The Race

When I got the running bug a few years ago, I decided I was going to run a 5K. I was up to running 3 miles (that’s pretty much a 5K, for the uninitiated.) I was about to sign up for one when knee problems started plaguing me and I had to cut back. I tried to build up to 3 miles again, but my knees never cooperated until I traded in my pricey running sneakers for Vibram Five Fingers.

Once again, I found myself back to the building stages because my feet and legs had to adjust to less supportive shoes. All in all, switching to Vibrams was the best thing I ever did, but it took time to get acclimated to them.

I just recently got myself back to the point where I can run 3 miles, and the 5K has been on my mind again. I feel like it’s the next step in this unexpected hobby I’ve developed. I started to imagine myself running alongside hundreds of other runners, and I visualize the finish line ahead at me at the top of the big hill that is the end of my course. It’s like I’m a part of something bigger, and I want to see it and feel it.

So when my family decided to take part in the annual Drumstick Dash in my hometown this weekend, I immediately asked to be signed up with the runners. (The rest of my family walked it.)

We only made these plans a week ago so I had no time to “train” or research racing techniques. I’ve had no running instruction at all, but I figured I could wing it. My only goal was to finish in under 30 minutes, and I knew I was pretty close to being able to do that since I’ve been timing myself in the neighborhood. But I wouldn’t truly believe I could do it until it was official.

On Wednesday night when we arrived in Roanoke, my mom gave me my bag with my Drumstick Dash tee-shirt, my bib (the number I pin to my shirt), and the chip to attach to my shoe that would record my race time down to the mili-second.

It was official! I was going to run a 5K!

The sun rose and shone brightly on Thursday morning, and the temperature was a balmy 45 degrees. I donned my Drumstick Dash tee-shirt and my favorite yoga shorts and, of course, my Vibrams. I attached the red tag with my racing chip. I was ready to go.

We drove downtown and parked. Here’s my cheering section.

As we walked towards the starting lines, we were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd.

2011 Drumstick Dash

There were 14,000 people at this event. I don’t know what I had been expecting, but it was wall to wall people. Probably not ideal conditions for one’s first race, but this was the hand I’d been dealt so I was going to have to go with it.

As we waited around, the crowd continued to grow. The atmosphere was quite festive, it was Thanksgiving Day after all.

Soon I joined the throng of people gathered behind the Runner’s starting line.


Is it cliché to say the anticipation was palpable? Because it was.

I couldn’t help but notice how everyone was decked out in their Under Armour and running tights and fancy headbands with the ponytail holes and sport watches and iPods attached to their arms with fancy carrying cases.

I stood alongside them in my standard issue Drumstick Dash tee and my oldest cotton shorts, holding my (NEW!!) iPhone in my right hand (I didn’t have time to order a fancy arm band) with the cord to my headphones dangling free and my silver fashion watch gleaming in the sun, feeling totally out of my element. But there was no time to contemplate my lack of proper equipment.

The gun went off, and the first group departed. I watched the huge mass of humanity move down the street as one.

I went ahead and started my music, eager to get my heart pumping. I didn’t hear the second gun go off, but soon I was being carried along with the second herd of runners as they started off down the street. The race was on!

It was surreal. There were 3763 people running in this race. The group set the pace, and for the first block or two, I jogged along with them. My adrenaline was begging me to go faster, but I couldn’t see a way out of the pack so I let myself ease into it and hoped I could make up lost time somewhere along the way.

Soon I noticed certain runners pushing through, eager to break free from the crowd. I followed in their wake, taking advantage of the path they were creating. I quickly learned how to navigate the mob and that I could go faster if I ran on one sidewalk or the other. I also learned how dangerous running with this many people could be, as I watched several people wipe out as they were trying to bypass slower runners. I tried to avoid making the same mistake and decided to be content sticking with the pace set by the group.

The crowd did lighten up a bit along the longer stretches, but every time we approached a corner, the swarm thickened and I found myself again thwarted from setting my own pace. I took advantage of the opportunities I had to speed up and make up time, and the rest of the time I enjoyed the chance to catch my breath.

I had forgotten to look at my watch when I crossed the starting line so I really had no clue how I was doing on time. When I passed the First Mile sign, I had that awful, “I’ve only gone ONE MILE???” feeling, but I kept plugging.

