I DID IT!
For four months I trained with the goal of being able to complete a 5k race. It wasn't easy after week four but I'm proud that I kept with it. Everything leading up to the race was monumental because I cannot think of a time that I sat down and dedicated myself from start to finish to completing a project outside of school assignments and video games. In all honesty, right now I'm just starting to realize the impact of this race. My entire life has been filled with barriers that were mostly set by myself and my perceptions of what I cannot do. I try things outside of my natural strengths and if I don't do well I chalk it up to not being something I would every be good at. This is a big contributor to my lack of physical fitness growing up. Completing a 5k race takes all of those mental blocks and throws them out of the window!
Running is difficult. It sucks. And I've come to terms with that. What I've learned is that to run successfully, I have to turn off the brain. Focusing on the here and now leads me to thoughts of stopping. It's a mental game because when I'm breathing hard and my muscles burn, my brain is busy sending all sorts of tingles to my feelings of panic. I feel like I'm going to give out at any given second and die from exhaustion. BEYOND that initial picture this piece of my brain is painting, I look at how I'm doing and I'm perfectly fine. Yes my legs are tired. Yes my breathing is harder than at a normal pace. BUT I AM DOING ALRIGHT. My legs are strong and not shaking. My breathing isn't rapid or extremely labored. Yet when I'm pushing myself my brain goes right to that area and sets up shop. Over the past sixteen weeks I've learned how to deal with these issues and this opens the door for me to push myself harder than I've ever pushed myself before.
The race kicked off at 7:45am so I was up at 5 taking another shower after eating my bowl of bran flakes with almond milk. I woke up about 15 minutes before the alarm went off, as well as every two hours or so from my bed time at ten that night before. I bought a compression shirt and new shorts to give me a nice feeling about running, and I donned my Mutha Huggas! tank top to rep my dodgeball team out on the streets of LA. Because of potential traffic and parking concerns, Jess and I agreed to meet at the bus stop at 6:00 to catch the Metro down to the starting line. We arrive surprisingly early and pick up our bibs then try out all the free samples being distributed by the various sponsors and health/energy food vendors. The next half hour is where I both psyched myself up and psyched myself out. I was anxious to get out there and run this but at the same time what if I absolutely bomb this? I had never ran the full 3.1 miles before so even though I set my time at 50 minutes, what if I'm not able to finish? Lots of questions popped into my head debating if I had made a huge mistake. My brain is programmed to do this to protect me from embarrassing myself and also keeping myself in the same ruts. So I took all those questions and discredited them then put them into the back of my mind.
We head towards the crowd congregating at the starting area and listen to the announcer as he audibly maps out the route for the runners. Five seconds after he did that I forgot. Meh. If anything I can follow the runners and the crowds (because I was then confident that I wouldn't be last place overall for the race). One concern was he said something about "uphill"... Inclines are the death of me but I'm not going to concern myself with that now. When it comes I'll tackle it. Someone sings the national anthem and then after we do group stretches the gun shoots off and we begin. I will say it is very weird running without an Mp3 player. I almost meditate while running. Once I hit my rhythm I either listen deeply to the music or retreat in my head and think about future plans or ideas to pass the time and not think about the heavy breathing and muscle panic. Right past the start line the road curves left and BOOM. Hill.
But I give it the ole college try! Going up the first slope and my left calf muscle is tightening up and threatening to cramp. Already I'm feeling my body fight this race but I'm determined to win. I make it to the top of the hill and the path curves.... INTO ANOTHER SLIGHT HILL... People around me are walking and, in all honesty, if Jess wasn't there to push me along then I would have too. Jess kept chiding me on to push harder and keep going. She told me a quote she read that said "Push yourself to the absolute limit that your body can go... Then take another step." So I did. And I took another step after that. And another after that. Then you know what happened? I survived! My running pace uphill was only a little bit better than most of the peoples' walking paces, but whatever. I'm still putting forth the maximum effort so I'm proud of myself. The next turn was a level ground so I picked up my pace a little bit to catch up with Jess and evened out my breathing. The calf muscle had worked itself out so I'm in the clear! The next turn was the downward part- aka the fun part! We clear that area and turn to the left and there's a water table Oh joy! Just what I needed! The table also signified that I survived my first mile!
