Sunday, April 29, 2012

Motivation vs. Inspiration

I'm still dealing with the saga of finding the right running shoes, but I'm sick to death of talking about it. My running is suffering for it, on all levels from motivation to my stamina. So today's post is going to be about something totally different.

This is going to be a word connotation post. You've been warned.

Many runners use the words "motivation" and "inspiration" interchangeably, but I've always felt there is a difference there. If you were to ask me, "What motivates you?" you would receive a far different answer than to the question, "What inspires you?"

I see motivation and inspiration as literal figures. When I close my eyes, they're there, reaching their hands out. But those reaching hands serve very different purposes. Motivation is using those hands to push me forward: out of bed, into shoes, out the door. Inspiration, on the other hand, is constantly a few meters ahead of me, calling backward and gesturing for me to catch up.

You see, to me, motivation pushes; inspiration pulls.

I think it's important to have a balance of both of these for all things, but for running it's especially important. If I'm relying entirely on motivation, I have no goal. If I'm relying entirely on inspiration, I'm skipping important steps to get myself where I need to be. And honestly, I could be inspired by Jackie Joyner-Kersee, but without motivation to get me moving, it's all talk. "Oh yeah, she's amazing, totally inspiring! Just thinking about running an 800 in under three minutes makes me tired! I'm going to take a nap."

I don't know why this difference is so important to me. Maybe it's just that I like words. Maybe it's that I'm a little crazy. Probably the latter. But the point is, having a clear idea of what pushes you forward and what pulls you in the right direction can help you stoke the fires of your own will.

I know that a new running playlist, new running clothes, the high I know I'll feel at the end, the freedom I'll feel, and my sense of accomplishment are great motivators. Thinking of these things will get my feet (and the rest of me) out the door.

My power song, friends who run, beating a PR, and words of wisdom inspire me to keep going. I need more motivation than inspiration because once I'm going, I'm good. I need more help getting out there in the first place.

Take a moment to think about what you would place into each category. Your lists will probably be different than mine. But knowing what can get you moving, or keep you going, can help you stay on track for whatever you're pushing toward. It's worth taking some time to think about.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Same Route, Different Day

As a follow-up to yesterday's post about Monday's disaster of a run, I needed to quickly mention today's awesome turn-around.

I had some self-doubt, thinking about Monday's run. But I knew that if I didn't tackle the same archer's bow route that killed me then, I'd never have faith in myself to do it again. So, strapping on the ol' Nike Pegasuses (Pegasi?), I drove out to a better starting point (having mapped it this time...see, I learn from my mistakes!) and started the run at an easy pace.

I did the straight part of the run first this time, and took the curved part of the loop back. By the time I got to the turn, my right knee was aching a bit but I knew I was on track. I enjoyed the beauty of the run again, this time knowing I could complete it.

I had programmed my Nike+ for 3.5 miles, but it never told me when I hit the goal. So I actually ran 3.6. And I stayed below a 10:00 pace the entire time! (9:30/9:39/9:42 splits.)

I iced, used the rolling pin, and stretched. Tomorrow is my appointment to see what kind of shoes I should look for next, but with the success of today, I'm a little reluctant to even entertain the thought of giving up my Nikes.

I'm proud of myself for looking my doubt in the face and squashing it flat. Today was definitely a Good run day.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Disaster Run

Yesterday, I experienced a bad run. Funnily enough, I didn't internalize any guilt over it, as I usually do, perhaps because I knew my fitness and ability weren't to blame. On the contrary, I even feel a little proud of this disaster.

I got new running shoes the other night...not really on a whim, but without having my strides re-evaluated like I'd planned. But really, I don't need new shoes yet; I just really want a pair. I ran these around the indoor track at the store and they felt wonderful. So, I bought them. Itching to try them out, I took them for a test Monday.

But here's where I went wrong. My run was a 3.5 miler (or so I thought), and the shoes gave me shin splints within the first 1/8 of a mile. But did I turn around and put my Nikes back on? Nope. I went for the full run, thinking, "Oh hey, maybe they'll get better."

