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Enjoying myself running July 5, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Running.

Yesterday was the Firecracker Run. It was hot – 77 degrees and humid at the 7:30 a.m. start – but I successfully made my way through the 6.2 miles of the 10K course in one hours, 23 minutes and 5 seconds. I was, and still am, happy with that.

This was a different race for me than the one in 2005. Oh, the course was exactly the same. But, even though I drove along the course on Friday after picking up my race packet, it was much tougher than I remembered from 2005. Hotter, too, than before. Which made me slower. And that was fine.

I loved the beginning of the race. As I was leaving my car and walking over to the starting area, I realized how great races are. There’s energy and excitement in the air, plus a rush of adrenaline and anticipation that is impossible to replicate on a normal running day. Too, there’s the annoyance of running a race – the crush of people at the starting line, the having to spend several blocks or more weaving your way around the people who are walking yet still start ahead of runners. I kept my uncle Jim’s race advice in mind: don’t start out too fast. (I didn’t.)

Most of the local races feature musicians throughout the course. There was a gospel choir singing several blocks after the starting line yesterday – I’d walked past several of them warming up on my way to the starting line. I’m not sure if they’re the same gospel choir that sings during the QC Marathon each year (I’ve done the 5K quite a few times), but they had the same exuberance that’s such a boost. They need to be singing at mile 5 or so instead! There was a barbershop chorus singing “God Bless America” right at the 1 mile mark. Throughout the rest of the course were several rock bands, the drum line of a high school marching band, a beauty pageant queen doing karaoke, a father and son banjo and saxophone combo (I went to high school with the sax player) and a bagpiper who was likely just standing in his driveway but was dressed up in a kilt. The music was appreciated. I also had my own, in the form of a race playlist I’d created on my iPod that mostly consisted of “Glee” soundtrack songs since they’ve been motivating to me while running these past four months.

About a mile and a half into the race, the 5K course continues on straight ahead while the 10K course turns – and heads straight up a giant hill next to a cemetery. Five years ago, I ran up the hill. Yesterday, I ran about five steps, saw everyone in front of me was walking and thought that seemed like a much better option. Competitive as I am, I decided to walk fast and see if I could catch the people ahead of me. The man directly in front of me was also taking the “walk fast” approach – I never did see him again once he reached the top and took off running. I did catch up with a woman just before the top of the hill and started a conversation with her. We talked about the heat, the hill, the race thus far and what was still ahead. She said she was glad for the hills, since she was going to use those as walking breaks, then try to run the rest as best she could. After we reached the top of the hill, we started running. Since I am not fast, I was admittedly happy to be faster than she was. And that was the last time I was with another runner for the rest of the race.

Six or eight blocks after that, my Mom and aunts were in a Walgreens parking lot. It was a nice boost to see them, and especially nice to get the bottle of water they had. Five years ago, there hadn’t been enough water stops in that race. For the first half of the 10K course, that was the case again – thankfully I’d asked them to have water in case I needed it. (I did.)

And from there the race was just about the journey. As expected, I thought a lot about the Twitter conversations and advice I wrote about the other day, specifically to “take the time to enjoy yourself running.” I also thought a lot about the many people who sent me messages Saturday on Twitter, as another pal had tweeted that Cardinals fans should wish me well in the race. (Twitter really is an amazing thing, the way it can connect people from all over who – in this case – are united by their love of the Cardinals. I have met exactly one of these Cards fans in person before, and that was a week ago in Kansas City. Yet I’ve gotten to know so many of these people and about their lives beyond our team, and they’ve obviously gotten to know me as well.) Yes, I did think about Chris Carpenter. But I was thinking more about his many injuries, specifically how hard and frustrating it must have been for him to deal with not being able to do physically what that intense focus of his surely wanted to do mentally. And I was thinking about this while I was telling myself that if I ran to that next light post, then I could walk … and suddenly found myself walking right away. Oh well. “It’s YOUR race.”

When I reached that downhill portion that was such an exhilaration in 2005, I realized a moment like that can only happen once. Yes, I am proud of myself for training to and then running this race. It truly is an accomplishment. But it’s not like the first time. This time it wasn’t going from nothing – from never running until I was 36 years old and lost 65 pounds – to running a 10K. It was going from not running regularly because of sore knees, not running consistently because of plantar fasciitis, not running all the time because of this or that, to getting back to it and sticking with it and building up stamina. A proud moment to do this again, absolutely. Just not the same.

