96th Place

So, I ran my very first 5K on Saturday, June 15.

As of 7 weeks ago I had never run for sport before. In fact, the last time I have ever laced up was back in High School – where I failed the running portion of PhyEd by completing a mile in 16 minutes.

At the risk of dating myself: that was more than 20 years ago.

Four years ago I joined a health club where I would swim about three times per week. Swimming is my absolute favorite way to stay in shape; but gym memberships are expensive – so I let that drop after only a year.

Since then I hadn’t really done all that much to stay active.

Two years ago a friend recommended that I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Naturally, I was a bit hesitant to read anything on this topic due to my past experiences with running, but he convinced me it was worth my time – whether I enjoyed running or not.

He was right.

The book is quite excellent. The entire conceit of the book is that we’ve somehow become accustomed to the belief that heel-strike running is correct. Furthermore, shoe companies have designed footwear that minimizes the damage done to our bodies when using this method of running. The author suggests a different method: the forefoot strike – which happens to be favored by barefoot and minimalist runners around the world. Most notably, the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon who run hundreds of miles each week either barefoot or in handmade sandals. Interestingly, the Tarahumara (so named by the Spanish sometime around 1500 AD) refer to themselves in their native tongue as Rarámuri, or “the running people”.

It is not my intention to turn this blog entry into a book review but I would highly recommend Born to Run. It’s literally what piqued my interest in the sport.

Last November I purchased my first running shoes; a pair of light grey and red Vibram FiveFinger Bikilas. While purchasing running shoes in the earliest months of Minnesota winter is easy on the wallet (there are some seriously great sales to be found) it’s a real drag when you have to wait five months before you can hit the pavement.

In April of this year I downloaded a C25K app for my iPhone and began training.

I had my doubts (after all, I had never been able to run more than a quarter mile before becoming completely exhausted)… but by May I was progressing through the program well enough that I decided to sign up for my first 5K.

Then my daughter asked if she could run the 5K with me.

At first I was very hesitant. I mean, I had been training for a whole month! Surely, the kid would just slow me down.

My wife talked some sense into me, I relented, and my daughter and I began training together. Coincidentally, she never slowed me down. Quite the opposite! More often than not I was concerned that I was holding her back; as she constantly looked like she could run laps around me!

With our training miles increasing, and our miles per minute decreasing, we set a personal goal of completing the 5K in 30 minutes (which meant sustaining slightly less than a ten-minute mile). With our steady progress we were excitedly progressing toward that goal. A half hour of running at a steady pace was no longer out of the question. But how fast of a pace could we maintain?

Just over two weeks before the event I took off by myself one rainy afternoon with the sole purpose of breaking the ten-minute barrier.

I wish I had a snapshot of the expression on my face when the MapMyRun app announced that my split pace for my second mile was 9:48 seconds. I remember pumping my fists in the air and pushing on toward home. I’d done it and I was proud. There was not only a keen sense of accomplishment but also a feeling of empowerment; knowing that we still had two weeks of training left to improve.

However, I’m glad no snapshot exists of my blank expression upon witnessing my badly swollen right ankle when I got home. Apparently I had overdone it and would now pay the price. The question, of course, what was the cost?

The next morning I could barely walk up the stairs. Pressing the gas pedal in my car and pivoting on my right foot was sheer agony. Clearly, I had done something wrong.

Online research and advice from friends was all the same: stay off it for at least two weeks. No running.

I was crushed. How could I compete in the event with my daughter if I couldn’t run?

Against the recent advice I continued to jog twice each week; albeit at a much slower pace – and for nowhere near the same distance. Our time quickly increased up past a 13 minute mile. Knowing our 30 minute goal was no longer attainable we reset our new goal for the much more realistic 36 to 38 minute completion time.

Race day arrived. We woke up early, grabbed a light and healthy (and fibrous) breakfast and walked downtown register. After getting our bibs, our chipped timers, and dousing ourselves from head-to-toe in mosquito repellent we lined up at the starting line.

I’m happy to report we ran for all but two minutes. After completing the second mile, as we approached a healthy looking hill, I glanced over at my daughter who was now looking about as tired as I felt. We had already briefly discussed walking a small stretch of the course before we set out; so the approaching incline (appearing all the more daunting as we approached) appeared to be our best option for a short walk. I optioned this to her and she readily agreed. At the top of the hill we took off again – not stopping until we had crossed the finish line.

They say that running with a group can encourage you to go faster than you originally thought you could; whether you realize it or not. This is my only explanation for finishing my first 5K in 35:15.

Yes, that time is 5 minutes slower than my original goal (pre-ankle injury) but it’s also 2 minutes faster than my adjusted goal.

My daughter and I were thrilled – and still are.

I didn’t train for and run this 5K to win. I did it to prove to myself I could do it. I did it to get up off my ever-widening butt and do something about staying healthy. I did it to feel good about myself – and, to that end, I achieved my goal.

A lot of family, friends and acquaintances knew I would be running this 5K. Many were very supportive; which I appreciate immensely. Something I found to be very frustrating and – to be completely honest – disheartening were the number of people who, after hearing our finishing time, treated the entire event with an air of insignificance. Many conversations would end with the person claiming that what we did was “easy” or “no big deal”.

Naturally, the child in me wanted to jump up and demand, “Yeah?! If it’s so easy why didn’t I see you out there?

Running 3 miles and 188 yards in 35 minutes may not be an impressive time… but, let me assure you, it wasn’t easy. My daughter and I made a lot of progress in the eight weeks that lead up to June 15. Both physically and emotionally. We had a lot of quality father-daughter time that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Placing 96 and 97 may be a long way from first… but it’s also a far cry from not running at all.

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