Right. Here's the thing. My "3.5" miles was really 4.3. I didn't map it out beforehand, figuring I'd turn around and just run the same course back when Nike+ told me I'd hit my halfway point. But when that time came, I was on a loop, and I thought (wrongly, again), "Oh hey, this is a circle, so I'm halfway through and completing it would be the same as turning around." Except that the end of the "loop" was actually an extra .80 miles. Duh. I knew "half" the loop was .87, but somehow forgot that I'd have to complete the circle, thereby doubling it. (I know this makes little sense, but this particular path is shaped like an archer's bow, and I ran the curved part first, forgetting to add in the straight shot back.)

Basically, I had to walk some of this run because 1) LEG PAIN and 2) 4.3 miles was not on the menu. I nearly called M to pick me up. Well, I paused some of the Nike+ during walks, so it wouldn't affect my overall pace, but I did end up not pausing it for some, and then I ran the last 400 meters. Then I turned the thing off. Then I walked home. In socks. That's right: I took off the damn shoes and shuffled home in socks.

What a disaster.

But, here's the thing. I learned something from this. I've learned that if shoes don't feel right, I shouldn't be wearing them, even if I loved them in the store and even if the brand is one I'm loyal to. (These weren't Nikes, but another beloved brand.)

And why am I kind of proud of this embarrassingly bad run? For one thing, I pushed myself harder than I have in a really long time. Last fall  I ran a few 4-milers and felt really strong and proud, but since then I've been capping myself around two or three. I've been doing this simply because my resolution to run "consistently", to me, meant not pushing the distance. But lately I've been feeling antsy and full of energy. I went out Monday craving a long, hard run that left me panting and sore. Well, I definitely got it. I stretched, iced, and took ibuprofen. Oh, and also:

Yes folks, I rolling-pinned my legs. (This was an experiment based on "The Stick", which I'll get to in just a second.)

So anyway, I have no lingering pain today, although my ankles, feet, and calves were all stiff and sore yesterday. Although I feel up to a run today, and would actually really love to go, I'm going to take one more day to recover totally, mostly because my left ankle gave me some trouble toward the end of work. (Sometimes I wish I had a job that I could just sit at.)

I know I did a stupid thing. I'm sorry, body. But I'm glad I did it, and now I know what a gorgeous loop that archer's bow path really is (did I mention I'd never run this particular path before? Stupid) and I'll plan accordingly for the distance. But I do plan to run it again. It was just beautiful.

As for the rolling pin: "The Stick" is a plastic massager made for runners. You roll it over your muscles and apparently it's magical. Well, having done some asking-about regarding my usual knee pain, someone suggested it may be that my quads or Iliotibial band needs stretching/work. So I looked up how to handle that, and The Stick was recommended. Being cheap, I used my rolling pin instead. Boy did it work! It's not space-age plastic, but it made my legs feel amazing, and even through my hellish run, my knees gave me hardly any grief. (I used the rolling pin before the run, to prevent any muscle stiffness, and it seemed to work.)

I also looked up exercises that will strengthen hips and knees in order to prevent pain and injury. Here's the video:

When all is said and done, I learned something about myself, and about the art of buying new running shoes. return them (don't be skeptical; they look fine, I cleaned them, there's no wear or tear, and the store said they'd take them back) and have my stride evaluated. That's on the menu for tomorrow. Hopefully I have better luck this time around.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

African Aid 5k

Today, M and I ran the African Aid 5k, the proceeds of which go to provide support for children orphaned due to the AIDS epidemic in southern Africa. Last night we were getting weather reports that it would rain all day today, so upon waking at 5:45 this morning, I double-checked to make sure the race hadn't been canceled.

While it was gloomy, the rain held off. Good thing, too, because it provided truly my favorite running weather: cool and overcast.