After tossing the water cup in the trash (all in stride) we keep truckin along. The next turn took us downhill to the original elevation of the starting line. As we approach we can hear cheering and I'm thinking "Awesome! The crowd is really into this!" Actually they were cheering the people FINISHING THE DAMN RACE. Welp. One day I'll be at that level. The road turns away from the finish line and I can see the flashing stop lights at every intersection from where I was down to the turnaround area. At this point I'm feeling pretty well spent. We're about twenty minutes in and there are groups of people stretched out in front of us and I've still managed to keep within the middle of the pack without people passing me. The road was split in half and there were more and more people coming back the opposite way towards the finish line. I'm feeling motivated but also frustrated that so many people are doing better than I am. Once again, my legs are feeling like useless masses of goo supported by stick-like boney things. I want to get better at this and my natural inclination is to have it now, not later. I snap back to reality and Jess is a few lengths in front of me. My first thought was anger, that she was just going to leave me, but I realized quickly that she was only encouraging me to pick up the pace a little bit. I took a deep breath and realized that I wasn't really all that bad off and did just that to catch up and then match her speed. As we're going through the streets of downtown Los Angeles she was pointing out places she'd been and places she'd heard about. I really wanted to converse back but all I could manage were single word responses and grunts. FINALLY we hit the two mile mark after what seemed like an eternity. I slowed my pace to a power walk to grab my water and drink it. Then I grabbed my second one and we were off to the races again!
This last bit of race I was feeling pretty exhausted. Of all places on my body I was most sore in my shoulders. Go figure. Jess was a little bit ahead of me whistling. I catch up to her after the turnaround and at this point it's just an all out mental game to get these last ten or so blocks to the finish line. I can see it in the distance. It looks like an old Nintendo sports game where all of the crowd is just different colored shirts with peach circles for heads. Ugh. I really want to walk at this point. Jess would step in when she saw me contemplating with more encouragement and we kept on. At the eighth block I used my fingers to count down the blocks until the finish line. Rather than fists or open palms when I ran, I held up four fingers on each hand. Every block I went I would put a finger down. People going the other way would shout words of encouragement to the runners approaching the finish line slowly but surely. It would take a few seconds to sink in that they would be talking to me, and I appreciated the help. I wish I would have been aware of it real time cause I would have responded with smiles and happiness. Maybe even a grunt or single word response to them too! Alas, at that time I was deep in my own head conjuring up every happy thought/encouraging image I could and valiantly vanquishing the dragons of negativity with my sword of truth and shield of justice. So I wouldn't respond in time to the yay-sayers. Soon enough, with a block and a half left to go I see the sign that says "3 miles". I get a little spark of energy and I'm fully back and pushing to finish strong. My legs aren't dead but they are slow to respond to my commands. I can see everyone clearly on the sidelines cheering and the people lined up at the start line for the 10k race (a bunch of weirdos if you ask me) getting ready to take off. Right past the finish line I see something that blows my mind. The race clock is at 41:45. So I have a chance to finish the race in a faster time than I had running 2.6 miles?!? HECK YEAH! That gives me my final burst and I cross the finish lines at 42 minutes flat! Beating my expected time by 8 minutes and nearly eclipsing my previous best at a shorter distance!
After eating some oranges and bananas along with swigs of water and gatorade, we collect our medals and trucker hats and I get a second to reflect on what I just accomplished. Adrenaline was coursing through my body and I was feeling like I could get out there and do it again! (Sitting on the bus during the ride home alleviated that foolish thought.) It took less than a minute to catch my breath and regulate my heart rate. While we were in line to collect our belongings they were posting times and rankings. We snuck over and took a peek at the standings. I finished SECOND TO LAST FOR MY AGE GROUP!!! In other words, I BEAT SOMEONE! I pulled up the site today and checked the final results (Full and Group) and I finished 83rd out of 95 runners in my age group! Overall I was 1,189th out of 1,662 runners. So today I had a latent celebration of my activating BEAST MODE last Thursday. Like I said, this was a great moment in my life that I will never forget!
In conclusion, this was an awesome experience. If you take my time and distance then I ran over 4 MPH overall for the entire race! Last summer I was lucky if I could do 2.5 MPH without being completely wasted. I feel incredible about how far I came and I'm extremely excited to see where this takes me next. Now that 2013 is coming to a close I can proudly say that I have accomplished my goal from when I set out. For next year I'd like to run at a minimum four 5k races. And if all goes well then next Thanksgiving I'd like to try the 10k. It's all very possible, I've just gotta keep dedicating myself and the results will continue to roll in. This whole experience I'm going to save in my brain's favorite folder for easy access to motivation and excitement. I think I've written enough for you all. The juices have been flowing for me recently and I've got a few more things I'd like to write about over the next week or so, so stay tuned! Have a happy Sunday evening and I'll see ya around!
Until the next episode.