When we signed up to run our first 5k 3 weeks ago, I made 4 goals for myself (in no particular order):
- Pacing myself (well enough not to have to stop to walk because I pooped myself out too early)
- Not finishing in last place
- Finishing under 30 minutes
- Having fun
Eric’s goals included:
- Not being the last male to finish
- Beating 27 minutes
- Having fun
We signed up on October 23rd to run in the BarefootFunRun on November 13th (sponsored by TravelCountry, benefiting MD Anderson Cancer Center, Orlando), leaving us 3 weeks to prepare after taking 3 weeks off during our wedding/honeymoon (miles of walking, adventure courses, and rappelling don’t count). Eric began running in April after about 12 years off from cross-country running and some serious lazy time. I began running in August after about 10 years off from recreational running and 3 knee surgeries. This time around, we started running in Vibram FiveFingers, initially in an attempt to relieve shin splints in Eric and pounding in my knees, but we’ve grown very attached to our goofy foot shoes.
I have to admit – I was nervous. I’ve never run competitively and I didn’t know what to expect. We visited the park the night before the race to get a feel for the surroundings, but the course wasn’t marked yet. When we arrived at the race on Saturday morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find a smaller (and therefore less intimidating) group of people – about 130 registered, rather than thousands. We picked up our registration packets, including our running bibs (I was #568 and Eric was #592). We made our way to the 45 minute barefoot running clinic, led by Michael Sandler who wrote the aptly titled book Barefoot Running.
Everyone then made their way to the start line just minutes before the 9:15 AM start time. It looked like about 1/3 – 1/2 of 5k race participants were actually running barefoot. About 3/4 of the rest of us were in Vibrams, and the remaining few participants were in sneakers.
Since I have nothing to compare this race to, I’m told this was a very casual setup. Our start line was a volunteer holding a sign where we were supposed to begin, and we started running when someone yelled “Ready, Set, Go!”. The beginning of the race took us through a section of the parking lot, along a sidewalk, then onto a paved trail in the woods. We stayed on the paved trail until we came to a section where we were told to turn around, so we backtracked for a short period of time before going up a hill onto grass and continued behind four softball fields. The trail then took us down a dirt path onto a sandy trail that made two loops before continuing on to the finish line.
When we began the race, everyone took off and I was feeling a bit abandoned, but I was focused on pacing myself. Unfortunately, I had no pedometer and it turned out that there were no distance markers along the route, so I had no idea how I was doing throughout the race. I had my watch timing me, but that didn’t help much when there was no distance to compare to the time. So, as I focused on pacing myself, the hoard of people thinned out as we made our way onto the paved, wooded trail. I felt steady in my pace, although I became a little more discouraged every time someone passed me.
I knew the turn-around was coming up sometime in the near future when people started coming from the other direction, so I was looking forward to seeing Eric. He appeared to be in the top third based on when he passed me and he looked to be in good shape. When I finally went around the bend, I was a bit sad to see how few people were behind me. I just kept telling myself to keep my pace and trust that my body knew what it was doing from our practices. As I neared the hill leading up to the grassy softball fields, there was a slight turn of events. People had exhausted themselves at the beginning of the race. Some were slowing down, while others were stopping to walk, so I was finally able to pass people instead of being left behind.
As I was nearing the end of the grassy portion and heading toward the sandy trail, I started hearing cheers as the first people finished. I finally let myself look at the time on my watch (I didn’t want to psyche myself out by looking too early) and it was around 20 minutes. That gave me a slight indication as to how much run-time I had left based on the times I was finishing our practices, but I still had no distance gauge because of the lack of markers throughout the course. That was extremely frustrating. I was feeling good and felt like I could pick up my speed a bit and I knew I had approximately a mile left, give or take a few yards, but I was really wishing I had a better gauge other than what logic was telling me.
I made my way onto the sandy wooded trail, which was probably my favorite terrain to run on in vibrams out of the three trail sections (pavement, grass, packed sand). I made my way around a loop and followed the signs to go around the loop a second time. I knew I was nearing the end at that point, but I still had no distance gauge. I picked up my speed around the second loop, then continued along another section when the finish line just seemed to appear and I spotted Eric and my mom. I booked it once I saw the finish line and wished I had started a sprint earlier. I crossed the finish line and was so excited to finish that I finished that I forgot to stop my watch and look at my time. Eric reminded me about 10 seconds after I finished, but we still had to go back to the official timers to find out what my time actually was. I was pleasantly surprised to see 28:40 – almost 2 minutes faster than any practice time I’ve had over the past few months and our usual practice doesn’t include hills or multi-terrain.
Not only was my time faster than in practice, but I was comfortable. I wasn’t gasping to catch my breath, which immediately made me frustrated that I hadn’t increased my speed sooner. Nevertheless, I was completely comfortable with my time andI was particularly excited that I had met all four goals. 1) I maintained a steady pace throughout the course, 2) I didn’t finish in last place, 3) I finished further under 30 minutes than what I expected, and 4) I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Eric met his goals, as well. 1) He was far from the last male to finish, 2) He finished under 27 minutes – around 25:17, but we’re waiting for the official times to be posted to know the exact seconds, and 3) He had such a great experience that he’s now planning to do a 10k, half marathon, and marathon.
Once everyone finished, we gathered for the awards ceremony, the check presentation to MD Anderson, and Q&A with Michael Sandler, who had been running the 5k and chatting with groups of people as they ran. Finally, there was a book-signing, but since we didn’t have the book with us, we asked him to sign our bibs.