Sunday was supposed to be a GREAT day of crossing an item off my running off season ‘to do’ list: volunteering with Girls on the Run of the Rockies (GOTR). I registered for the Great Candy Run 5K in Wash Park and was officially a ‘running buddy.’ I couldn’t wait to “share a girl’s exhilaration and excitement as she crosses the finish line of her first 5K,” according to my e-mail. Wuhoo!
I had it all mapped out in my head. . .a picture-perfect morning of new-found big sisterly bliss while warming up with my little gal – introducing her to my pre-race regimen combining high knees and butt kicks – yes, that’s what that particular plyometric is called – talking race strategy; and calming her nerves, you know, if she felt nervous. I was so excited to bestow some of my best winged-feet tips onto her eager and ready little ears.
And, to be honest, I was also kind of excited to run a race completely focused on someone else and not the clock when I crossed the finish line - NO pressure. In the fifteen years since my first-ever 5K, that would be a first.
I reached the parking lot and within a mere few minutes had checked in with registration to pick up my race packet, checked in with staff at the GOTR tent, found the cardboard sign on the side of South High School building donning the same name as my assigned elementary school, and was waiting to meet other volunteers and runners. Soon afterward, another ‘running buddy,’ two girls, and their parents joined me.
The girls – twin eight-year-old sisters – were so cute, matching ponytails and pink tutus. “Is this your first 5K?” “No, we’ve run them before. This is our third.” “Oh, cool!” They’ve raced, but maybe my girl hasn’t. I can’t wait to meet her!
And then, another girl and her dad joined us. . .and then, another pair. And together, they were a small army of pink tutus and running shoes jumping up and down in place and rubbing their hands along the opposite biceps to keep warm in the shade of the building on a chilly early November morning.
And then, their GOTR coach arrived with unexpected news to me. One little gals from the group was sick and wasn’t going to make it to the race. “There were two girls that needed a running buddy. We only need one of you for today.” “OK, I can let the other running buddy race.” “I think there was another school that needs a running buddy. Go check with the tent to find a girl.”
I did and was soon headed back in the direction of the swarms of girls in matching get ups, their parents, and coaches and looked for the Ashley Elementary group. “All of our girls have running buddies. We’re all set.” OK. Try, try. . .try again. My third trip to the GOTR tent lead me to West Jefferson Middle School, whose coach and girls were nowhere to be found.
No one I asked knew where they were, and no one from a seemingly astronomical number of people I polled needed a running buddy for a girl with their group. In some cases, as a matter of fact, it was quite the contrary. “Some of our girls already have two running buddies. But thanks for checking.”
What?! Really?! Now what?! I’m not ready to race! I could go home. Nah, I’m already here; and I’m a runner. Suck it up. I looked down at my watch, 9:45 a.m. The longer I try to find a girl, the less time I’ll have to warm up. Guess I’m racing a 5K.
And, just like that, ‘Girls on the Run’ turned into girl – one girl, one lonely, lost nerd in running shoes – on the run. Solo. The race dubbed the “sweetest finish ever” was turning out to be my least favorite kind of candy – those unimaginably disgusting, rancid excuses for even a wannabe sweet treat - banana flavored ‘Runts.’ Gross.
Of all the ‘Runts’ flavors in all the candy in all the world, banana was the one I got.
I know what you’re thinking: “It’s just a 5K.” And, you are right. . .and disturbingly wrong at the same time. Sure, it was ‘just’ a 5K, three point one little miles that I could practically run half asleep with both hands tied behind my back at this point. Perhaps most anyone else would say, “OK, so I’ll run a 5K” without a problem. BUT. . .
I like to put forth a great deal of effort into any race, whether it be a marathon literally up and down a freakin’ mountain or a flat-course 5K in a local park. I like to step to the starting line revved up and ready to go, knowing that I did everything in my power to prepare myself for what would follow the ’boom’ of that blank, that - happy or not with the numbers on the clock at the finish – I gave it my best shot and learned from it.
And, at the end of the day, I am a competitor and care about my race times and the long-standing internet record of them on websites like Athlinks.com. To quote Jeffrey Tambor’s character from ‘The Hangover,’ “That s%!*’ll come back with you.”
One might say that I take all of this running stuff just a little bit seriously. So, coming to the comprehension that I was to run a 5K - near completely unprepared in any way, shape, or form – fifteen minutes before the start did not sit well. Let’s take a moment to review the things I did that were uncharacteristic of my typical race preparation, shall we? I. . .
- Went to bed late several nights prior
- Drank beer several nights prior
- Inhaled a grande venti chai latte and a piece of pumpkin bread for breakfast that morning
- Only warmed up for about ten minutes.
‘Just a 5K?’ HA! Oh so many thoughts ran through my head. . . It’s just a 5K, just over three little miles. You’ve got this. . . Ugh, I don’t want to do this! I should be in the mountains snowboarding right now! . . This is SOOOO irritating! . . Calm down, breathe. Save it for the race. . . You know what to do. . .
The gun went off, and we were off. Most of the first mile was much faster than I thought was physically capable, which meant only one thing. You can’t keep this pace for three miles. You’re wasting energy you’ll need for miles two and three. Slow down.
I did slow down, but it wasn’t enough. Mile two was still faster than I had expected it would be, but it came at a cost. It hurt like a (insert expletive here). This is the longest 5K EVER!
Then, finally, came mile three. Come on, just one more mile. One more’s all you’ve got. I could hear the announcer a half loop away, could see the runners ahead nearing the finish. That’s all you’ve got left. Just get to where they are. A half mile to go. Come on! Almost there!
Footsteps. Heavy footsteps behind me. You’ve got this. Hold ‘em off. Finally, I turned a sharp corner and darted for the finish line, just about a hundred yards ahead, as fast as I could to the finish line. I got there and saw that my time was much faster than I expected it would be.
OK with my time considering the non-optimal laundry list of circumstances, I was. A GOTR running buddy slash pseudo running coach extraordinaire in the moment, I was NOT:
All in all, it wasn’t so bad. Sure, I wasn’t exactly in optimal racing shape. Sure, my pace wasn’t where it was about this time last year. Sure, I knew I was capable of a much better time. But, things could have been much worse. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Denver; and I did something I love: I challenged myself to push my limits, and I raced.
Still, I’ll make sure that my next race is much, much sweeter.
Melissa Mincic, Ph.D., a long-time road and trail runner, conducts applied child development research and works to influence child development policy at the University of Denver. Follow Melissa on Twitter at @nerdinrunshoes.