bad, but still. The fog hadn’t lifted yet, making it impossible to see the finish line. I’m not sure if it’s better to be able to see how far away you are or not. My watch said 17:00 and my fastest time to run two miles was 22:00 before today, so I was thinking at a minimum I had five more minutes to run and frankly, I didn’t think I could keep it up five more minutes. I kept going.

As we ran past the hospital parking garage, I heard clapping. There was a lone man clapping for us and that made me feel better. (It’s the little things.) I kept going.

Finally, FINALLY, I heard real applause and the “You’re almost there” yells that accompany the finish line. I saw a woman up ahead of me move to the right. I followed suit because I figured she could see the finish chute. Sure enough, there it was and I could see the official time in the 19:00 range. I kicked and got there as soon as I could, finishing at 19:56. That’s 2:04 faster than my fastest two-mile run.

I was so relieved to be finished, I didn’t really register the number right away. I limped over to where the tables were set up, ate an orange, drank some Gatorade and watched the volunteers laying out awards. That’s when it occurred to me that maybe I had a fast enough time to place. (Usually they hand out awards for the top two or three in your age bracket. My age brackets is females 30-39.) After all, most of the local “elite” runners were probably running the half, not the shorter races. It was pretty chilly, so I went to the car to get my hoodie and returned just as they called out my bracket. In first place, “NORMA C*****.” I’m sure I had a weird look on my face, because some people laughed as I walked up there. I never in a million years expected to get first place—not with that time! But hey, I’ll take it!!!

I left with my fancy plaque and I stayed stoked all day, even though I got a post-race headache that lingered for several hours. Having a 19:56 was enough to make me look forward to the next race, but actually winning something really did it.

Next up:  Race for the Cure 5k

My First 5K

After months of training and anticipation, I finally ran my first 5K road race today (July 19, 2008). It was part of the Las Fiestas de Amarillo celebration sponsored by Our Lady of Guadalupe church.

I arrived a little after 7:00 to pick up my race packet, which contained my race number–22, the race t-shirt (which is the real reason runners show up for races), a Budweiser visor (which I will never wear), a keyring/flashlight from BSA, a tiny first aid kit from Northwest Texas, and what appears to be a one-person-sized cooler that is blue and says “Bud Light” on it. Where was Shiner Bock for this race?

I was pretty nervous because it was a totally new experience and there wasn’t a single person there I had ever laid eyes on. So after I got my packet I went back to my car to eat my Power Bar. Eat might imply that I was enjoying myself, so let’s just say I consumed the Power Bar. Or most of it. While I was chewing and pondering the gritty stuff in the supposedly nutritious hunk of chocolate…stuff, I amused myself by watching a very sinew-y man shave his legs. After he shaved his legs, he took off his well-worn running shoes and put on even more well-worn shoes. Then he taped up his shins, removed his shirt and jogged over to the starting line for the one-mile race. (Hello? 1975 called and wanted their running shorts back!) NOTE: He turned out to be an awesome runner. I think he ran the mile in about 5:00. Maybe I should run topless in short shorts? Mmm…maybe not.

As it got to about 7:40, I drank some water, went to the bathroom and walked around the church a few times…jogged a bit…tried to warm up and stretch and all the stuff that makes you look like a real runner before a race. At that point my main worry was having to pee during the race, but I don’t think anyone could tell. Finally, they had everyone line up at the starting line.

The good thing about having my first race sponsored by a church is that it started with a prayer. The monsignor actually specifically asked God to watch over and be with all the new runners. Hey–that’s me!!!

