I had been running regularly for a couple months already and was itching to test myself with an actual race. The Daff-O-Dash to raise funds for the Canadian Cancer society came hot on the heels of my workplace’s virtual trek from Toronto to Rainy River, Ontario so the timing seemed right. A few weeks beforehand, I invited some people from my office to join me, and by race day I was glad to see that seven people took me up on the idea, including my CEO. The weather wasn’t quite as co-operative as it was raining quite heavily almost all day and the temperature was a chilly 8 degrees.
As we walked over to the local Running Room that was hosting the event, I felt a little apprehensive because I knew at least one of those joining me was a marathon runner and the others were all active types. Who the heck was I to be suggesting this event to them when I’ve never run a single race in my life? I am not sure if I was more worried that the event would be rained out, have terrible attendance, or I would embarrass myself with a dreadful run. When we got there, it was clear the event was still on and the crowd was much bigger than I would have anticipated. I was thinking 50 or so running nuts would brave the rain, but there were easily 300+ people crammed into the store with the latecomers standing outdoors getting drenched. Since we could barely make out what the emcees were saying, my colleagues and I got to talking about running. Turns out none of them (save the marathoner) had ever run a race before. Phew, I’m not the only newbie! Some final words of encouragement from none other than RunningRoom founder John Stanton, and we were all herded to the start line in the rain. I had set out the somewhat arbitrary goal time of sub-30:00 for the race, although this wasn’t based on much since I had never ran a complete 5k before (most of my training still involved walk breaks).
When the gun went off, I took off at a brisk pace. The novel excitement of running in such a large pack of people was both distracting and invigorating. I had images in my mind of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. It’s hard not to notice the bulls, but at the same time you’ve got to put them out of your mind and run your own race. The course immediately ducked away from Yonge street and winded through some residential neighbourhoods. The rain was pouring down, I was running faster than I had run in any of my training runs, and it became clear that the pace would only speed up if I didn’t control it because the entire first leg of the out-and-back course was downhill. I felt fine for most of that first half, without any signs of stitches or shin splints which I was still fighting on the majority of my training runs. I was breathing hard though, and was second-guessing my quick pace at the turnaround point because I would have been delighted if the course volunteer had said “Congrats! You just finished 5k!”.
I quickly glanced at my split time of 13:00 and thought “Wow, forget 30:00, you could pull off 25 if you put the hammer down!”. Of course, I failed to realize that split time was gravity-assisted to say the least. I was relieved to see there were a good number of people behind me as I got to look back on the field at the turnaround, but all of my training runs were on virtually flat ground and I had never experienced a hill quite like the one on the climb back to the finish. I slowly started getting passed by a few people, which took even more energy out of my legs. And what’s this? Around 3.5k, I started experiencing my usual side stitch. I pulled my way through it until the 4k mark where I caved in to the common-sense advice that was nagging me: “Don’t run if you’re in pain.” and “There’s no shame in walking”. I reluctantly walked for about 1 minute and more people went past me. You can’t get that sort of feeling from taking a walk break during a training run. With the stitch relatively at bay, I decided to get back up on my horse and finish the race strong. My walk break was validated as I passed several runners who had just passed me.
I turned the corner for the homestretch and the endorphins were kicking in. I ran the last 100 yards at full tilt with my quads and calves screaming with lactic acid, and punched in a 29:10. As I crossed the line, John Stanton was there and hung a bronze ‘participant’ medal around my neck. The veteran runners probably toss these away or feel they are tacky, but I was so proud that I had just proved to myself I could run a 5k race. I think no matter what your pace or distance, the whole point of the game is to participate. Everything else is details (not that some of us don’t love those):