You can tell when spring is coming in Utah - as soon as the icy sidewalks finally melt, they are crowded with athletic, spandex-clad runners. The die-hards don't quit in the winter, of course. They trade their spandex for some high-tech runner clothes with names like Chill Buster 3000 and take perverse pleasure in how many degrees below zero they can withstand. Although how they run in crampons is beyond me.
My goal this year is two fold: 1) Do hard things and 2) Do things I've never done before. On the "hard things" list is dieting and various other willpower-requiring activities. The "never done" list is much more interesting and diverse, like learn how to play the piano and get something I've written published. A few things fit both categories, so on Saturday I tackled one: run a 5k.
Okay, so "run" might be stretching the truth a little bit. I did run, for a few minutes, but that was only because I got to the starting line just as everyone was taking off and I still had to pin my number on my shirt. The running was just to catch up to the pack; I didn't want to get lost before the race even started.
I was talked into the 5k by my friend and lately gym-partner Treasa. When I first saw her six years ago, I knew at once I wasn't going to like her. She was beautiful, thin, and perfectly dressed - I immediately classified her as "too cool to be my friend." (Seriously, how old was I, thirteen? Sheesh.) Anyhow, once I actually got to know her, I saw that she was all of those things PLUS one of the nicest people I've ever met. I've been trying to get to the gym more often so when she asked if I was interested in this 5k, I thought it would be a great motivator. I had over a month to train - if I followed a rigorous schedule, I could surely run 3.1 miles, right?
Okay, group, feel free to laugh along with me and the whole "rigorous schedule" thing. I made it to the gym about 6 times that month. Don't get me wrong, it's an improvement and I'm not discounting that at all. Going to the gym, even 6 times, makes it onto my "do hard things" list. However, it does not get a person ready to run 3 miles. Or even two miles. Or even from the parking lot to the starting line.
I could walk, though, so it was game on. I picked up Treasa and we drove to Provo. I parked, we went inside the school to collect our numbers and our swag (free water bottle and a pedometer, cool!) then made it outside just in time to hear the starting gun go off. We pinned our numbers to our new t-shirts and took off. And that was the last I saw of Treasa. When we caught up with the pack I was so winded that I started walking with the stragglers and waved Treasa to go on ahead. My only thought was "I am SO out of shape!"
So there I was, at the very tail end of the string of runners. I was basically alone, most of the time. There was a lumbering, 230+ pound woman in pajama pants ahead of me, but I passed her at the beginning and was left alone with my thoughts. My thoughts had an ipod to keep them company, which is always a good thing - when my thoughts are left to themselves, who knows what kind of crazy blog entry they'll come up with. Most of my thoughts were centered on the act of running itself. What is it about running that people are drawn to so magnetically that it'll make them get out of bed before the sun and pound the pavement in freezing cold/outrageously hot weather?
I remember being made to run in gym class; man, I hated it. The day we ran the mile was always the most dreaded day of the year for me. While I was never fat before I got pregnant, I was also never fit. The last time I had to run the mile, I gave it a good shot for the first little bit, and then I got a cramp in my side and started walking. Every time I passed a gym teacher, they'd yell at me to start running, so I would, but when I got to the far side of the track I'd start walking again. I ended up doing a 16 minute mile. It only occurred to me as an adult to question why it mattered how fast I ran. Why the heck didn't I just walk the whole thing to begin with? I'll tell you why: authority. Someone in charge told me to do something, and I did it. Teachers especially were always people I needed to please; maddeningly, even gym teachers who I would never, ever, in a million years be able to please. As far as I'm concerned, one of the best things about being an adult is never taking a stupid gym class again.
Granted, that is at complete odds with what I was doing at the moment I had that thought - I was running (okay, walking) voluntarily, and way more than the required mile. Plus, now I pay hundreds of dollars a year to go to a gym in order to torture myself on more expensive equipment than I could afford at my own house. Growing up is way more complicated than anyone ever told me.
At some point the runners ahead of me hit the halfway point and turned around, so I got a good look at everyone. They all looked like regular people, the occasional buff college guy but everyone else was just like me, only fitter. I felt bad for being at the very end of the line; the competitive part of me just hates, HATES losing, even when it was something like this where I had absolutely no expectation of doing any better than I was. Even so, I wanted to tell everyone as they blew past me, "Hey, I'm one of you! Look, I've got this shirt on that wicks! And my watch, it's a Garmin! I totally belong here!" But what I was really saying was, "I am an insecure person who is trying anyhow. Be gentle."
I felt pretty good the whole time. Every so often I'd look down at my ultra-cool Garmin watch and notice that my pace was a little slow, so I'd pick it up a bit. The whole race was over so fast (46 minutes, just slightly better than my high school time) that I wasn't prepared when I rounded the last corner and saw the finish line up ahead. Out of nowhere, the woman behind me, the one I passed so long ago that I had totally forgotten about, she takes off running and blows right by me! I was stunned! No one told me we're supposed to sprint at the end even though we were merely walking the rest of the time! So just like that, I'm back to being dead last. Crap.
My saving grace came in the form of a 7 year old boy I had given some encouragement to earlier in the race. His dad was way past him when the boy decided he was done and sat down on the curb. I talked to him for a minute and walked with him until his dad came back for him. They were just ahead of me at the finish line. I ran up behind them and stayed there until we crossed the finish line. My thinking was, if anybody saw me come in dead last, they'll think I'm with that kid and I was running slow for his sake. Genius! When I told Ryan about my brilliant plan, he nearly fell over laughing. "You mean you made up a family to disguise how slow you are?" Yes, in fact, I did, not that it mattered, and didn't we already go over the "I'm insecure" thing? Besides, apparently there was a 9 year old girl behind me the whole time that I never even saw, so it's a moot point.
All in all, I enjoyed myself. It felt cool to be doing something challenging. I will definitely do it again, hopefully though with a little more training under my belt so I can actually run. And maybe I'll bring my own kids with me, so I don't have to come up with an impromptu family at the last minute. After all, someone's got to come in last, and I still don't want it to be me.