After a while I started looking for the Second Mile sign, but I never saw it. Without my watch to guide me, I had no idea how far I’d gone, but I began to think that I must have missed the Second Mile sign. If not — if it was still ahead, I was pretty sure I was going to cry. I was getting tired but I was determined not to walk.

Finally I saw a sign that said, “You’re almost there! You rock!!” I decided that surely that was a good sign (no pun intended!) and I picked up my pace a bit despite my body’s desperate attempts at protest.

Then when I thought surely I was going to have to stop and walk and give up on any hope of finishing the race in under 30 minutes, I saw someone pointing.

The Finish Line was in the distance.

I wasn’t on my last song yet, and I knew that meant I was doing well on time. I tried to run faster, but it was still very crowded, and frankly I was wiped out. I had assumed that I’d get a surge of adrenaline as I approached the finish line, but in fact I just felt tired and ready for it to be over. Fortunately, it was.

I triumphantly crossed the finish line with the masses, and set off to find my husband who was supposed to be waiting for me there. He saw me before I saw him, and he snapped this photo of me in all my sweaty glory.

It was such an odd feeling. A few moments before I had thought I would die if I couldn’t stop and walk, and now I felt like I could do it all over again. I happily collected hugs and congrats from two of my biggest fans.

I was giddy with accomplishment and dying to know my final time. It would be hours before I would find out, and we actually had a rather comical misunderstanding where we thought I’d somehow miraculously managed to run the race in 26 minutes. I even pronounced my victory on Twitter and Facebook before we realized that we were reading from the 2010 race results.

The 2011 results came in much later in the day, and I in fact ran the race in 29 minutes, 4 seconds — just under the goal I had set for myself.

I would have been euphoric if I hadn’t believed for several hours that I’d done it in 26. At least now I have a goal for next time!

Yes, I said next time. I’m sure there will be a next time, and I hope it’s sooner rather than later. I probably should sign up for one now, while I’m still on a high.

The rest of my family soon joined us, including but not limited to these little beauties:

They had been with the walkers but finally cut out and came to find us. I guess the walking group was quite pokey. You can only imagine — with 10,000 people!

So that’s that! My first race. And now I can cross one more item off my bucket list.

How about you? Have you ever run a 5K?

And how did you spend Thanksgiving Day? I hope it was full of food and family, as was mine.

Join The Conversation

54 Responses

  1. Congrats Jo-Lynne! Its a great accomplishment. I ran my first race about 2 years ago and I was really proud of myself. I was never a runner, but I always wanted to run in a race.

    You made great time too!

  2. Congratulations! I started running 5 & 10Ks after my son was born 10 years ago. He’s been running the 5Ks with me since he was 5. This year he started leaving me in his dust. I love race day!

  3. Your finish time was still fantastic! I’ve never finished a 5K that fast, at least not an official race. You’ll find that there are races all the time and can find smaller ones if you want less of a crowd. And then maybe one day you’ll decide to try a 10K!

  4. I have yet to finish a 5k in under 30 mins. I ran my first 10k this Thanksgiving. 1 hour 6 mins. I am thrilled because 18 months ago I could not run for more than 2 mins. I kept thinking how thankful I was just to be out there running.

  5. CONGRATS!! I know this is totally cheesy but when I saw that pic your husband took of you when he first saw you at the finish line, I got teary because you look so beautiful and so proud! You inspire me in more ways than one, friend. I so badly want to get started running and have yet to do so!

  6. Ahhh, I miss running so much reading this! I did a 5K in Cape May with my aunt one year; we ran through a course near the CM zoo. I also did the zoo to aquarium run many, many moons ago. I think that one was 10 miles. I’ve always wanted to do another trail race. Maybe it’s time to get a pair of Vibrams.

  7. Broad Street this year? By far my favorite race ever. And, you don’t need any fancy gear – just your feet!

    Way to go! A fantastic time for your first 5K!

  8. Congrats!!! That is awesome!

    I have done several 5ks and am now trying to work my way up to a 10k. My plan is to do one in the spring.

    We passed a boatload of cars this weekend with 13.1 and 26.2 stickers and I was actually green with envy. Maybe one of these days but I am such a slow runner that those distances might be out of the question for me!