This race wasn’t chipped, which means we runners were not given small electronic devices to attach to our shoes. In a chipped race, that’s how they tell what your official time is. To time this race, they simply started the clock when the starting gun went off. I suspected this might be the case, so I wore my heart rate monitor to get an accurate time for myself. I started my clock as I crossed the starting line and took off. Of course, I was at the very back of the pack of runners, so my first few minutes were spent watching all those people–maybe a hundred or so–run away from me. Soon, though, I was passing people.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been treating runnersworld.com like some sort of bible and all the “first race” articles said I would pass people. I did not believe them. Sure enough, though, I was passing people. I made myself slow down a couple of times to keep a steady pace, but when I passed the one-mile marker, I was at 10:30. That’s a really fast pace for me! I don’t think I believed the numbers at that point, but I fell in behind a very small Hispanic woman who was calling out periodically, “Give it to God!” Works for me.

As we approached the halfway point, there was an aid station and the drink of water tasted really good! But then the mile two marker was at the bottom of an incline. If I wasn’t in a race, it would have looked like nothing. After two miles of running, it might as well have been Mt. Everest. I walked most of it. But then it got tricky.

I had checked the route the day before and they had painted arrows on the streets where we were supposed to turn. This stretch of the race was alongside a park and the route dictated that we run all the way to the service road of I-40. However! Half a block before the service road was a turn off along the south side of the park and I noticed the ten or so people ahead of me turning there. I got confused…did they know something I didn’t know? Did they change the route? Should I follow them or run the extra half block? I opted to keep running and sure enough…there were the arrows to turn on the service road. I said a quick prayer thanking God for keeping me on the straight and narrow and on I ran. Funny thing about that…even though the next turn brought another incline, I passed most of the people who had taken the short cut.

That was the final stretch. I could see the finish line and most everyone who started the race had already finished. I let myself put on a bit of speed and crossed the finish line at 35:09. 35:09!!!!!!! It’s my fastest time ever! That’s an 11:19 pace, in case that means anything to you…and a 1:30 improvement over my last 3.1-mile run. Woohoo! I’m so stoked and even more than before, I feel really REALLY addicted to running. Can’t wait for the next race!

I’m really proud of myself for sticking with my training, for not sleeping through the alarm clock, for not taking the short cut and for running through the pain as I developed a ginormous blister on my left foot in the last half mile or so. And now there are two questions in my mind:

1) Is it possible to develop a taste for Power Bars?
2) Can one truly look good in the finish line photograph?

I’m thinking the answer is no for both.

First Steps

runninglegs

I have started running.

I always wanted to, you know, but there were naysayers lurking about in the corners. Telling me I was too old, and it was bad for my joints and “walking burns just as many calories anyway.”  Wrong they are, on all counts.

I ran track in middle school–the 400, the 800 and the 1600 meter relay. I enjoyed it, but didn’t pursue it. I have no idea why. For all these years since, I have seen runners in the park, on the side of the road, on television, even on treadmills at the gym and wondered what it would feel like just to put on shoes and…run.  Just…go.

The stars lined up recently and led to half a dozen or so conversations with people who run. I decided it was a sign, so I did a little research (thank you Runner’s World) and started running. It isn’t as smooth a path as I originally thought it would be, what with finding a training program, learning new words (like “pronation”), learning the difference in all the shoes and worst of all, buying the shoes without the help of an expert fitter. I did my best and the shoes I ended up with seem pretty good. I’ve been out in them twice and I do feel a lot better than I did running in my old shoes.

I’ve had to get used to the idea of wearing polyester and nylon. I’ve also had to get used to the idea that mileage is gained one mile at a time. It’s never easy, but it does get easier. That’s what the “masters” say. (That’s another word I learned.) Even when my feet and legs are aching and I’m worrying that my left leg gait isn’t as efficient as the right, I have to admit I’m having the time of my life. I’ve even discovered the joy of running in snow, one of most amazing half hours I’ve ever spent. (I hope to repeat it as soon as flakes begin falling again!)

In just a few short weeks I’ve run more than ten miles. Soon I hope to be running ten miles in one day! And my longterm running goal: to run and finish the New York City Marathon in 2009.

If you see me running by someday, grab your shoes and come along. I promise the human body–your body–was engineered to run. You will feel good and strong. You might just find that you really really like it.