This week left me completely exhausted. I took a nap (accidentally) from 5-8:30 last night, and then went to bed at 11. I guess I needed it, and I'm glad I made sure to catch a few Z's, because I was worried about my time for this 5k. My training this week was weaker than usual, partially because I had a low mileage week last week due to illness, and partially because of school-related things. Nevertheless, I went to the race this morning and kicked some butt.

As usual, my strongest leg of the run was the first half. At the turning point, I began to fall behind. I had expressly told M that he could feel free to leave me in the dust, and around mile 2 he did just that. I was only about 20 yards behind him the rest of the way, but I had to dig deep to make that last 1.1 strong. It helped that a kid kept running near me and didn't seem to understand personal space, so I reached deep inside to that reserve of energy I keep specifically for outpacing tails. All I could focus on was, "Don't let this annoying kid beat you." That, and, "Just five more minutes. You can survive anything for just five minutes. Finish up this torture and take a nap!"

This race had a 3-mile marker, so when I knew I was nearly there - even though the big clock wasn't yet in sight - I began my sprint. As I finally turned a corner to the finish, I saw the clock counting down the last few seconds of 28 minutes. I raced to the end, coming in at 29:04:47 (chip time), with an unadjusted time of 29:08:17. That means I killed my last 5k time by 27 seconds!

I placed 54 of 100 women and 146 of 219 runners. On top of that, I had literally zero pain in my knees and legs. I mean, I had the usual post-race soreness, but nothing caused by an injury. So basically, this was a pretty good day. M came in at 28:47, so he didn't even have time to take a photo of my finish. We did get one of us after, though:

M and I after sweating it out.
 I think running with M did help me stay at a good, fast pace and feeling strong. I usually cruise at a comfortable pace around 10:00, and his presence pushed us to the low nines for the first half of the race. I knew this time around that a pace of 6:00/km was in the 9:00/mile range and would get me across the finish line under 30:00, so I was less annoyed by the Nike+ this time around than when I ran the Fast & Furriest last month.

Now it's time to relax and enjoy the last six weeks of school while adding mileage. I'm debating running the 10k next month that I posted about before, because it's the day after my last day of work, and I know that week is going to take a lot out of me. I'd be running it alone, and likely on low fuel. But I leave for Israel in early June and want to run a race before I leave, so I haven't completely backed out yet. For now the plan is to gradually increase my mileage until I'm running 4 or 4.5 miles at a time.

And on a final note, we just got M a new pair of running shoes and I am insanely jealous. I'm planning to go try out some new shoes later today, just for fun. Shopping for running things is one of my biggest motivators!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Bonus to Running

The other day, as I tweeted about my annoyance at missing a day running because we were running-shoe shopping for M, I realized that I am now that obnoxious person who posts to twitter/facebook every time I workout.

There are people out there who complain about posters like me. They see the updates as a brag. Of course, I certainly don't mean them that way. Posting about my runs motivates me to go out there again. I love running, the way some people love trivia nights or shopping. If they can post about placing first at trivia while eating wings and chugging beer, or dropping $50 on a new t-shirt, then why shouldn't I post about my pastime?

The bottom line is that if you see a post about working out as a "brag", your opinion of exercise is clearly that it's not for everyone. After all, why would someone brag about something anyone can do?

But you see, that's why I love running. If you have shoes, you can run. Or, you know, you can start. But outside of the shoes and clothes, there's no cost to running. No monthly payment to a gym, no heavy equipment to purchase.

And there's a bonus to running! I love sports, particularly volleyball, but as an adult, short of joining a league, I don't get to play. Plus, volleyball requires at least 11 other people to get a real game going. Running can be a solo endeavor. You can run for enjoyment, or you can find a race and run competitively, or run for enjoyment in a race!

I never knew that there was like...this secret world of running adults who do more than just run on the weekdays. They sign up for races. They collect bibs. They get medals! Medals. I thought medals and trophies were reserved for high school or professional sports! You're telling me I can earn swag for a hobby? That's awesome!

Talk about motivation.

