In 2001, I was in my mid-30s and still felt as if exercise was what other people did to stay in shape. I was active, played sports, thin, so a gym membership was a waste of my time and money. A bunch of co-workers had signed up for a 5K through downtown Boston and I signed up with them, not having run pretty much ever, certainly not since my teens. The gun went off and I was swept along by the pack, running fast to keep up with my friends, and enjoying passing other runners by the dozen.
Then we hit mile marker one.
Lungs searing, legs burning, mind reeling. “What the hell was I thinking?” The second mile was spent mostly walking, being passed by the dozens. The last stretch was a plodding trot, some series of muscles in my lower legs reminding me of my hubris with every step. I don’t remember my time; it was under 40:00, but not by any significant amount.
Fast forward. I’m in my mid-40s, still don’t love exercise, and belong to a gym that automatically takes money out of my bank account so I can have the pleasure of carrying around their membership tag on my keychain. I’m still fairly active, still play sports, still mostly thin. But this time, I’ve been running.
I’ve got my 5K loop through the neighborhood and have built up to a point where I can complete it non-stop. Trust me, that’s a big accomplishment, as previous couch to 5K attempts have always resulted in having to walk for stretches of the distance. On Tuesday, I decide to give the actual race course a try. I’m off, the body’s not feeling it, and I make it about two miles before deciding to dial it down and walk home.
Here’s my deal with running: breathing. I’ve never been a great breather, always a much stronger exhaler than in. And we all know the in is much more important. I actually have to concentrate on my breath while trying to run, consciously sucking in oxygen through my mouth or nose. If I can’t get my breathing down, I have a bad run, just like on Tuesday. So I’m a bit concerned how I’ll do in the race.
Sunday dawns and our son, who was planning to do the one-mile fun run, decides he wants to go for the 5K. Lisa says she’ll run too and will keep an eye on him; I can run the pace I want. Cool, the family that 5Ks together and all that … When we arrive at the start we bump into friends who are also running, including a fellow 4th grader. It’s a friendly, family-oriented affair with about 250 lined up to start.
The gun goes off and our family gets swept along. The son and I push ahead to find a place in the pack at the pace we want. He’s pushing forward and I tell him to go, run the race he wants, I’m gonna keep the pace that I’m at. People behind are passing me, but I’ve found my rhythm and, for one of the first times I can remember, breathing isn’t an issue. Plus, I’m not having to play the mental game of “just make it to the next cross street.” I’m out for a run, no more, no less.
I had two goals for the race. First, run the whole course, no walking. Second, sub-35:00, which was about how long it was taking me around my neighborhood. Both were met, and somehow I finished with a time of 31:12 (just a tick higher than 10:00 per mile pace). I was stunned. Then I realized that in a road race you find the pace that’s comfortable for you and use the runners near you going at the same speed to pull you along.
I can’t wait to do another 5K! (Wait, was that me that just typed that?) The 10-year-old blazed home in 28:50, having zero training under his belt. Ah, youth. I think he can trim a couple minutes off that without much effort. Lisa? She chugga-chuggas in at 38:31, an old knee injury slowing her down. But she also went the distance without walking, and she’s only been doing two-mile loops, so she’s pleased as well.
Me? I’m now thinking I need a new pair of running shoes to replace my old plodders. I want to hit that neighborhood loop again with a fresh perspective. Just go for a run instead of training for a race. And I want to get sub-30:00. Yes, I’m suddenly greedy. It means lowering my pace by 25 seconds a mile. But it’s good to have goals.
It’s two weeks until this race. You finish at the 50 yard line at Gillette Stadium having run through the inflatable Patriots helmet. Then there’s fireworks. On your mark … get set …
Previously on The Reluctant Hubby: “Good News, Bad News“