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.

5K

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.