As I stood at the race start yesterday I spied a cool shirt just up ahead.
Runners are a weird, creative lot and one of the fun things about racing is there are a lot of funny shirts on display. This one wasn't so much funny, as it was spot on:
"Running is a privilege. Every step is a gift."
As I waited to start my first race of 2012, I knew that was very, very true.
In November 2011, I hurt my back and, subsequently my right gluteus medius, which forced me to take two months off running (December 2011 and January 2012).
I started easing back in on Feb. 2, unsure how - or if - my back and glute would hold up. I stated a run-walk rehab regimen, which eventually led me to a 4-mile run last Sunday. I, thankfully, could run again.
I was dying to run the Celtic 5K this year because this very race last year was my first. I should not have run that race last year. I knew it was a bad idea at the time, but I did it anyway because, well, I was stupid.
However, that inauspicious start led to a nice running season in 2011, in which I completed 10 more races. I trained a lot. I ran a lot. I learned a lot. But what I learned most of all was I really loved racing.
Training? A necessary evil. It's boring. You get up at the crack of dawn to run around in the dark, cold, hot or wet. The only one pushing you is you, and that gets old quickly.
However, racing is the payoff. A fun day of excitement and camaraderie. You get a cool shirt. You get a bagel and banana (you can have mine, I don't like them). And all the bottled water you can drink. My personal record: 8 bottles.
Anyway, racing is great because it's exciting and it's a goal. To me, running without racing is like driving around in your car with no destination. Yawn.
So yesterday I was thrilled to be back where I began. Last fall, before I got hurt, I was so excited for this race because I knew I could PR it because it's flat and fast. I knew a PR wasn't in the cards yesterday, I just wanted to run, feel good and enjoy the fact I was back one year later, still running.
I met up with my domestic running life partner, Sandy, who has turned into an impressive runner herself. We've been friends for 15 years now (wow) and last year we both took up running.
I love racing with her (or, behind her as she's faster than me) because it's so much fun to share the excitement and accomplishment with a friend, especially a good one. There's always someone to take your picture, hold your place in the port-a-potty line and watch your stuff.
It was beautifully sunny yesterday, but windy, which made it feel a lot colder than the 42 degrees it was. Before I left the house, I needed to grab a sweatshirt or something to keep me warm before the race. But it had to be outwear I didn't care about, as I was leaving it at the start, and something nice would surely disappear before I came back in.
I grabbed the only old thing I could find, a fleece. Size: Men's XL. Seriously, it was like wearing a Snuggie, but it did its job. As Sandy noted: "We could both fit in there."
Warm in my fleece tent, we meandered around, of course hit the porta-a-potties and took pictures. We joke we only run so we can put stuff up on Facebook, and it's more true than not.
Soon it was time to line up, Sandy headed for the 10-minute milers, I went back with the 12s, as I was still about 2 minutes off my year-end pace of 2011.
It was a big race, around 2,000 runners and soon we were off. The air horn sounded and everyone began "Woooooo!"ing and shuffling toward the start line. There was a lot of traffic in the first half-mile, as expected, and I went out too fast. Adrenaline got the best of me. But I relaxed, settled in and listened to my Celtic playlist (see the bottom of this post).
There was no marker or time clock at 1 mile or the turnaround, but by 2 miles there was the time: 21 and some change. Not bad. I had avoided looking at my Garmin the whole race as I was determined to just enjoy the experience and not try anything stupid.
We hit the 3-mile mark and I could see the finish line in the distance. The gun time was nearly 29 minutes, not bad again, I thought.
I sprinted the final tenth and crossed the line at 31:47, for a 10-and-some-change pace. I was really happy with the time, all things considered. Last year I finished the race in 47 minutes.
I headed for the water table and soon spotted Sandy, who did PR, coming in at 28 and some change. We drank water, ate a piece of pizza (seriously, I need to eat more pizza) and gloried in our overall awesomeness. Because if there's one thing runners love, it's talking about running. Preferably with other runners.
It had been quite a running year and, hopefully, the best is yet to come.
The Celtic 5K Playlist
Didn't need the last song. Woo!