I don't feel like I need to join anything to be a runner, but I can join if I want. That's a huge bonus of running. I can both be a part of this dedicated group of people, and I can choose to do this by myself. That kind of freedom means that anyone can do it. Looking back at the basis of this post, talking about the things you enjoy isn't bragging. Talking about running isn't bragging. Talking about training for a race, or upping mileage, or taking care of an injury isn't bragging. Anyone can run.

And really, the root of the issue is this: if you hate running, find something you love and get active. Play frisbee, go swimming, ride a bike or skateboard, shoot some hoops. Once you're leading an active lifestyle, you'll be less likely to feel threatened or even jealous of others that are doing the same. Stop scoffing at people who post about their workouts. They've found something to be passionate about. Good for them.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Words of Runners

This past week I had the upper-respiratory infection/cold from hell. We were coming off a long weekend, but I couldn't make myself go to work Tuesday. I never, ever take personal days, so that speaks for itself.

I did run Tuesday evening, as my congestion let up a bit, but suffered for it Wednesday. So this was a very light running week. That's okay; in the long run, over-all health and keeping the long-view in mind is more important than racking up the miles.

The African Aid 5k is Saturday...M and I are deciding whether or not to stick together during the race.

Today's blog is about the power of words.

Long before I was a runner, I was an angsty pre-teen. (I say this lightly, but only because distance and time has healed some old wounds. A post for another time will touch on depression, anxiety, and running.) During those years, I lived up north. I had a great friend who understood this angst, and when I moved out of state, we kept in touch. He was a great friend to me, but the main thing we had in common was our depression.

Over the years, I began to see that running was becoming a way for him to fight his demons. In those days, when you carefully crafted an AIM profile filled with quotes that defined you, he had only one: "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." Although Steve Prefontaine said these words, I think of my friend when I read them. These words carry a weight and a power in them.

They had the power to push my friend from a dark present into a bright, powerful future.

As an English teacher and a writer, of course I believe that words have meaning. We are influenced, angered, hurt, buoyed, inspired by words. When looking for motivation or inspiration, words from people who have been in our shoes are sometimes the greatest allies we have.

I've never found a single quote to define a journey in my life. I tend to love anything that will push me, in a down moment, to strive upward. But I've never found myself attached to a quote for a lifetime; I've never developed such a relationship with one that I can think of it in the middle of a run and feel re-energized.

Until, that is, I finished Once A Runner. I posted about the novel in an earlier entry. There's a moment toward the end, when the main character is training for a huge race by doing intervals, just killing himself over it, and his mentor says,
"Look, runners deal in discomfort. After you get past a certain point, that's all there really is."

Now on a run, I try to remember that quote. Because pain? Not really a big issue when my knee braces are doing their thing. Shortness of breath, tired calves or quads? Those are issues of discomfort. And I can deal with discomfort.

The friend who bought me the book also shared this excellent one from T. Alan Armstrong, who isn't a runner (that I know of) but still hits the nail on the head: "
Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character."

Simply gorgeous. So true, so necessary to remember.

The power of words - something I've loved forever - combined with the power of running (something I've just learned to love recently) is enough to set my soul alight...and send me on a powerful, ebullient, full-hearted run.

I leave you now with two more to get your feet craving pavement:

"We run, not because we think it is doing us good, but because we enjoy it and cannot help ourselves...The more restricted our society and work become, the more necessary it will be to find some outlet for this craving for freedom. No one can say, 'You must not run faster than this, or jump higher than that.' The human spirit is indomitable."
Sir Roger Bannister, first runner to run a sub-4 minute mile

"Running should be a lifelong activity. Approach it patiently and intelligently, and it will reward you for a long, long time."
Michael Sargent

What are you favorite/most inspiring quotes?


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Gentle Reminder (To Myself)

Today's run was hard. I'm recovering from a bad cold that's left me congested, nauseated, and tired, but I had taken two days off and wanted to go. As I turned at my half-way point, aiming for 3 miles, I bartered with myself.

"Self," I gasped, "you can go the full 3 miles and walk some of it, or you can cut out a quarter and run the whole thing."

