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I Ran So Far (Awa-a-ay)

Shortly after my 30th birthday, I learned of a thing known as the, “30 Before 30 List,” which is, essentially, a list of 30 goals you’d like to accomplish, or things you’d like to try/do/experience, before you turn 30. Not to be discouraged by something as silly as already having turned 30, I made my own 30 During 30 List, and set out to complete the things on it. The list certainly did help make 2010 into an awesome year, but when I looked over the list again a month or two ago, I realized that some of the things on it weren’t the sort that I could realistically complete in the time remaining, and some were things I wasn’t even all that excited to pursue, anymore.

One of those things, however, was a goal I could set into motion immediately: registering for and running a race. That race was The Shamrock Run, and before I knew what I was doing, I found myself boldly signing up for the 8K.

The last time I’d run anything close to an 8K was nearly 4 years ago, and completely by accident: I was new to Portland, and got lost on what was intended to be a run of 2.5, maybe 3 miles. When I mapped it out afterwards, it was just over 4.5 miles, and for a solid week afterwards, I was so sore I could hardly stand to move.

Running 8K didn’t seem like such a silly notion, at first. I already knew I could run a 5K reasonably well, and training up to an 8K sounded completely feasible. Life and roller derby got in the way, however: in the weeks leading up to the race, I barely managed to keep up with running once a week, maybe twice if I was feeling particularly froggy, and I hadn’t run anything beyond a 5K during any of those weeks. To say I was feeling less-than-confident about completing the 8K? Yeah, that’s an understatement.

Still, my stubborn streak wouldn’t allow me to wimp out, so I hauled myself out of bed at 6am and made my way down to Waterfront Park, where a swarm of racers were milling around, in varying degrees of green and Irish-themed clothing. Over 30,000 runners had registered for the various races, and it took a good several minutes for me to weave my way through the crowd, to join the group of 8K runners in the 9-10 minute/mile pace group. Nerves crept up ever so slightly, and I was poised to be ready for a fast takeoff the instant the start buzzer sounded.

Then, the starting horn blared! And then… nothing.

Apparently, in a race of this magnitude, they’d implemented a thing called “rolling starts,” so rather than launching off of the line with quick reflexes, those of us towards the back spent the next 5-7 minutes shuffling gradually forward in a restless mob. It wasn’t exactly the climactic starting line experience I’d envisioned in my head, but once we crossed the start line, it was smooth sailing.

The race itself went far better than I’d expected. I found my pace easily and kept it fairly consistent for the entire course, and I wasn’t even slightly tempted to stop or slow to a walk. Running the entire distance already felt like an achievement. The hills were pretty brutal, but not as painful as I feared. The energy of the runners around me seemed to propel me forward, even when my legs weren’t so sure they wanted to keep going. After 48 cold, soggy, and sweaty minutes, I’d made my way through approximately 5 miles’ worth of run, and thundered across the finish line with a 9:42 per-mile pace.

I wasn’t entirely wild about my time, until I looked at the race results, and realized that it placed me in the ballpark of the top 25% in my gender/age group. Having never been anything close to a natural at running, I’d always assumed that I was on the slow end, but the race context meant that I suddenly had other people to compare myself to! I then remembered that I’d passed more than a few runners along the way, and I’d felt fluid and well-paced from start to finish. Not bad for a self-proclaimed, “mediocre-to-lousy” runner.

Looking up those finish times also reminded me of a comment that Napoleon, one of our derby coaches, had made at practice, just the day before: a Wrecker commented that she wanted to work on speed, because she felt she was the slowest on the track. Napoleon’s response was to give some encouragement, by reminding that Wrecker–and the rest of us, too–that we shouldn’t judge ourselves by comparing our performance to that of the people around us. “How would you know if you were fast or slow, if there was nobody else to compare yourself to?” I realized then that I’d simply assumed I was a slow runner, not because I was comparing myself to others, but because I had no one else to compare myself to.

Anyway, I now have my first race under my belt, and I’m thinking about the next one. I’m surprised to be thinking that, because I’ve never been one of those people who loves running, but I enjoyed the ride more than I expected to. I think it’d be worth another go, and I might even recommend trying a race at least once, to anyone else out there who has idly thought about running a 5K, or a 15K, or even a marathon. I’ve known more than a few people who dragged themselves through Couch-to-5K and became die-hard runners after their first race. You might learn that you (gasp!) kind of enjoy running, and you might even find that you’re faster than you think.

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