Sunday, April 1, 2012

My First Solo Race - The Fast & the Furriest 5K

Yesterday I ran the Fast and the Furriest 5k for the Gulf Coast Humane Society. The race was open to runners, walkers, and pets. I was nervous about this particular race for multiple reasons. For one thing, what if I tripped over a leash and caused some kind of crazy domino-effect of toppling animals and people? For another, and more realistically, what if my drive and motivation ebbed and left me limping to the finish line?

You see, while this was only a 5k and I am completely capable of running 3.1 miles without stopping, this was my first solo race. K is, at this point, 6+ months pregnant, and earlier in the week when we ran together she needed to take a walk break after our first lap. I decided to sign up knowing I'd have to run it alone, and immediately began to feel that wary, niggling sensation that accompanies an undertaking I'm unfamiliar with. M would be at the finish line to greet me, but how would I motivate myself? Who would say, "Just one mile to go!" and urge me on? Who would keep me on-pace?

Running alone can be rewarding for its own reasons, although I usually prefer to run with K. Racing alone, however, was a new and daunting experience.

The crowd gathering for the start line.
I sought advice from some more seasoned runners who told me to keep my sights on someone ahead of me and stick with them. A kind of unknowing surrogate buddy. I found this both enlightening and kind of creepy. I was going to secretly partner myself with a stranger.

To further prepare myself, I updated and reorganized my playlist so I'd have all my favorite running songs to listen to.

The morning of the race dawned perfect and bright. I wore K's and my usual race outfit to give myself a mental boost. I bumped into a couple of students of mine and an old colleague. The race was relatively small (compared to the others I've run, including the Komen 5k), so I was up near the starting line. The dogs were well-controlled (if not a little noisy) and the route was familiar (the same as the Komen 5k, putting me at quite the advantage).

Soon my fears were alleviated. By the first quarter mile I'd found a tall blond with a unique stride (she bounced on her tiptoes rather than using her heel to push off) to run behind, and kept with her for the first 1.5 miles or so. Then, however, she began to slacken her pace and I found myself in a clump of five people. I pushed through and ahead, and then kept pace with a woman and her pitbull. During this leg of the race, I found I was annoyed that I had programmed my Nike+ for a 5k because it kept giving me my pace in kilometers. Ah well, little problems, I figured. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing.

I loved watching the dogs running by. A huge great dane overtook me, his owner sprinting to keep up. Eventually my pitbull-buddy proved to be a little swift for my pace, so I found another oblivious partner to stare at. Eventually, though, I overtook her, too.

Almost there!
As I rounded the corner to the end of the race, I saw the giant countdown clock and was surprised to see 29:00 on the board. I hadn't been able to monitor my pace as I'm used to, in miles, so I was completely unprepared for that. Given a second wind by the simple idea of beating 30:00, I sprinted to the end, finishing in 29:31 and placing 7 of 17 in my age group.

My first solo race experience was nerve-wracking because races give me butterflies anyway. This was the best I could have asked for in getting used to racing alone: the distance was right, the number of participants was perfect - enough to blend in with but not enough to get lost among, I had run the exact same route just three weeks before, and there were plenty of animals to distract me.

Made it!
I finished the race feeling strong, accomplished, and proud. This was a huge milestone in my running career and showed me that I truly am a runner in my own right. I took the initiative to run a race alone. And I plan to do it again.

Another great thing about this race was that M recorded my finishing sprint. This is the first time I've seen live-action footage of myself in motion, so I was able to see how my strides have changed and improved, and I also saw where improvements can be made. I lean forward too much when sprinting, but otherwise my form doesn't look too terrible!

Upcoming races:
  • African Aid 5k on April 21 (raising money for World Vision to benefit children affected by AIDS in Africa)
  • Race for Grace 10k on May 26 (raising money to support Teen Challenge Women's Home for women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction)
I haven't run a 10k before so I'm a little nervous about this one, but I figure if I keep doing what I'm doing and start adding some mileage to my weekly runs, I'll be able to run six miles without too much fear!


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