Thursday, October 2, 2014

Finishing a 5K May Be Survival as Much as Training

A few weeks ago I ran my first, and what could be my only, 5K race.

Well, I walked fast, anyway. Fast enough to win my age category and beat a lot of people younger than me who were making a more leisurely stroll and sometimes trying hard as well.

I can walk the socks off of a lot of people, thanks to many repeat outings with my dogs and the dogs who stay with me. We can manage a 4 mph clip for a long distance with big dogs or meander slowly with my house dogs. A steep grade isn't killer to me -- I've come up the hill at the end of my road more times than I can count. Rough terrain, well that's a quick trip to the river.

Our 5K turned out to be a trail run, for which I was ideally suited, even without extra training.

Still, I had hoped to train more, to go faster, to do more than run down hills and through straight stretches and manage not to have to stop when it came to a steep uphill grade.

I'm not sure what made me want to compete. Not really. It wasn't like it was on my bucket list or anything, but I decided when I heard about it that I would do it. Not only complete the course and get the t-shirt, but pay the extra $10 to be timed. If I hadn't been being timed, I know there were points in the competition that I would have quit -- when I could see the last link of the road leading out, but we were directed straight up a hill through the woods; when I was jogging on a flat stretch through a field but felt like stopping and throwing up; when the same child passed me for the fourth time (I eventually left her behind).

Thinking about it, it may be that I wanted to put more than the starting line (and that recurring child) behind me.

It was a mental barrier as much as a physical one. I was never the fit kid, the athletic kid, the runner. At least partially because I was never allowed to be. I won my first bicycle selling magazine subscriptions when I was in middle school (my brother and I teamed up and won back to back years, bringing home two 10-speeds). I always wanted to skate, but finally bought my first pair at Goodwill sometime in my 30s and still don't really skate, although I often carry my in-line pair in my trunk in case I have time and a level spot to play around. I wasn't allowed to run or climb trees because I might fall and get hurt, and my husband is frequently amused nowadays (and probably downright horrified) at finding me up a tree with a chainsaw, because I by gosh can.

I'll forever be haunted by the image of our physical fitness tests in elementary school. We had to do situps, push ups, run a 50-yard dash and a 600-yard walk-run. I'd be sloughing along in the back with the heavy kids, hating myself as I watched the others sprinting for the finish line.

While the every child gets a trophy mentality is surely wrong, this early exercise in self hate was just as bad. There was no effort between times to help us train, just a twice a year measuring of how bad or good we were. I was always bad -- weak, slow and unfit.

No one would say those things about me now.

Daily yoga, PiYo several times a week, two or three Zumba classes a week, push mowing the yard (no self-propelled mower for me), yard work, and lots of walking and hiking have over the last decade changed me tremendously. I'm pretty sure I'd fare better on most of those old tests than the fit kids I always envied would today.

Still, I don't consider myself a runner and probably never will, largely because the roads near my house are pretty much uphill or down and I don't have enough daylight hours to go somewhere else most days. So completing a running challenge was something some inner part of me just needed to do.

Starting out with the serious runners disappearing ahead, it seemed like a challenge that was going to be too much for me. Repeatedly swapping places with the little girl and her mom was another frustration.

But the 5K turned out to be a lot like life. Some of the runners lost all they had early, like the fit kids I went to school with who are now heavy and out of shape because they peaked in high school and quit caring or trying. Some were flat track runners who didn't have the stamina to tackle some of the hills, like people who cannot handle the hard things life tends to throw at us. Some were trying to change who they have been and were, in a lot of ways like me in that they were running to get away from old fitness habits or old self images, with varying degrees of success.

They fed us after the run and the girl across the table from me said she had started training earlier in the year for an upcoming race. She talked about her weight loss and goals and her frustration at being unable to catch me when I passed her about halfway through the race. She was young and knew she had grown too heavy and complacent with her lot in life.

I wanted to tell her she could change and keep changing, not to let the things life throws at her sideline her. I wanted to tell her you really cannot train for some things, that you just have to learn to keep moving and not quit, to not slow down too much. But I knew I would have been speaking from a place she couldn't understand. So I told her she was tough to catch and that she'd be better on the back end in the future if she hung in there, which was true.

Then I collected my medal with a smile and a quiet inside nod to my younger self.

You can run the race now, I said. You've gotten through everything else. Just keep on going.


  1. Very insightful. I was struck by the thought: “There was no effort between times to help us train, just a twice a year measuring of how bad or good we were.” My school gym experience exactly - and what a way to ruin a kid's confidence!

    1. I don't know whether to be glad I'm not the only one, or sorry you shared the same experience. Nothing between fall and spring had anything to do with what they tested us on. It would be like giving an end of year exam on a subject that wasn't taught. I grew up thinking I couldn't do anything physical, thanks to those tests.

  2. Ditto that gym experience... Thanks for inspiring us all, Angela! Hang that medal proudly, and remember that though there are many thing s we can't train for in life, what training we do have is always a valuable resource to help us grow... You rock! Thanks for your courage to keep so many levels...

    1. I've missed blogging. I think I'm back. If I don't really have the breakdown that haunts me. Although, I'm not sure that would be a completely bad thing, except I don't know who would do all the crap I do every day if I did. Should I be worried if a breakdown sounds appealing? It would be one way to get a few days off. Thanks for inspiring me Anna, even if I have slipped in the last month.