My First Official 5K

Everyone has had the experience of waking up on a particular morning with a realization and a groan that something is happening on that day, something that they don’t want to do. I definitely woke up in such a manner this morning, and it was because today was 5k day. I signed up for a 5k over in Springfield way back in like, May or June, and today was event day. I wasn’t exactly spooked, but I was far from pumped.

We’ve had family in town this week, and they wanted to spend some more time with the girls, so we met up with them earlier in the day to hang out together and play with the girls. It was, frankly, hotter than Satan’s nutsack today. I had been hoping that by this time of year, the air would be cooler and breezier – perfect running weather. As the burning sun beat down on the wooden pirate ship playground, I observed privately that I was glad that the 5k was at dusk so that I wouldn’t have to deal with this oppressive heat. I may have a long-term eye towards Keys and Badwater, but at the moment, I’m not in good enough physical condition to go much further than a 5k when it’s 95 outside.

As the time of departure from the house grew nearer and nearer, I got a little bit more nervous. Admittedly, some of that was down to inferiority complex. “Career runners” are notorious for their lean physiques and gazelle-like strides. Runners are the kinds of people that everyone wants to look like. And here I am, still fat. Still working on it. Still not a runner, at least if appearances are any indicator. I was worried that someone would make a remark.  

Something I have also learned about myself over the years is that I don’t like surprises. I don’t like to show up and not know exactly where things will be. I hate feeling dumb, and chances are pretty solid that when you first do something, you aren’t going to be good at it. You’re going to look stupid, at some point. And that’s me. Like, if there is an opportunity to be awkward or absurd, it’s like some inner part of me marches right towards it and says, “That’s what we’re doing! C’mon, let’s go make everyone else feel better about themselves!” I am, in short, not great at faking it until I make it.

My friend showed up to help me with the kids while I was sitting on the floor, lacing up my shoes. The kids immediately started freaking out, begging to come. M. started asking me if she could run the race too, and before I knew it, it was complete pandemonium. My friend looked at me, shrugged, and said, “We can come. I don’t care. It’ll be fun!” I was hesitant at first, but I was feeling nervous about going alone anyway, so I decided after some deliberation that it would be okay.

We arrived and, true to form, my awkward got the better of me. I totally went to the wrong place to register. M. freaked out when she realized I was running off into the woods without her. I ran into a giant pothole on the grassy hill down into the course entrance that was quite clearly marked, although I was far from the only one. I definitely ignored instructions completely at one point because, to be honest, I was zoned out and not listening because that’s what I do when I run. I’m dead to the world, mentally.

The run itself was hotter than I had hoped for, but it wasn’t terrible at all. The run was through Oak Ridge Cemetery, alias the second most popular cemetery in the country after Arlington, with its claim to fame being Lincoln’s Tomb, which is quite an impressive monument. It also quite a hell of a hill leading up to it. Illinois is the flattest state in the country, but I bet Oak Ridge is the hilliest place in the Springfield area.

The monument hill was not the only hill that we had to run. Frankly, the terrain was far more rolling than I had anticipated, and it definitely added on to my originally estimated finish time. It was a serious rookie mistake not to use that incline trainer to train for, you know, inclines. It’s hardly uncommon for runners to be weak on hills, and I freely admit that I am among that number.

But I finished fine. My legs aren’t sore at all, but my back hurts, which is hardly something new and different for me. Core strength has always been an issue for me, and it is exacerbated by extra weight. I wasn’t impressed with my time, but the hills were more than I had anticipated, and I could have prepared better for that. Having said all of that, I’m happy with my finish. I wasn’t dead last, pun intended, and I didn’t die.

One thing I remarked upon internally was the difference between punching out a 5k at home on the treadmill versus doing it on pavement. What you’re probably expecting me to say is that running on treadmills is the Cadillac experience by comparison, which is true in ways, but that wasn’t my comment. For me at least, I had forgotten how much easier it is to overcome the dark night of the soul and how much longer it takes it to arrive when I’m running outside. Every run that challenges you will have its dark night, the time where you have to dig deep and push. I’m not sure what it is, other than perhaps it’s easier when you can physically see the miles ticking by. It could be something different, but at least from that perspective, from the pain cave perspective, I found it easier than expected.  

As we all made our way back to the car, I realized the most important about the whole thing: It was never about finishing; it was about sticking my foot into the water. When I was younger, I ran like it was going out of style, but I never entered a formal race. Now I do want to enter formal races, and if you want to learn what goes on at these things, you have to actually show up and do the thing.

