I never thought of myself as a runner, until the day I found myself running a 5K. What gives?
I am not a runner.
At least that's what I kept telling myself until one day, I put on a pair of running shoes and began running without any idea of where I'd end up.
Since then, I'm still running. I can't exactly explain why, because at times I hate it. At times, I question why I continue to push the pounding of my feet on the pavement below. But there's something inside of me after I finish a run that makes me feel accomplished. Something that makes me feel hopeful. Something that makes me feel a sort of peace with myself that nothing else I do provides.
After months of casual running, while still rationalizing that I wasn't a runner, I decided to do something to prove to myself that I could be considered a runner, and a good one at that. So, I signed up for my first 5K. This is "where it all begins," according to many of my fellow runners.
My good friend and neighbor, Eric, who runs with the Central Park Track Club New Balance, supported me. If it weren't for his reinforcement and motivation, I can honestly say I would have slept right through the 7 a.m. alarm that hot and muggy Saturday morning (It goes without saying that having a friend by your side in most any matter in life makes things easier).
So with Eric, my newfound aspiration to prove something to myself, and my willingness to shut down early on Friday night for an early rise the next day, I set out to run my first 5K. The goal: no walking. Success: anything under 30 minutes. The results? 18th (out of 48) in my age group with a time of 27:52 and a realization that running is an emotionally charged sport.
I was shocked by the varying level of emotions I felt the night before and the morning of, leading into the race that continued all the way to the very end. I joked with Eric after the race that it was much like the five stages of grieving. And here's what I learned about myself through this whole process:
The Night Before
Preparing for bed at an earlier-than-usual bedtime, I worried about everything. All sorts of questions where floating through my mind. What should I eat in the morning? Coffee or no coffee? What if I can't take a poo beforehand? What if I have to pee while running? What if I suck? What if I sleep through my alarm? What if I'm too tired to run? What if I don't finish? Why am I doing this? Am I going crazy? I was anxious, full of anticipation and worried sick that I might have gotten myself in over my head. But somehow I was able to finally relax, shut my eyes and drift off to sleep.
The Morning Of the Race
Now I realize this is just a 5K (3.1 miles) that we're talking about, but when the alarm went off that morning, I sprung out of bed, showered, threw on my cutest running clothes, secured my hair into a ponytail and texted Eric confirming that I was awake and ready to roll. As we walked to the train station together, the apprehension overwhelmed me again. I tried to distract myself by talking with Eric but it was there, and it was something I knew I'd have to power through on my own.
Arriving at the Race
Reality finally set in when we arrived at the race. I was really going to do this. This was actually going to happen. And half of anything in life is just showing up. So I was in. All in. No matter what. After navigating my way to registration and realizing I was just one of many, I started to act the part. I tagged myself with number 382, checked my bag, did a little stretch and quick warm up. I found the ladies room (I was more thrilled about being able to use the bathroom before the race than anything that morning), and then found my spot in the pack.
Ready, Set, Go
As all of the racers lined up at the starting line, the questions started circulating again. I tried taking my mind off of all of my fears by observing everyone else around me; I did some stretching and began thinking positive thoughts. I could do this. And I would do this...
And then we were off! Within the first one hundred steps, I was overcome with joy; tears almost welled up in my eyes in disbelief. The collective effort of all of these like-minded people was overwhelmingly motivating. Instead of standing on the sidelines, this time, I was participating. And it felt so darn good.
Mile 1, check. At mile 2, the inclines of Prospect Park starting catching up with me, and the questions started setting in again. Why was I doing this? Was I going to be able to finish? When would I reach the end? How close was I to the end?
The last mile, I ran by myself, working through the doubt. I was isolated, and I wished I had trained more. I almost felt a sense of resentment and wished that the race would come to an end, so I'd never have to do this again. I was flooded with negativity before I rounded the corner and saw Eric cheering me on (he was finished long before I was) and I set my eyes on the finish line. I will do this, I thought. And I finished! I actually finished! I did it!
After the Race
I needed several minutes to come back down to reality after crossing the finish line. I walked around in circles, grabbed some water and a banana and stood in utter disbelief that I had completed the race. I couldn't have been happier that it was over. I never wanted to experience anything like that again.
A Few Days Later
I was convinced that I would never run another race, and that I would go back to "not being a runner," but I couldn't. That nagging little feeling of wanting to get out and do it again wouldn't leave. It's been a little over a month since my first 5K, and I'm shocked but equally as excited to say that I signed up for my next race — a 10K on Oct. 22 in Brooklyn. I'm taking this next one pretty seriously and training three days a week using an application called Couch to 10K. I'll be reporting back in on this experience and hoping I'll be much more comfortable this time around pretending to be a runner.
I welcome any words of wisdom from more experienced runners! And if you can relate to my experience or want to share yours, I'd love to hear your running stories.
Signing Off Training to Become a Runner,
Founders 5K is Sponsored By: JackRabbit, a great little sporting store with a knowledgeable staff and New Balance, the makers of my favorite and current running shoe, the 1400.
Photo credit: Stuart Alexander