Meeting a goal is such a satisfying feeling. Meeting a goal that seemed far out and nearly impossible? Now that is an exhilerating feeling.
At the beginning of April I set a goal for myself: to run a 5k. Around the same time this little goal was germinating, I received an email at work about registering for the Corporate Challenge in June. I happened to be IMing with a runner friend at the same time and asked if she thought I should sign up. After some encouraging words, I completed the online registration form and wondered what on earth I was getting myself into. Especially since this Corporate Challenge thing is 3.5 miles - not the 3.1 miles of a 5k. I continued to slowly plod along in my Couch to 5k program with great skepticism as to whether I could really meet this goal. But as the weeks went by I started getting into it, by reading more about running and talking to people about running and the more I talked about it, the more I realized had to make it to this 5k+ goal I had set for myself.
Of course, I had some setbacks. My same old excuse of a knee problem flared up but I refused to let it keep me down. I took a couple of weeks off to baby it, made some other adjustments (farewell heels, bye-bye flip flops) and got back out there. Then, just after my knee felt stable enough to run, work flared out of control and the week prior to my race was completely filled with early 7 am meetings and late night office hours that barely gave me time to sleep a few hours, let along run.
But I was determined to meet this goal of mine so I pushed myself harder and last weekend, when I managed to run 3 miles in Central Park, I knew - for the first time - that I could meet my goal. The race was Thursday so I decided I would try another 3 miler on Tuesday before the race. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, I was awakened by loud, crackling thunder, flashes of lightening brightening my room, wind gusts roaring by and pelting my window with splatters of rain that sounded more substantive than plain water. It was 2 am. I needed to get up at 730 to complete my run before work but the thunder, wind and rain that had roused me from my sleep was also somehow setting off multiple car alarms in the parking lot across the street which resulted in more tossing and turning than sleep. Weary from the restless night, I dragged myself out of bed at 730 and slowly, very slowly managed to get dressed and gather the items I needed to run. It was no longer raining outside my window but the air felt cool so I opted to run in capri pants and a long sleeve shirt rather than my rain jacket which can be miserable in the humidity. I took my own sweet time and didn't make it out the door until 10 to 8.
Not far into my run, it started raining. Before I hit my first mile, the rain had turned to a torrential downpour of the kind usually reserved for tropical rain forests. It did not take long for me to be completely soaked through. I kept at it but felt myself getting heavier with each step into the increasingly deep puddles. The wind off the water wasn't helping my resolve to keep at it. Finally, after retying my shoes for the second time, I turned around with the rationalization that I would continue my run heading north where I could run under the highway for a stretch. However, by the time I reached the turnoff to my place, I knew I was finished. I was completely soaked to the skin and my socks were squishing in my shoes. I was disappointed but decided I needed to just blame the weather and not feel like a failure for not meeting my goal distance.
By the time Thursday morning arrived I was nervous and excited. Eleven weeks of training, pushing through an injury and the day had arrived for me to see if I could really achieve this seemingly impossible goal. I had difficulty concentrating at work and I tried reading articles online to see what and when I should eat before the race. I obsessed over the weather that was grey and dreary with anticipated showers in the late afternoon. I questioned the decision to sign up for my first race with forty or so co-workers and I debated what to wear: the rain jacket or the too-big cotton t-shirt with the company logo.
I changed into my running clothes a little earlier than necessary to give myself time to sort out my things and steady myself. When I arrived in the lobby with the rest of the evening's runners and walkers I discovered I was the only one to choose rain gear over team t-shirt. As we walked up to the park, I found myself caught up in the excitment. A co-worker commented as we trudged up along 6th Avenue that he had always made fun of the groups of tourists in their matching t-shirts and yet there we were. Or, there they were in their matching t-shirts, me in my rain jacket. Other runners were making their way through mid-town streets as well in matching t-shirts emblazoned with clever and not-so-clever logos and taglines. Someone started asking about bathrooms before we even got into the park and though I had gone twice in the last 30 minutes before leaving, the mention of it sparked an urge.
Our group met at a stretch of benches and people pulled out rolls of garbage bags stolen from the office pantries to guard bags and jackets left behind on the benches with the kind people who had agreed to stand guard over our things. It was a bit misty but no actual rain was falling and in a sudden desire to belong to my team, I ditched the rain jacket in favor of the green t-shirt that was nearly as long as my shorts and stretched out - feeling self-conscious but knowing I needed to go through my usual routine.
