This is the story of my first 5K Race Day! October 16th, 2011 was a gorgeous fall day. It was mid 60s, clear, sunny, not much wind — perfect running weather. My running friend Brian (remember NYC Marathon Brian?), gave me the following advice: “Treat the 5K race just like your normal Sunday run. Do all your normal things.” Ok, that sounds logical. Sunday was my normal running day, so this could work, should work.
2011 was the 34th Annual running of the East Brunswick Road Races John Ragone 5K. I had done my training. By this time, I had been running a 5K three times a week. By a runners definition, I was over-trained. By my definition, I was nervous. Until this point, all my running had been done as a solitary sport. Me and the road. The road and me. I liked it that way. I found my stride, I found my breathing, and I found peace and quiet in my thoughts, and just ran. This way of running had come to be a relaxing activity for me. LOL, yea, relaxing. When did THAT happen? I know!
The race started at 1pm, so I was already out of my Norm. I’m very much a morning person. I rise early, and have my most energy in the morning, do my best thinking in the morning. Most of my running takes place very, very early before I go to work. But on race day, I had to settle my nerves AND save my energy for an early afternoon race.
Peter, the girls and I arrived early to sign in and to just give me time to acclimate, get a look around, and relax myself. I was pacing around, nervous. Not sure why. I had no delusions of grandeur. I wasn’t competing to win — I was just “out of my element”. Here I was in a population of about 211 runners…..REAL runners. Some of these people were running the NYC Marathon in November, and this was just a jog in the park for them. Others were competition-junkies, and just take joy out of passing people and beating people. I would need to ignore them. Easier said than done. Where is my blind fold so I don’t have to look at them? They were chipping away at my confidence, and I couldn’t allow that!
I waved bye-bye to Peter and went to line up in the pack. I stayed toward the back (more good advice from Brian), and kept reminding myself, “Diane you are racing by yourself , with yourself, for yourself. Just find your stride, stay inside yourself.” Once the race started — we were off and running. Brian warned me that the beginning of the race would be packed, and it would take some time for the runners to disperse, to spread out, for the road to clear. A few steps into this madhouse, it happened, and I felt a rush of emotion. All these perfectly fit runners in front of me took off down the road like gazelle. And I fell into the trap. For about 60 to 90 seconds, I was chasing them. Huffing and puffing, I pretended to be a gazelle, until I started to panic. Right away I had to get the reins on this and “find my stride and run my own race.” Thoughts of quitting flooded my mind in the first 5 minutes. What would Peter think of me if I quit? What am I doing out here? I can’t do thi………oh no no no. Don’t You Dare Say That Diane. Pull it together girl! You Can So Do This. You do this 3 times a week. Breathe. Think. Slow Down.
Slowing down, I gave myself a few minutes to find that place where running felt familiar. I had to work HARD at ignoring the people, and all the talking, the laughing, and all their little rituals. Because everybody out there was running their own race, and they bugged me! LOL, not because they were doing anything wrong. Just because they were there! and interfering with what I was used to…..my solitary running experience. Some people were running backwards and talking to people, others were sprinting past me, then walking, then sprinting past me again, then walking, and doing this the whole race. I had to block them out of my mind and find my stride.
I had worked hard to regulate my pace in my training. Early in my running, my first mile was super fast, the second slower, and the third I was dragging my butt down the street. With intention, I worked on creating a steady pace that I could maintain the entire race. I closed my mind, steadied my breathing and concentrated, until……There IT was. My pace. I found it. My entire body reacted to it with confidence once I found it. I became steady, constant, no, not super fast…I found and embraced my inner turtle and I was heading down the road slow and steady and STRONG! I washed my mind clean of the memory of all those gazelle in front of me, I embraced my consistent turtle pace, and THAT’s when I knew I had this. I could do this. I would finish.
This particular race had a turn-around loop. As soon as I turned the loop, I knew that by now, the gazelle were likely eating bananas and slapping each other on the back. But this little turtle just kept going, even passing a few turtles-in-gazelle’s-clothing who had burned out their motors halfway through the race, and could only walk to the finish. Not me. I was running. I ran the entire way, with the exception of about 45 seconds where I needed to catch my breath while climbing an incline.
As I crossed the finish line, the gigantic clock read 37:47:07. That was my turtle-time finish, and I was ecstatic! I had done 38 minute 5Ks in training, and a finish under 38 minutes was just awesome in my book!
So, just remember “wanna-be runner”, sometimes you have to work to ignore the gazelle who share the road with you. Don’t let them chip away at your growing confidence, and don’t allow your own thoughts to diminish your accomplishments by comparing yourself to them. Embrace your inner turtle. The old fable is true — slow and steady DOES win the race. The ancient Chinese believe the mythical Turtle to be a creature of two elements; land and sea. As such the Turtle reflects an ability to adapt and flourish in any environment. As new runners, we have only just gotten our feet wet, and are learning to adapt to this new running environment. But if you dig down deep and find your inner turtle, you will find the stability, endurance, and longevity necessary to achieve and enjoy the miles ahead of you!
Ciao for now…..Diane