I spent the last several blocks of the race trying to see if I could catch the girl in front of me. She’d consistently been about a block or so in front of me once I’d reached the top of the hill. Between miles four and five – the toughest part of the race for me – I did get closer than the block, but never close enough to catch up to her. The woman I’d talked with going up the hill finished about a block behind me, her husband (I’m assuming, since she’d talked about him) joining her for the last several blocks. He’d already run either the 5K or 10K. My family – Mom and three aunts – were at the end cheering for me and that was terrific. Their support means a lot.

And then I crossed the finish line, to the congratulations of the volunteers there. The biggest accomplishment wasn’t finishing, or finding out I was 532nd overall in the race. It was in running the race itself, and enjoying myself in the process.


Ready to race July 3, 2010

Posted by Christine Coleman in Exercise, Running.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged here, obviously. My baseball blogging at Cardinal Diamond Diaries and Baseball Digest has kept me both busy and writing frequently (and that was my whole point of this blog anyway). Running also has kept me busy. Steadily I’ve been increasing my distance, plus I started running on the hills in my neighborhood to get ready for the races this month – and, now, tomorrow is my first test. It’s the Firecracker Run.

This is only my second time doing a 10K, and the last time was this same race five years ago. The Firecracker Run is a pretty small race with the 5K version is by far the more popular of the two. So five years ago, I spent most of my time running all alone once I reached the top of the hill that the 10K participants run up as soon as they split off from the 5K course. That meant that the spectators who cheered along the course (of which there were not many) were literally rooting for me. I was the only one there at the moment. So I did the polite thing: I told them I appreciated it. And I did. I was especially grateful for the couple who had a cooler with them and gave me a bottle of water – this race course unfortunately doesn’t have as many water stops as others.

At one point, an older woman drew up even with me. I was walking a bit at this point, while she was jogging along. We talked for a few moments – no recollection about what now, other than she said she would see me at the finish line. And she was the only person who passed me. I came close to passing both a young guy and young girl further along the course. The guy looked back, saw I was approaching and immediately started running again. (He’d been walking.) He no doubt would have been embarrassed had someone who likely was around his mom’s age passed him by.

There are two moments from this race I will never forget. The first was a downhill stretch toward the end of the race. It was easier, obviously, to run downhill but also exhilarating. The months I’d spent working toward running this race – like this year, diligently building up distance and stamina – had paid off and here I was, running a longer race than I’d ever run before. It was a feeling of accomplishment I’d never felt before, or since.

The other moment was as I was approaching the finish line. Even from a block or so away, I could see the older woman had finished and was waiting there for me. Since there obviously were so few participants, especially at this stage of the race, my name was announced as I reached the finish line. The woman gave me a hug and said, “We did it!” I don’t remember then if it brought tears to my eyes like it does now as I write this, but it was special.

There’s no way of knowing what tomorrow will be like. My emotions are up and down, thinking that I’ve done all I can (which I have, at this stage) and feeling good about that, then feeling scared that I should have done more in the past weeks. Last week, one of my Twitter pals in New York City wrote about her anxiety as she approached a five-mile run Saturday. And tomorrow I need to remember the advice I gave her: “You can’t go into the race nervous. You have to feel good and know that you will just do the best you can. There’s no rule on how much you should or can walk – just do what you have to do. Some days, even some race days, are tougher than others. And it’s so much a mind game too, as you know. So just feel good about what you’ve accomplished to get to this stage and go out and kick ass!”

We caught up again last Sunday, and she was proud of how she’d done in her race. It meant a lot to me that she said, “Your words were really in my head.” And now I need to remember the words she told me the other day when I expressed my own anxiety leading up to tomorrow: “It’s YOUR race. Run it at whatever pace you see fit. You will do great. Take the time to enjoy yourself running. Enjoy the moment. Run your race.”

So I will be remembering her words plus my own, and likely thinking of Chris Carpenter and his own determination and tenacity during the race as well. (Some things are just always on my mind when running!) Yet, really, it’s up to me – and I can only do what I can do. That’s something I realized again when running on Thursday, as a younger and fitter woman zipped past me. Yes, I’m five years older and 10 pounds heavier than last time I did this race, but I’m also five years wiser and know myself and my own capabilities better than I did.

There’s one last thing I need to keep in mind tomorrow: my horoscope for today. “The worry that has been bothering you a few days ago has been replaced with a confidence that in this case, as in the ones that came before, there will be a positive outcome. Fate is smiling.”

So, I’m ready to race. And I’ll let you know how it goes.