I now felt a bathroom was necessary but no one seemed to know where they were so en masse our green-clad group started walking to the starting point only to run into a long line of port-a-potties. Hooray! I found an open one down the line and warmed up my quads with a squat (hee!). I was happy my team had such bright shirts to follow as I easily caught up with them in the massive crowd that was filling the entire road. We were packed in tight and some of my group pressed forward by weaving up closer to the start. As we stood there, my adrenaline was pumping and I was excited. I kept telling people this was my first race and we collectively wondered how we would ever start moving all boxed up like we were.
A police officer sang the Star Spangled Banner and I couldn't hold still from the anticipation. Some garbled announcements were made several hundred people in front of us and we wondered if the race had started. It had. We were not moving. We jostled around and joked about the fine race we were running but could not move forward. I stepped up on a curb to peer above the sea of people and could see the ripple of movement was making its way back toward our direction.
Then we were moving. Sort of. It wasn't even a walk yet. We were in a bottle neck with no where to go with a bramble covered hill to the left and a chain link fence blocking us in at the right. But when the fence turned to movable police barriers, runners broke through a hole and started running on the path parallel to the road. I followed and hit go on my ipod to keep track of my own time and mileage. I do not remember when I passed the starting line.
I spent most of the first mile weaving in and out of people trying to find enough space to hit my own stride. Walkers and runners and joggers were all mixed up and trying to do the same - with the walkers seemingly the only winners as they marched forward in pairs and walls of three and four. At some point early on I realized I was going to fast. I had entered my bob-and-weave-flee-Times-Square mode but running instead of walking. You see, I just do not like to be stuck in massively large amounts of people. Something in my head clicks and I have to get out and find some space as soon as possible. When I checked my pace, I was running an 8 and change mile - certainly nothing something I am capable of sustaining at all, especially as the course was now heading up a long hill. The weaving and dodging slowed down but continued to be a factor throughout the race. For the first part of the race though, while we ran up the west side of the park, I was able to run primarily on a little dirt path just off the road. Runners were spread out across the road to my left and scattered across the walking path to my right and I stuck to this narrow muddy path.
I checked in with my pace and time periodically and wondered what had happened to all the green shirts but kept after it. I entertained myself by reading t-shirts and looking for gaps in the walkers to get through to open space. I noticed a red-haired, red t-shirt clad girl fly by me at one point and pass her walking later. I spotted a co-worker I was convinced was a fast runner, take a walking break. I tied my t-shirt in a knot at the side to prevent it from moving around so much. I ran up hills and down hills and did not stop. I managed to grab a paper cup and take a couple of sips of water as I ran. I was hot in the t-shirt but grateful it wasn't raining - just misty. I soon discovered my ipod's calibration of the distance was not on track with the mileage markers I was noticing. When I hit the 3 mile sign, my ipod was convinced I was finished with 3.5 miles. I willed myself forward longing for the finish line and tryed to ignore the stitch forming in my right side.
There was one last hill before the course swung right to the finish line. I checked in with my pace and pushed just a little bit harder to the finish. I crossed the finish line and noted the time as 49 minutes. Relieved to be walking I continued to follow the crowd through the gated road to collect water and a banana. The hordes of people and the blocked off road made it difficult to orient myself. The crowd was bottlenecking and I just wanted to find familiar green shirts and remember where the line of benches was that was holding my bag. I found a break away spot and managed to find my group and was greeted with many high fives and congratulations on finishing my first race. I was probably one of the last runners to reach the group but not the last - and the walkers trailed a ways behind me. I felt fantastic.
According to my ipod - and my dancing little runner on my sidebar - I ran 4.19 miles in 40 minutes and 49 seconds. There is a pretty big discrepency in the mileage that is either attributed to how far we were from the starting line or a mis-calibration of my nike+, or possibly a combination of the two. Either way, I am very proud of myself and ready for my next race.
If you must know, yes I am exhausted today but I cannot blame that on the race. I attribute that to not going home until 1:30 am on a school night. You see, after the race we headed to a bbq place on the Upper East Side for food and drinks and karaoke. Ribs aren't exactly what I would choose for my first post-race meal but I didn't end up eating much of them as the quesedillas were more to my cravings. Mostly the night was spent talking and laughing and dancing and forgetting that I was in a bar in running clothes - sweaty running clothes at that. I mostly sang along with the karaoke with the crowd but right before I left, I joined two co-workers in singing Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall. It was good times.
And my knee? Yes, it is holding up quite well and the only reason it was sore when I made my way home at the end of the night was due to the dancing. Even in fully-supportive sneakers, there are certain dance moves that do not do my knees any favors. I guess I shouldn't worry about being too selective with the shoes I will be wearing to the upcoming weddings since my knee will be sore regardless - I might as well pick something pretty!