Even more than that, I exceeded expectations and left my goals in the dust.
Only a few months ago, I set out to get healthier by walking as often as I could. This eventually led to my setting a goal of adding limited amounts of jogging to the mix. Weight training soon followed. As a small fraction of stamina from my youth began to return, I slowly added more running. It was at this point that my friend, Stacy, asked me to join her in running the Campus Classic 5k at Western Michigan University.
Race day arrived before I completed the 8-week long C25K program, so I made sure to set some realistic goals for myself. First of all, I wanted to finish. Barring injury, that goal was certainly attainable.
Next, I wanted to finish before the course was re-opened to traffic, which was scheduled to happen one hour after race start. Based on my training, I was on pace to finish after 40 to 45 minutes, so I was confident about this, as well.
My next goal was much more challenging: run the first mile without stopping or walking. This is something I had not yet been able to accomplish. Considering the fact the course started with a long, daunting hill…I was not very optimistic about making this happen.
Speaking of hills, the course included several hills more substantial than any I encounter where I run in Ann Arbor, so my final goal of walking as little as possible didn’t seem very likely.
Much like so many others, I underestimated my ability.
When the race began, I was determined to keep to my slow pace, conserve my energy, and do my best to not overextend myself. Making the first turn, and heading up the intimidating Michigan Avenue hill, I was passed by many other runners. However, I was impressed by how many runners I myself passed. This made me concerned that I may be going faster than I wanted, and would therefore burn out quickly. So I focused even more on every stride, keeping each one measured and deliberate. Steadily glancing over my shoulders, making sure I wasn’t inadvertently cutting in front of anyone.
Before I knew it, I had crested the hill, and was making my way around the second turn. One goal down! Having successfully made it past the one part I was actively dreading, I actually felt myself relax a little. I was still focused on keeping a steady pace, but I wasn’t nearly as tense as at the start.
The trip down the hill on Gilikson Avenue was a welcome respite. It gave me a bit of a chance to recharge, and brace for the next uphill section. It turned out to be a quarter of the way up that next hill that I needed to begin walking for the first time, and that’s ok. Because it meant I had surpassed my goal of running the first mile without stopping or walking. In fact, I had managed to run the first 1.4 miles – nearly doubling my personal best. A second goal down!
After walking to the intersection at the top of the hill, I once again began to jog, and returned to my previous pace. With the supportive cheers of the volunteers who lined the course helping to motivate us all onward, the crowd with whom I had blended made its way past the Fetzer Center and Rood Hall. A water station was set up outside the Haenicke building, and this was the second time I would walk. But this time, the only reason I had to walk was because I discovered I do not possess the skill set needed to run and drink at the same time.
As we made our way behind the Kohrman buildings, I realized I was soon coming upon the parking structures near Miller Auditorium, where my mother was watching the event. Obviously I couldn’t let my mother see me walking a 5k. If you don’t think ego factors into a race like this, you’re kidding yourself. And so, despite wanting desperately to take a break, I kept running in case mom and her camera could see me. Sure enough, there she was – right on the corner of Auditorium Drive – camera in hand. I waved, and gave a thumbs up as I ran past.
The course wound past the auditorium, then headed back uphill up Shaw Lane. I began walking for only the third time when I reached Shaw Theater, the distance and hills having taken their toll. Once I reached the area of Knauss Hall, I urged my legs to get moving again, and began my steady plod down Arcadia Road.
When I made the left turn onto Western Avenue, something wonderful happened: I saw the University Arena come into view. Knowing the finish line was just beyond the big, block W, I got a more than welcome adrenaline boost, and I began to sprint.
Yes, I said sprint.
As they say: I started picking ’em up, and putting ’em down. I haven’t run that fast in decades. I knew the end was near, and I knew I could make it. I was about to complete my first ever 5k race, and I wanted to finish strong. As I made my way through the runners ahead of me, I heard someone yell my name. My friend and fellow participant, Brenna, spotted me from alongside the course finish. Her cheer, along with the rapidly approaching finish line, pushed me on even faster.
I completed the WMU Campus Classic 5k in 36:06.28, and destroyed my personal best time in the process. I had far exceeded my goal of finishing before the course reopened to traffic. I had walked far less than I had expected overall, conquered Michigan Avenue hill, and was able to make it 1.4 miles before needing to walk the first time.
Most important of all: I finished. I truly never imagined I would ever take part in a 5k race. Take part I did, and I could not be more proud of how well I did.