This morning, I ran in my first 5k road race in well over a year -- 16 months.
It didn't go as well as I had hoped, but I guess it was nice to be out there again.
If you've been a long-time reader (or were curious enough to go back and read old posts), then you know that running has been important to me for a long time. As a cancer patient, running has been a way for me to stay healthy, to stay motivated, and to think about cancer in different terms. Let's just say I do not have a "traditional runner's body," so being able to overcome running challenges has been a way of thinking about overcoming other challenges, too.
I stopped running in January, after I slipped on ice and tore my rotator cuff. Surgery in late February, then my arm in a sling for 7 weeks, and then physical therapy for a long time (and still going) before my therapist said it was OK to run. That was mid-summer. I started running again, slowly. And never really picked up the pace.
Once the fall rolled around, the kids' activities picked up, as did my own work, so my running schedule was erratic. And then my fall allergies picked up, which made breathing a challenge. And then there's the matter of the 10 pounds I put on since the surgery, due to lack of exercise.
My point is, I wasn't exactly in tip-top shape for this race.
I'm going to spare you the details of the race, which in the past I have provided. This was a small race -- only 43 runners -- and most of them were young, maybe 18-25. There were maybe 5 older guys, like me, including an 80-something man who has been running for almost 70 years. I always tell myself, no matter how bad the race is, you're not going to come in last. At the starting line, I looked around and thought, "By golly, this one time, I just might come in last."
It was not a good race for me. I started out fast, which I usually do. And then I usually settle down into a nice rhythm. But not this time. I just couldn't catch my breath. I could see my shadow as I ran, and I could tell, that shadow was moving slow.
How slow? Well, I have for years had a "5k mix" on my iPod. It's made up of songs that inspire me as I run, and it's timed pretty well so that I can finish a 5k and have a couple of songs left over for the cool down and happy feelings afterward. But this time, I ran out of songs. That's how slow I was going.
And I had to stop and walk. I've only done that a couple of other times in races. It's a point of pride for me -- I can't ever stop. Not as a cancer patient. But I stopped and walked once. I had to. I knew this course, and I knew what was coming, so I stopped and walked to conserve a little energy. And then a few minutes later, I stopped again. And again. I stopped and walked a total of 5 times during the race. My lungs were not happy, and they were taking it out on my legs.
As I got close to the finish line, I looked back and didn't see anyone. I thought maybe I was in last place, but I also saw the police who were blocking traffic for us were still in place, so I knew there was someone out there still on the course. I took little comfort in that.
In the end, I finished in 37 minutes and 56 seconds. By far my worst race ever. I killed myself to finish in under 38 minutes, but that didn't make me feel any better.
As I drank water and waited to see who else ran even worse than I did, I overheard one of the other old guys talking to the race director about the course. It has changed from years past because of construction, and at one point it took us away from the finish line when we should have been going toward it, which threw me, psychologically.
"Yeah," said the race director, another one of those young people. "We need to tweek the course for next time. We measured it too late to change it, but it's actually a little more than 3.1 miles" (which is what 5 kilometers works out to).
"How much longer?" the old guy asked, and I thought.
"Oh, it's about 3.4 miles."
Now, to me, an extra third of a mile is not "a little over 3.1 miles." And it explains why I had no energy left toward the end of the race.
So I did some figuring, and if my time for 3.4 miles was translated to 3.1 miles, it would be about 34 minutes and 57 seconds.
I can live with that time. Still not great, but not embarrassing, either.
So I stood there, feeling slightly better about myself, when the other runners came in. 5 minutes behind me was a young man, tall and lanky, who looked like a runner, but wasn't.
10 minutes later, my 80-something year old friend came in. He got a huge ovation.
And then we waited for the last runner. Another 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 20 minutes. Someone asked who was still out there. "Emily," someone else said.
And then Emily showed up. She was another off those young ones.
But she was in a wheelchair. She got even bigger cheers. And seeing her struggle up that last uphill was inspiring. She wasn't in one of those special racing wheelchairs, either. This was just her everyday wheelchair, which she pushed almost 4 miles, over bumpy sidewalks and big hills.
So yeah, I "beat" those last two, but they certainly put things in perspective.
It was nice to get back into my Red Shirt, a gift from my mom soon
after I was diagnosed, with "RELENTLESS" stitched on the sleeve.
I'm going to keep running. I don't know when I'll race again, but I certainly will at some point in the future. And I have a new goal -- a pretty basic one -- getting myself back into running shape.
Stay tuned for more.