Tuesday, January 29, 2013

That first piece of hardware....

I will never forget that first "big" race.

I got serious about running in the summer of 2005.  Prior to that, I had done a few 5K's with the husband, but never took the sport of running very seriously.  I was not born with speed genes.  I hated running in grade school, and REALLY hated it in high school.

It seems like all the physical ed teachers put the fast runners on very prestigious pedestals, and made us slower folk feel inferior.  I was envious of the ones who could effortlessly sprint right out of the starter block.  I  could not get my legs to move as fast as my mind, and always hated that feeling of not being "good enough" as a result.  I am also tall, and have long legs.  It takes twice as much effort to move them.

So, when the opportunity to "run" a 5K ever presented itself, I did so with only half a heart.  I figured since I was a slow runner, there wasn't much need to even try to "race."  Of course, without training (or even running on my own), I was setting myself up for failure on race day.  I would inevitably start out too fast, and be almost fainting by the end of the first mile...which would usually guarantee I'd be walking by the third mile. 

Finally, in 2005, I set a goal to run a 5K.  Run, not walk.  I knew I could get to one mile, so I forced myself to consciously run that first mile slower than normal, and eventually I was able to get to 2 miles. Not too long after, I was able to go 3 miles without needing to walk.  I registered for a race, and crossed the finish line in just under 30 minutes....which actually was a faster pace than I had trained at.

For the next 3 years, I grew to like racing!  I knew I would never finish in first place, but I was running!  And, best of all, I slowly discovered that a lot of others were racing and not caring how they finished...so long as they finished.

A friend asked me if I was interested in training for a half marathon with her.  Immediately, I did the math. I was not ready for the challenge of running farther than those 3 miles. My comfort zone would majorly get tested if I tried to run 10 miles farther.  No thanks. 

Well, my friend spent the entire summer of 2007 training for this half marathon.  She got up early and ran 4 or 5 days a week.  She ran hills.  She ran long distances in the Iowa heat. Meanwhile, I was content running my "usual" 3 mile course every few days (at least that is what I told myself).  As summer ended, and the date of her half marathon approached, I couldn't help feel envious.  Her race came, and she crossed the finish line.  I was proud of her, but also jealous.  Finally, I was able to admit that I had let a fantastic opportunity slip by.

I continued running through the winter.  I heard about a race, Dam-to-Dam.  It was a 20K (12.4 miles), and involved running from a dam on the outskirts of the city of Johnston and ended at the dam in downtown Des Moines.  Ok.  This was it, my chance to redeem myself.  My gut instinct told me I had no excuse this time.  I had 3 months to train for it.  I could do it.  I needed to do it.

So I trained.  I ran.   I ran several times each week, slowly adding a mile at a time.  The day I ran my 10-mile training run was amazing.  I had my official first "dose" of runner's high...and I started craving that fix more and more.  A couple weeks later, it was race day.

It was May 31, 2008.  And I was ready.  It was warm, and humid. I had never run a race of this distance, so I was scared of going out too fast.  I was afraid of muscle cramps.  I was worried about walking, or not finishing.  But then I remembered all the training I had done.  I could do this. I was going to do this!

The miles seemed to go slow for the first half of the race.  By the time I crossed the halfway mark, the crowd had thinned out some.  I passed the 7-mile mark and still felt great.  The 8-mile mark was approaching, and I could see a rather long hill coming up.  I just kept going, eventually walking for a bit as the hill wore on.  After the 9th mile, the course was pretty flat but my body was starting to slow down some.  I could feel a strange something going on in one of my legs.  One of my toes felt like it was getting pinched.

I walked a couple times more, then I saw the 11-mile mark.  Suddenly, my mind almost went blank trying to remember the previous miles...had I really gone this far?   Seriously?  Almost immediately, my long legs started moving a little faster.  Oh my gosh, I was almost there!  I could feel my body moving even faster. As I turned the corner and heard the crowd cheering, I could feel the sting of tears in my eyes.  With what felt like my last ounce of energy,  I sprinted to the finish line.

I had done it!  As I worked my way through the chute, I could feel the tears streaming down my face.  I had done it!  When they put the finisher's medal around my neck, it was all I could do to keep my composure.
I finished the race in 2 hours and 7 minutes.  Even though I had to walk a few times, I was so happy and content.  I had given it my all.  I had crossed the finish line

. And I have returned every year since, and in a few months, I'll be training for my 6th Dam-to-Dam ;-)

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