Too proud to walk, I took the shortcut. And as I shambled home, my calves burning and my ankles aching, I silently screamed invectives in my head. Let's face it, this is how we motivate ourselves sometimes, yes?

But as I finally sat to stretch and slug back water, I reminded myself: I do not run to punish myself. I run to do myself a favor, to strengthen my being, to seek a moment of clarity and quiet in this busy, loud, frustrating world.

I went for the run knowing I wouldn't have a great time because I'd been sick. And I don't deserve to cut myself down. I did something good for myself today, and I may not have hit 3 miles, but at least I went.

I need to remember why I do this. It's not to prove something; it's not punishment. If I hadn't gone today, my emotional pain would have been worse than the physical pain I was in post-run. I do this for my mind, my body, my spirit, my soul.

Those last staggering, painful steps were a sign of strength and perseverance, and I refuse to beat myself up over them. In hindsight, maybe this run was good after all.


Monday, April 9, 2012

On a Serious Note

Running websites and magazines do a solid job of reminding runners to be safe while running. They recommend not wearing headphones, or at least listening to your music at low volume. They recommend letting someone know where you're going and when to expect you back. They recommend carrying an ID with you.

Many of these warnings are in relation to being hit by unaware drivers.

But April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it's important to mention that heeding these warnings is vital not just because of potential accidents, but also because of potential attacks.

I, like many women, am all too aware of the dangers of being "out in the world" alone. And before I even get started on this post, I need to clarify something. Victims of sexual assault are NEVER to blame for the assault. You'll hear people saying, "If only she'd taken precautions" or "If only her music hadn't been too loud", etc. These are victim-blaming statements, and they have no place on this blog. Sexual assault affects 1 in 6 women in their lifetime, meaning most of us know someone who has been a victim of it - in many cases, we know more than one. (For more statistics, go here.)

So this blog is not about "How to Behave So You Can Avoid Causing a Sexual Assault." The only person who can prevent such an assault is the attacker. But we live, unfortunately, in a world full of people who live only for their own whims and compulsions, and preparing for the worst can help us avoid these people and their potential to do us harm.

I am not very good at being prepared. Although I do run when it's still light out, I know this in itself isn't magical protection. When I was in undergrad, a girl who was jogging was attacked and just barely escaped without harm - this was at 4:00 in the afternoon, when Florida sun is bright and blinding. I wear my headphones (although I keep the volume low enough to hear my environment around me), I switch up my paths frequently, I run in public places (usually), and I make a point to check my surroundings and make eye-contact with people I pass (because I heard somewhere, once, that people are less likely to attack you if you make eye-contact). If I'm running alone, I always tell M which of my routes I'm taking. These precautions seem almost trivial.

After reading this heart-wrenching and brave blog entry on Runner's World, I've decided to finally get myself a running belt and a can of mace. Wearing such a belt, I can also carry my cell phone and ID with me, which I never do usually. I've put it off due to comfort, but safety trumps comfort every time. Besides, there are plenty of running belts that are lightweight and won't bounce or jiggle. If a marathoner can wear one, so can I.

The author of the article I linked is an amazingly strong and honest woman for stepping forward. So many women are ashamed or fearful. They feel the attack was somehow their fault, and they feel they'll never be looked at "normally" again. Going through an exam - and, if they're lucky enough to find the attacker, a trial - can feel like a second assault for many women. But Ms. Addonizio went through both, courageously, and continues to run.

There's a message here for men, too, and for other runners on the road. If you see something suspicious, speak up. If you overhear commotion, call for help. (Too many times we hear about attacks that witnesses heard but did nothing to stop.) If your loved-one wants to run and it's late, hop on a bike or skateboard and join them. There's safety in numbers.

The only one who can truly prevent an assault 100% is the person who is going to commit it. We can be prepared, alert, and wary; we can still enjoy our runs, and we should. I refuse to live in fear of what could happen, but I've realized that living in denial that the world has dangers in it outside of my control won't solve any problems. I am going to start taking precautions; I hope you do, too.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Good Stretches Look Awkward

Those who read this blog semi-regularly should know by now that my knees/hips/hamstrings/quads are my trouble areas. If you haven't gathered that already, then I have to question your reading comprehension.

