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.

Wicked

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I’ve been taking part in a reading group of sorts at the workplace and so have been told what to read over the past two months. But I rebelled as the holidays approached and saved a little reading time for something of my own choosing.

The something of my own choosing was Wicked by Gregory Maguire. It wasn’t an easy read; in fact, I learned a number of new words. (That’s somewhat refreshing, as it’s been a long time since I’ve had to keep a dictionary nearby.) I thoroughly enjoyed it and, unexpectedly, grew to love and admire the Wicked Witch of the West. I wonder if that was the intended result? I haven’t done a lot of looking about to see if that was what Maguire was going for with his little fantasy tale. (I do know that the witch’s name–Elphaba–was taken from the initials of L. Frank Baum, who created Oz.)

Maguire’s Elphaba is intelligent, passionate, misunderstood and ultimately, the victim of an unfortunate accident. Who knew that a green girl–whose birth is the combination of something called the Clock of the Time Dragon, an unknown potion, and an adulterous mother–raised by a missionary could end up in such a fix? She is philosopher and scientist, revolutionary and mother, lover and murderer. More than three-dimensional, this was a character I think I could really like, should our paths cross in real life. (I’ve overlooked the blue skin of a man, so I’m pretty sure I could overlook the green skin of a woman.)

Let me recommend Wicked to you, if you’re looking for something engaging and not-too-easy a read. It’s worth any effort you put into it. I miss Elphie already. I’ll probably end up re-reading it very soon.

I have to admit, I had never read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz before experiencing Wicked, so I was mostly comparing it to the movie. I got inspired, though, to read the original. To give it a little twist, I downloaded the book to my Palm from Project Gutenberg. There’s something ironic about electronically reading a book published in 1900. Anyway, I really enjoyed that book as well. It was interesting to contrast the book to the famous movie. As is typical, I liked the book better and I also liked better the Dorothy I made up in my head rather than the Judy Garland version.

I’ve decided to read the rest of the series–I think there are about a dozen of them. It could be that there are more plot twists in Wicked that correspond with the sequels. (Looking ahead to Ozma of Oz here.)

I’m off to see the Wizard…

Teach a Girl to Fish

coffee

I’m a coffee drinker from way back. In fact, I’ve often wondered if instead of being born in the usual way, I was hatched somewhere from a coffee bean. I know as a toddler my grandparents would give me coffee, with plenty of milk and sugar of course.

Over the years my taste in coffee would grow to include the drink of the gods in all its forms: black, black with sugar, black with cream, black with cream and sugar, hot, cold, full-caf, half-caf, decaf, etc. Eventually I moved to a much larger city and was delighted to discover the joys of the coffee house. I was a regular at a local establishment for more than ten years, where I honed my coffee drinking considerably, finally settling on the decaf mocha.

Circumstances turned unpleasant about the time Starbucks came to town, but I’m not a snob. No indeed. I will darken the doorstep of a Starbucks anytime I come across one. Their coffee ended up being better than the local shop anyway–not tasting burned, you know. So yeah, for the past few years I have been a Starbucks regular, honing my coffee tastes again to the decaf non-fat no-whip mocha at $4.50 a pop that I now love. (Way fewer calories in that, I can tell you, even if it is pricey.)

Last Christmas, my husband (then-fiance) gave me an espresso maker as a gift. I freely admit to being a procrastinator. It’s entirely true and it’s the reason I never even tried it out. After all, there’s no way I can make a mocha at home to rival that of Starbucks. Or is there…?

Something lately told me to open the box and get that espresso maker out. I know there are lots of people who make espresso at home, so why not me? I can be an amateru barista as well as anyone else. I went to Starbucks (where else?) to buy some decaf espresso roast coffee, which is exactly what they use in my mochas when I order them. While standing in line, I saw a tin of Starbucks mocha powder for sale, which is exactly what they use in my mochas when I order them. I bought that, too. I invited over a friend and her 13-year-old daughter, read the instructions and attempted my first at-home espresso.

While my first attempt at attaching the filter holder failed, while my first attempt at frothing milk was mediocre at best, and while my first attempt at emptying the filter when horribly awry as I dumped it in the sink, all together the first mocha wasn’t too bad. (If you ask the 13-year-old.) Now, just a day and three attempts later–A BREAKTHROUGH!!! MY MOCHA TASTES EXACTLY LIKE THE STARBUCKS MOCHA!!!

Yes, dear readers, I am triumphant. No more getting into the car on a cold morning and driving to Starbucks. No more worrying about whether Starbucks is open. No more spending $4.50 on my precious decaf non-fat no-whip mochas. My life is transformed. Come by for coffee sometime. I’m tackling vanilla lattes next…

First Christmas

firsttree

Being married has put me in the Christmas spirit. For the first time in my adult life, I have a Christmas tree in my living room, complete with lights and ornaments and presents and the retro lighted star on top.

Like so many Americans, our search for the perfect tree began with a car ride to the nearest Wal-Mart. There we perused the selection of artifical trees, taking into consideration size, price and pre-litness. We settled on the four-foot version, pre-lit, of course, for $14.95. We trudged (drove) home through the snow (traffic), hauled (carried) the tree (box) into the house (duplex) and spent the next hour or so putting it up.

This process included a viewing of “A Christmas Story” in an attempt to create a memory. (In other words, we are trying to create a tradition.) It also included buying an ornament to commemorate our first Christmas together. Because we’re both practical and thrifty, we picked up a fancy ornament along with the cheapie glass ornaments we bought at Wal-Mart. (Something had to go on the tree!) But a week or so later, I found the perfect ornaments:

ornaments

What makes these ornaments so perfect is that the cup is reminiscent of my wedding proposal. My dearest had gone to Starbucks to get coffee; when he returned, he put down the cups, dropped on one knee and asked me to marry him. The other ornament is a tiny ceramic bag of “Christmas Blend” coffee, just perfect for a first Christmas in tandem with the other. Isn’t it nice when things come together like that? I was so moved, I emailed the Starbucks company and told them our story. Hopefully someone in Seattle will get a warm fuzzy feeling from it.

In addition to our tree, we bought stockings for each other and a little one for the cat. They are now hanging on the mantle. (It’s a shame to waste a perfectly good mantle by not putting stockings there for Christmas.) I expect they’ll all be filled with goodies in a couple days time. All together, our humble abode is quite festive with the addition of Christmas decorations. It seems a shame to have to take them down, but I plan to leave everything until New Year’s Day, to get good use out of it.

Still, the best thing about this Christmas is having a special someone to shop for. I didn’t buy anything extravagant, but I got a few things for my honey that I know he’ll really like. And I feel confident that his shopping will result in happiness for me, although I truly believe it’s the thought that counts. Being in love is the best part of any holiday, I’m finding. Having a permanent best friend is the best gift that has ever been given to me.

I hope your Christmas is merry, your holidays are bright and your New Year brings everything your heart desires!

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.