Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mission accomplished: first 5K race

Pacific Grove Lighthouse 5KToday, I ran my first 5K race!

It was quite an accomplishment for me as I am 41 years old and have been out of shape for years. This morning, though, I felt like a legitimate runner upon crossing the finish line of the Pacific Grove Lighthouse 5K, a part of the Big Sur Half Marathon weekend. It was the culmination of completing the Couch to 5K program.

It was a glorious experience. Despite rainy weather last night, this morning was sunny and comfortable - around 45 degrees at the start of the race and warmer by the end. Anticipating cooler weather, I brought gloves but ended up not needing them. 

Before the race started, I checked in and received my race bib, which had my race number and first name printed on it. Looking around to see what others did with their bibs, I pinned mine to the front of my jacket. Then, I made my way to the starting line. 

I queued up with the other runners and made my way to the end of the pack, away from the fast runners. Experienced runner friends had advised me to do this so I wouldn't a) get discouraged by all the people blazing past me and/or b) mess up my pace. Sizing up the other runners, I positioned myself behind the people who looked like serious athletes but ahead of the parents with strollers.

While I was lined up, I noticed that nearly everyone had orange plastic ribbon loops on their shoes. It was a D-Tag that would allow the race officials to track my pace and finish time. Cool! I located mine on my race bib and attached it to my right shoe. 

When the starting gun sounded, I bolted down the street before I remembered to heed the advice everyone had given me: Take it slow and steady. It was probably 100 yards just to get to the official start line so I slowed down, lest I burn myself out before even starting! I crossed the starting line to the sound of loudspeakers blaring the Psychedelic Furs' song "Pretty in Pink." Sweet - I was wearing a pink running jacket. 

It took several seconds for the throng of 700 people to find their place in the race. The fastest runners took off and then the rest of us settled into our spots. Since I was running alone, I looked for a gap to sneak into. 

It was awe-inspiring to be surrounded by so many other runners of all ages and sizes. There were runners in their 20s, seniors, married couples, mother-baby duos, buddies and groups of people wearing matching t-shirts. Throughout the race, I started to recognize a few people after passing them and/or being passed by them. One of my favorite running teams was the Asian father-daughter pair. The daughter looked to be in her mid-20s; when her father spoke to her in his native language, she answered in English. It made me think about my dad.

The race course was incredible. For my first race, I had intentionally set out to find a memorable route. This course was mostly flat, first winding through downtown Pacific Grove, California and then following the Pacific Ocean coastline. 

Running down Lighthouse Avenue was fun, but making the turn to the ocean was amazing. The view was breathtakingly gorgeous, with ocean waves just a few feet away and mountains in the distance. At times, I could hear the roar of waves crashing against rocks and smell the ocean (not always a good thing). It was awesome to see surfers riding the swells.

Along the course, a lot of people offered encouragement, including a few guys dressed up as vegetables. I remember the corn and asparagus guys, particularly, as they cheered me on. "Thanks, veggies!", I said to them as I ran by. There were also course marshals throughout the route, including students from the nearby Naval Postgraduate School riding on bicycles.

I did have some pace issues during the race and had to slow down after both shins and then my right knee and hip started aching. I took a walk break to drink some water after the 1-mile marker and one more at around the 2-mile mark to take a few photos with my iPhone. I had debated doing so, but in the end, I decided it was more important to me to capture the beauty of the route than get a faster race time.

Toward the end of the route, I heard my name. My sister and her girlfriend were waiting for me around the last quarter mile and it was such a boost to see them cheering for me! I smiled the rest of the race.

It was such a fantastic feeling to hear strangers clapping and cheering as I approached the finish line. Crossing the finish line was a little overwhelming. I missed hearing my time as people I didn't know shouted, "Go Lisa!" I thought it was my family and was confused when I didn't see them anywhere. How did these strangers know my name? Oh, right - my race bib has my name on it.

A man at the finish line called out my name and high-fived me as I continued to look for my family. Someone gave me a medal and I walked over to the water table. My sister and her girlfriend found me and we hugged and laughed. A few minutes later, my husband and younger son joined us.

There were a few things I'm a little disappointed about, but I'll know better next time. The biggest is that I didn't affix my D-tag properly and lost it somewhere along the route. I noticed it was gone before I hit the one-mile marker but couldn't find it anywhere nearby. It was a bummer since I really wanted to track my pace and get an official race time.

In a way, it reminded me of my labor and birth experience with my first child. I had hoped for a drug-free birth and ended up with an emergency c-section with multiple medical interventions. In both cases, I set out with an ideal in mind and things didn't happen exactly the way I wanted. On the other hand, in both cases, I ended up with happy outcomes: I gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy and I ran a race that three months ago, I never would have believed I could finish.

Speaking of that gorgeous baby boy, the best part of the day was seeing him, now 9 years old, cross the finish line too. While I ran the 5K event, he ran the 3K kids event. We both competed in our first races!   It was a wonderful experience for us to share. After our races, my husband and our younger son joined us and we all celebrated with brunch and a day of adventure in Monterey.

Next steps: finding a new race!

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