  9. Your first 5K in 29 minutes?!?! That is AwESOME Jo-Lynne! WOW! Congrats, you did amazing. And it’s not fair how good you look after running!

    I’m running my first half marathon this weekend. Pray for me. 🙂

  10. Congrats on your first race – and for completing it with a respectable time. You did really well.

    I ran my first 5km in the Run for the Cure for breast cancer. I followed that up with a 1/2 marathon a couple of years later. If you can run 5km, you can do 21. Seriously. I ran the half the same year I wrecked my knee. The knee gave out in March, I saw a great chiro, found a great training program and slowly built my mileage to run the half in October. I only mention this because you mentioned have problem knees too.

    I did the Run for the Cure again last year with my daughter (we walked) and it had more meaning because we discovered my mother has breast cancer in the same month my daughter was born. I did it again last month, but solo’d it since my daughter was sick. We were in the ER the night before until 4am and I ran on 4 hours sleep. Pushed through and did it in less than 30 minutes which pleased me.

    Running makes you do crazy things but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Ps. Don’t worry about other runners and their fancy gear. It can be overwhelming and you don’t really need those things until you get into long distance running. All you need for a quick 5km is the right shoes and (if required) some music :).

  11. Nice work!! Quite a respectable time, especially for your first run! I’ve run a couple of 5ks this year and hope to do another soon. My most recent 5k wasn’t very crowded and I loved it. With the crowds and the (relatively) short distance of a 5k, it can be really hard to get your pace steady.

    Ps- I totally relate to the going from feeling like you’re about to die to feeling like you could run it again in a 60 second time frame.

  12. Congrats – it was so great to read this post! I’ve been talking about doing a 5k for several years and my hubby is finally holding me to it. I’m getting some time to prepare though – Turkey Trot 2012 – gotta get it off my bucket list, too. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  13. Congratulations! That is such a great accomplishment. I hope to do that one day as well, but I haven’t even started yet. Maybe I need to sign up for a 5k to get my butt in gear. Can’t quite back out once you’ve put your name on the list. =) Great job!

  14. congrats!! that’s an awesome time for your first race! (I don’t run, but DH has been running for YEARS!).

    Yeah, any kind of turkey trot is bound to be busy, especially if it’s been around a few years, and that does make things complicated. I’m sure there are plenty more 5Ks around, should you want to try this again. Although since you’re in a place that has winter, maybe not until spring!

  15. Excellent time for your first 5k. But I have to say, you look amazing after running that race:) I am always a wreck, but you Glow! Good job and here’s to next time!

  16. Oooh, I’m so happy for the race recap and that you got a chance to run this! I love a race on Thanksgiving morning… I really feel like I’ve earned my meal, you know? I didn’t get to do a race this year as I was at my husband’s grandparents’ house in, well, pretty much the middle of nowhere. I did get out and do 3 miles that morning on those straight country lanes, all by my lonesome self! I think I saw 5 cars total in that 30 minutes, ha!

  17. Jo-Lynne, if you find that you’re bright red after running it could be that you’re working too close to your maximum heart rate. Mine does the same thing if I get to 90-95% of my max. Ever since I’ve started to monitor my heart rate when I run and keep it to 85% or lower, I don’t get anywhere near as red as I used to. Your red face when you’re running might be a sign that you’re pushing too hard and your heart’s not happy.

    Sorry, I don’t want to overstep at all, but just wanted to throw that out there.

    1. That’s interesting. I’ll keep that in mind. I’ve always thought that I don’t push myself as hard as I probably should, so I think it’s probably fine, but I’d be interested to see where my heart rate is, out of curiosity. What kind of gadget or gizmo do you need for that? 🙂

  18. I use a Polar heart rate monitor watch and chest strap. You don’t even notice the strap around your chest (under your breasts) when you’re exercising. I like it cause a quick glance at your watch tells you your reading so you don’t have to break stride to monitor your heart rate. Some of them will tell you how many calories you’re burning too. Mine beeps when I hit my maximum heart rate so I know to dial it back a bit or pay attention to my breathing. You can download a heart rate app for your iPhone too, it records your heart rate when you cover the flash on the phone w your finger tip.

    A lot or people say you should work just hard enough that you can have a conversation (60-70% range) but my spin instructor says work hard enough so that you’re slightly breathless(70-80% range) which is what I try and do for both spinning and running.

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