I owe my first 5k to my inability to resist peer pressure. My good friend Kate roped me into it on a dreary March afternoon in Maine. I remember her ever-cheerful voice on the phone, informing me she was signing us up for a race, to mark the date on my calendar, that it would “soooo fun!”. I was young and naive (well 33 years old, so maybe just naive), and I believed her.
Fast forward to a beautiful June evening–the night before my first ever 5k. My husband and I had jumped on the ever-so-rare opportunity to leave the baby and toddler at home and had taken to partying like it was 1999. Or ’89 in this case, since it was 80s night at the local dive/ dancing bar where we found ourselves at 11 pm. And for the record, mouthing every word to every 80s song while dancing like a pair of (surprisingly sober) idiots is a great way in which to endear yourself and entertain your fellow medical residents and their significant others. It is not, however, a terribly smart strategy for running your best 5k the following morning.
We arrived home a little past midnight and paid the sitter what felt like a life’s savings. Still worth it. Proud of myself for resisting “one more drink” and pounding water for the past few hours, I hit the hay with supreme confidence that I’d fall fast asleep. Except I didn’t. As a mom of two under four, my usual pattern was to fall asleep within 30 minutes of sitting down—anywhere–or within 15 minutes into an episode of Law & Order, whichever came first. But for some inexplicable reason, that night I couldn’t sleep. At all!!
It started to get worrisome around 1 am. I started freaking out around 2 am. I began doing the math–I’ll only get 4 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours…. I fell asleep a mere hour and a half before the alarm. I woke to the sound of the alarm blaring, followed by my own morning-voiced expletives. I could think of nothing I wanted to do less than get up and run a 5k. Except maybe get up and run a marathon.
And so began the first of many fitful pre-race nights. This one, however, was the only one not caused by worrying about how I’d perform in the race. Because I didn’t call them “races” back then, and I didn’t give a bandit’s bib about how fast I went. My one and only goal for my first 5k was simply to finish without stopping to walk.
I drove over to my friend’s house in a sleepless stupor, willing the coffee to kick in soon. As we headed toward the race, we spotted the would-be female winner Kristin Barry warming up and marveled at the idea of running before the race. Then it was time to line up.
Do you know what I remember about that race? The hill in the last mile. Six stinking years and 4000+ miles ago, and I remember that hill. I wanted to stop and walk that hill almost as much as I wanted to sleep for the next fifty hours. These were both excruciatingly strong desires, but only one was within my power to decide. I ran up that blasted hill as slow as I could run and still call it running, and I finished my race without stopping to walk. I spent the first three miles of the race telling myself I’d never do anything of this sort ever again. And of course, you know the rest of that story!
I finished in 29:05. I’ve since run an entire marathon at a much faster pace than my first 5k, but I often think back to where it all began. I think about the hill, the feeling horrible, the fatigue–and the tremendous sense of accomplishment at the finish that trumped it all.
What do you remember most about your first race?