The first 5K I ran was in Flushing Meadows, Queens. It was a completely flat course and I ran it in 30:23. Not bad for my first 5K.
So I came into this race, 5 weeks later than my first one, expecting to beat my best time. I didn't.
I had been awake on and off since 4:00AM listening to the thunderstorm and the pouring rain. It stopped around 5:45, right before I woke up and I had hoped it passed. It didn't. As I was leaving my house, I heard the low rumble of thunder in the distance, and 15 minutes later I was hydroplaning on the highway, about 5 minutes behind another man who had spun out and hit the median. I was thinking to myself "great, I'm going to die on my way to a 5K. At the South Mountain Recreation Complex. How fitting." Kendra, another Endure to Cure athlete who was running the race with me, had the same thoughts.
I got to the parking site a little after 7:30AM, 30 minutes before the race began. The shuttle took us to the site and I was lined up to run at 7:55AM. I had time to stretch pretty well, but not enough time to push myself towards the front and get in a quick warm up run (my first mistake). My adrenaline was pumping from the drive down and race jitters, so I guess that counted as a warm up, right? Not really.
The first thing I realized about this course was that it wasn't flat. The training runs around my neighborhood are somewhat flat, except for one hill and a slight incline/decline. I tried to remember everything I was told during hill sprints and what I kind of learned during my training runs. The hills weren't as steep as I had anticipated, but they just kept coming. Up and down, up and down, and even the slight incline on mile 2 was a killer. My second mistake was not taking advantage of the declines. When I was running downhill, I felt like I was flying and I was passing people left and right. I thought that maybe I was doing something wrong and I should be conserving my energy, when in actuality, I should have taken advantage of that momentum and let myself sprint down that hill, and then use that momentum to help me up and over the next hill. I may be wrong, but it just makes more sense to me, especially in a 5K race where I shouldn't be too worried about conserving my energy.
Third mistake? Taking water. I don't know what I was thinking, I didn't need it, and even though trying to drink water while running went better this time than during my last race, it still left a feeling in my throat like I had swallowed a rock. I still have that feeling.
The fourth mistake I made? I think I was having a little too much fun during the race. One thing that I love about running are the other runners. Runners are such happy people that are always looking to give encouragement. For about half a mile I was running alongside this couple, and the woman was announcing the mile markers and their pace, which was great because the first mile marker was about .46 miles off. We exchanged smiles and encouragements and I eventually lost her around mile 2 when she decided to run behind with her students. The last tenth of a mile was a sprint uphill to the finish. We went downhill, came around a bend, and then it was a slight incline to the finish. The woman behind me was moaning and groaning so I turned to look at her and she apologized for being sour. I got all amped up and told her that it was ok and to just dig her toes in and sprint up that hill, she was almost there. I think I was saying that more for myself than for her, and she kind of stared at me with a look that said "ok little girl, you go right ahead and do that." Which I did. I liked cheering people on because it helps me as a runner too, but for my next race I hope to run with a little more focus and save the encouragements to fist pumps, cheers, and claps.
I started coming up the hill and watched the clock tick past 30:23, my PR. I was still determined to run an amazing race, and I'm not going to lie I was hoping the clock was a little off since I started way behind the start/finish line. I sprinted up that hill and ran hard across the finish line, and my parents were waiting for me with congratulations. I also saw a girl from my school that I had known since pre-k, which was totally random but a nice surprise. I don't even remember what I said to her other than "thanks." I felt so happy and content after my race, probably still because I was hoping that the timing chip was off. I saw the official results and was proved wrong, and my mood dropped a little. I was still enjoying the fact that I was with other Endure to Cure athletes and my family and I still had a day at the zoo to look forward to, but I couldn't help being disappointed over not beating my PR.
I was thinking about the race on my drive home after visiting the zoo. My time was only 50 seconds longer than my previous race, and that was on completely flat ground. I remembered my struggles up Lincoln Ave: stopping to walk, barely shuffling my feet up the hill after running less than 3 miles. I should be proud of the effort I put in despite the time and pace I ran it in. I crushed those hills, and I wish I could go to Flushing Meadows and run that 5K over again and compare my time. Maybe sometime this week I'll run the 5K I mapped out in my neighborhood and see what time I do it in.
If anything, this experience has shown me how I want to run over the next few months. Because I have been running 4 miles 3 or 4 days a week for the past couple of weeks, I was thinking I could upgrade to a 4 mile race over the summer. But after today I realized: what's the rush? Why should I continue to push myself to run further and further races, it's not like once I hit a certain age I won't be able to run anymore. And it's not like I'm going to run a marathon and stop running entirely, but I want my journey to that marathon to be a long and meaningful one. This is why I didn't want to do Chicago in the fall. I'm in no rush and in no way ready to run a marathon in October. I know that if I really wanted to, I could, but why would I push myself to do it when my heart and my body aren't ready or willing to? I want to keep running 5Ks into the fall and get my time below 30 minutes. Once I reach that goal, then I'll worry about running longer races. It doesn't matter if I run a 5K or a marathon, I'm still raising money for Endure to Cure, spreading the message, and becoming a stronger person.
My next 5K probably won't be until August. I'll be playing ultimate frisbee every weekend and working two jobs during the week, so I don't know what my training is going to look like. However, I know it is not going to stop, and I know that when I run that 5K in August I will do it in under 30 minutes, hills or no hills.
Oh and at least I can relish in one win today: I won my week's matchup in fantasy baseball. Little victories.