Two weekends ago I ran my first 5k road race. Ever … and at 46 no less. For most folks it is no big deal – a look at what Carly Z has done and my first little 5k seems meaningless. But for me it was a life-changing experience.
Why? Well, that requires a little history.
I was never ‘small’ or ‘thin’. Like my own kids I was always one of the tallest kids, and in spite of a life-long love of fruit and vegetables (also like my kids) I wouldn’t describe my eating habits growing up as balanced or portion-controlled (fortunately, NOT like my kids). As a result, when I was growing up my pants came from the ‘husky’ section at Sears.
When it came to sports I had talent- but running wasn’t it. It was a joke that I was fortunate I hit the ball as far as I did in baseball … or else I would never have gotten even a single. To put it another way, mother described me running the bases as looking like the way they did the motion in ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ … slow motion. Likewise, I remember in 5th or 6th grade having to run some distance timed for a state performance evaluation, and our gym teacher, who was a joker but very sarcastic, made a number of (in retrospect) rather rude comments about my speed and physical condition. Here is a picture of me when I was about 12.
The interesting thing is that I don’t look at that picture and see ‘fat kid’ in the same way I can walk into a school today and have that thought – I suppose that is how our sense of proportion (no pun intended) has changed through the decades.
But make no mistake, by the time I finished undergraduate school … I was huge by any metric. It was right after the crash of ’87, the ‘Massachusetts Miracle’ economy was fast becoming the ‘Massachusetts Mirage’ that help Dukakis lose the ’88 election, so I was having difficulty finding a job – which didn’t help the way I felt about myself … which in itself becomes a kind of vicious spiral.
For some reason I can’t really remember, in early 1989 I started jogging. At first I started doing it at night, but found that I was full from dinner and tired from the day (I was working a couple of part time retail jobs), so I switched to the morning. It wasn’t much – a mile or two at most and at a very slow pace – and honestly after a month I didn’t notice any difference, and no one knew but my family so I was about to give up. That same week someone from one of the part time jobs made a comment about noticing I had lost some weight and was looking good! It was incredibly motivating, and I kept up the effort. Within a couple of months I was finally employed in my field and was well on my way to being a normal sized person – and was still running 5 days a week.
Fast forward 23 years, and last fall I watched my brother complete the Wineglass Marathon and he challenged me to join him for 2012. Just before coming to Corning in 2008 my Thyroid had quit on me, and while I had a gym membership for a while and lost some of the associated Thyroid weight gain, I had somehow lost the gusto for running. I would run for a week or two, then quit for a month and repeat the cycle. Of course, those cycles have another side-effect for me: weight gain. But earlier this year I said ‘enough is enough’ and started to really push myself to get out almost every day.
But it was when my brother visited over Easter and we went for a run with him wearing his Garmin 305 that I came to a realization – I was running a shorter distance and at a slower pace than I had thought. I was simply going on time and feel, and was terribly wrong. I knew I was slow … but not THAT slow. And it was that vist that was the kick in the butt I needed.
So the next day I put my phone in my running jacket (it was still sub-freezing) and headed out with a plan to lengthen my run. Over the next few weeks I built up my mileage, and at the same time found out about the Komen 5K in our area and that someone from work was putting together a team. I talked to my wife and she encouraged me to try it – and she and the boys would walk in the 5K walk afterwards.
By the time the week of the 5K arrived, I was running close to 7 miles every morning, 6 days per week. I knew my pace was slow, but also that I was doing a ton of difficult hills. I ran a mostly flat 5.5 mile the day before and had a better pace, but nothing remarkable. But I was also terribly stressed, and I knew exactly why – it was the same reason I had previously altered my daily route or time to avoid walkers or runners in the morning (honestly not much of a problem at 4:30AM), and the same reason I hadn’t run a 5K or other race in the past 23 years: I was still seeing myself as ‘slow motion kid’, made a joke of by my own parents and the parents of other players, and laughed at by my gym teacher which only encouraged teasing from other kids.
I was still harboring the last demon of being the ‘fat kid’ in spite of spending the majority of the past quarter-century being within 20 pounds of my target weight.
On race day I was definitely stressed and nervous, and also had to stand around with my team mates (and nearly 3000 others) waiting to run. But once I started, suddenly the world melted away and I wasn’t running with anyone else or for anyone else – it was just me out there doing my best with something I have enjoyed for years. My time? 32:02, which is about 10:18 per mile – well below my target of breaking 12 minutes per mile!
But there were three way more important things I learned that day:
– There were a ton of people who finished in front of me.
– There were a ton of people who finished behind me.
– There was not a single person standing on the sidelines pointing at me and laughing about how slow I was.
When I finished the race I was elated – but I also felt like a weight had been lifted. I had vanquished a demon that had been holding me back for a very long time, allowing a memory to pass judgement on me and limit what I would try.
Since then I have been busy – last week I ran the ‘GlassFest 8k (5mi)’ in Corning and did a 10:16 pace on a very warm morning and just had a blast. The lack of stress meant I could just focus on the run. This weekend I ran another 5K, this one in support of a local Catholic school where a co-worker has her daughter attending pre-school. All i wanted to do was better my 32:02 … but instead I broke it wide open with a time of 29:46 – down to a 9:45 mile according to my nifty new Nike+ Sportswatch that I got to help me track and train … because I am running my first marathon at the end of September!
I really can’t remember what it was that pushed me into running nearly a quarter century ago – maybe I had read something about the efficiency in terms of weight loss. Whatever it was I am glad, even though I would never call myself a ‘runner’ and as Lisa tells me I would always be quick to put myself down about my speed. Sure I wish that I had vanquished this demon ages ago, but as I am finally getting my ‘post thyroid’ health under control it seems like the perfect time to enter a new phase: that of being a runner.
I am not the fastest, nor am I the slowest, but it really doesn’t matter anyway since I am only competing against myself. As a runner. For the first time in 36 years, and after ‘going jogging’ for more than 23 years … I am a runner, no longer shackled by the demon of my youth.