Just the act of showing up, screwing up, and then realizing that I couldn’t give a fuck and neither could anyone else is way more important than your rank. I’m sure there are great athletes who walk into these things and ace the whole thing, but I’m not that person, and I know I’m not the only one. The only way to get better at this shit is to fucking do it.

The feeling I had as I left highlighted something incredibly important to me. The act of doing something that makes you nervous or flatly scares you is incredibly powerful. It will knock down those walls that you have built up around yourself that prevent you from doing and having everything that you want, or at least start loosening some bricks for you.

I also realized, not for the first time, that if I’m going to progress much further with this, that I need to prioritize weight loss over running for a little while. I could certainly make more gains where I’m at right now, but it is already becoming a battle of attrition. It’s too much to schlepp this much extra fat around. I see no point in expending that kind of energy to make gains when my body will be working against me every step of the way – literally.

I’m not going to stop running – far from it. I intend to continue and with some renewal of purpose. I am at the point, however, where a renewed commitment to active weight loss must accompany it. I could get the weight loss without the running, but I’m more interested in running than weight loss, and I won’t get where I want to go at the weight I’m at now. I began to see a while ago that it would never be enough for me just to be thin. There needs to be a purpose to my physique, and running seems to be it.

A lot of people, even people who are fit and enjoy exercise, seem to stay away from running. They cite it as being boring or too hard on their joints or whatever. I must concede that running is not for everyone, just like I know that basketball and volleyball aren’t sports that I enjoy at all. But running? Running is where it’s at for me.

You always hear Tim Ferriss guests say that they meditate every day. I have tried my hand at various types of meditation, and while I have enjoyed some success with official meditation, where you sit and focus on something or what-have-you, it’s just not for me. I get my meditation while I run. I get my day sorted out. I catch the big fish, as David Lynch would say, in terms of ideas. I have had some of my best ideas and greatest emotional revelations while I was running.

Maybe it’s the pain. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s boring and repetitive and requires mental discipline to run even relatively small distances. Although physicality certainly plays a big role in competitive running, the reality is that running is mostly about you. I don’t run because I feel like I need to get out there and shatter Courtney Dauwalter’s Moab record. Hell no. I run because I like the way I feel when it’s over, and I like having my emotions and activities more or less taken care of before I get going for the day. That’s just me.

I went out with my almost-aunt on Friday, and we had been talking about how I would like to move out west and get into mountain territory so that I can really log some badass miles in the higher elevations. The conversation moved on, and I mentioned that my bathroom still had primer on it, and I hadn’t been able to decide what colors to pain it and the bedroom. I was waiting for some inspiration, and nothing had come. I knew I wanted something with cool colors, and I thought I wanted it to be reflective of my desire to go west.

As sure as anything, we walked into this craft and antique furniture show, and there was an old window pane with new glass, emblazoned with the words, “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” sitting right next to a multi-colored owl with some of the colors I had been contemplating for the room. I knew immediately that I had to have both, since they both made perfect sense, and because I love owls.

I like nods like that from the universe. When you have these little moments of support, there is this feeling that you are on the right track. Everything this weekend has felt easy and right.

What I know will not be easy but which is most certainly right and long overdue is the effort to lose more weight. I have done well this year, and in fact I ran into someone on Friday who marveled at how good I looked. I’m not done, though. Not by a long shot. When 2019 rolls around, I would like to be able to say that I’ve lost 60+ pounds, and I need to repeat and preferably improve upon that success next year. By 2020, I want to be into the “regular” weight zone, and we’ll see where the running is at.

My parting thoughts are that if you want to do something, even if you’re scared, fucking do it. You don’t have to be the best. You don’t even have to be good. You just have to want to do it, and you have to get out there, and if you like it, you keep doing it over and over until you get good. The mere act of doing something that makes you nervous or that you don’t feel confident about will imbue you with greater confidence. Most of us don’t start great, and even if you do, there is always room to improve.  

Next weekend, I am doing a 1-mile beer chug run. I’m hoping I can find a couple more 5k runs to do here in October, and that shouldn’t be hard, since there are plenty of fun runs associated with the fall festivals and such. There is usually an area turkey trot around Thanksgiving, so maybe I will let that close out my running season and then take it inside for the winter and reemerge for bigger and better things in the spring.

 I will definitely go back and repeat Moonlight Miles next year, and I intend to crush it, hills and all. Let not your first showing be your final say. Let it rather be the start of something amazing. If this fat kid can do it, so can you.

I’ll see you at the starting line. Hustle hard, kids!