Anyway, K is good for a great many things, and, once more proving her worth as a running buddy and friend, she shared some excellent stretches with me after a run last week that left my hamstrings burning. Having thanked her publicly for these magical moves, another friend requested I share. Because the jargon and official names of the stretches escape me, and because I'm a glutton for punishment and public humiliation, I've decided to post my own low-quality, embarrassing pictures for your amusement and instruction. (Anything in the name of education, right?)

Many of these stretches will look familiar to you. You'll likely go, "Oh yeah, I've done this one before, and looked a lot cuter while doing it, too." Kindly squelch sharing those kinds of thoughts, and bask in the result of these stretches: virtually pain-free runs!

Please note that my stretching buddies are Champ (the dog) and Archie (the bird), and they deserve as much attention as I do, if not more.

So...starting with the most awkward first...

Here I am in the starting position with Champ and Archie helping out. I am going to cross one knee over my body, turn in the opposite direction, and reach my arm out. The point is to feel the stretch mainly in your lower back.

This stretch is utterly painless for me, and I could stay in this position for minutes at a time. It just feels really good for my back.

At this point, Archie bit Champ's tail and sent him scurrying away. I then moved into the ultimate embarrassing stretch to do in public, especially in loose shorts:

The photo of the other leg won't upload correctly, so this is all you get of this beautifully elegant pose. (Actually, it's a shame because the other view is much clearer.) Hook one leg over the other, grasp the back of the "upright" leg, and pull. Make sure to pull your leg down toward your chest until you feel the stretch, but don't hurt yourself. As much as I kind of hate this stretch, it's a love-hate relationship, because it does wonders for my hamstrings and lower back.

That finally brings me to my new favorite stretch! New ready position needed:

You will need something to hold your balance, especially if you stretch this way after a grueling run that leaves you with noodle-legs. Also, I recommend definitely doing this stretch on a soft surface; your knees will thank you. Basically, you'll grab hold of something with one hand, grab your back ankle with the other, and pull your foot up toward your butt. Keep your back straight. The closer to your butt your knee goes, the more excellent the stretch.

So there you have it. This post is brought to you by my total adoration of these stretches and my complete lack of shame. Obviously I like others, like the butterfly or the good old "sit down, fold a leg in, touch your toes" business, but let's be real, here: the more awkward a stretch looks, the better it feels! The existence and public posting of these photos is proof of that.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

After my last run, I made sure to thank a friend who always "likes" my running posts, and he mentioned the difference between "someone who runs" and a "Runner". Having mentioned that I just recently began to think of myself as the latter, and what a rewarding journey it has been, he asked if I had a Kindle and then proceeded to gift me the Ultimate Gift for a runner and reader: Once a Runner by John L. Parker, Jr. This novel has quite the history and is truly a runner's manifesto if there ever was one.

The glowy, warm feeling of receiving a surprise gift could only be overshadowed by the intense desire to run that reading this book inspires. Not only is it beautifully written and filled with elegant prose, but the author describes the art, addiction to, and love of running so clearly, I feel like my feet are begging to hit the pavement when I sit to read it! Talk about a predicament...To read on, or to run? Best to fit both into my daily schedule!

So, Jamez, I know I've said it already, but thank you for such a thoughtful, undeserved, and meaningful gift. Runners are, indeed, an "odd tribe", but we are also a tribe of bonds and a depth of understanding not seen in many friendships.

That said, I'd like to share a little something with you all. Music is such a huge part of being human - seriously, do you know anyone who just doesn't care for music? - and running is such an essential part of my being as well, it only makes sense that the perfect running playlist is...well, magical.

So here is my current playlist. If even one song on there inspires you, I'll have done my part in sharing some of the magic.

Don't judge me. And enjoy.


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!