I eagerly anticipated casual Friday this week because it meant that I would get to wear the shirt from my most recent 5k - the 19th Annual Penguin Run - held in Buffalo, NY, to benefit Cradle Beach, a summer camp that serves disabled and underprivileged children in the area.
A few months ago, Danielle, a friend I've recently reconnected with over running, said, "Hey, here's a list of races. Pick one and we'll run it together." This was followed almost immediately with, "Oh, you don't live in Buffalo, do you?" Seeing it as a good excuse to make the seven hour trip to see friends, I chose a race, anyway, and planned a weekend away.
When people learned that I was planning to run a race in Buffalo in January, most of them looked at me with doubt in their eyes and said, "What if it's snowing? Won't it be cold?" Meh, whatever, a little snow and cold never killed anyone. At least, not quickly. Anyway, I've discovered that my sweet spot, temperature-wise, for running is anywhere between 10 and 50 degrees F. I don't mind bundling up a little and I put off A LOT of body heat. Even at 18 degrees with snow I've had to remove outer layers mid-run. At 50, I can wear capris and a tee and be completely comfortable. And snow coming down is actually fun as long as there's no ice.
Anyway, on the day of the race, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, the temperature was somewhere in the twenties, and the race was midday, so the sun was shining directly on all of us.
I'd convinced another friend, Kyle, with no nagging at all, that he should run with us. So, he and I headed over to the race around 10 a.m. for the 11 a.m. start time. As we were walking from the main building to where packet pickup was taking place, I heard someone yell, "KATIE!" and was suddenly being hugged by Danielle. While Kyle and I got our race gear, Danielle and her friend, Mike, headed out for a three-mile warm up. (Good for them. :)
As start time approached, I paced around the parking lot, then the banquet hall, then back to the parking lot getting more and more nervous about how I'd do. Finally, we were all directed to the start line. Danielle, Kyle, Mike, and I stood around the fringes, talking, laughing, and admiring the shirts of some fellow runners. Three guys had the best technical tees ever. Each was printed with a different animal - horse, wolf, and tiger - and not just a little print, I'm talking full shirt. We asked where they bought them but we couldn't get a straight answer. Guess they don't want the trend catching on. Hipster runners?
The horn blew right on time and we were off...sort of. It took a bit of time to get spread out and up to speed.
Danielle had agreed to pace me with her fancypantsGPSwatch. As we were getting started, she looked over and said, "We're at a 13-minute pace now." Given my 10:30/mile goal,we picked it up. We started passing people right and left. By about half a mile in, we had settled in with our crowd - the folks we'd stay with for most of the race.
In my neighborhood, I'm constantly climbing hills while training. One of the hills I do is actually rated on some objective scale of difficulty. Buffalo, on the other hand, is flat. The course had five feet of elevation - TOTAL! Five feet. Who even notices that when it's spread over a mile? Still, when Danielle told me we were doing under a 10-minutes pace and I felt good, I was shocked. Pulling back the pace to make sure I could finish strong was difficult because it felt so good to just go.
Around the mid-point, I could tell that Kyle - whose training amounted to three or four short runs the couple of weeks before the race - was getting antsy, so I told him to go ahead and just run. Danielle and Mike stuck with me, chatting, encouraging, and just being generally awesome running partners.
When I'm alone, I take walk breaks every 7-8 minutes. Danielle and Mike got me through quite a bit of the race without walking. In the third mile, I just had to take a couple quick walks - breathing hard starts to make me panic - but I was able to get moving again fairly quickly.
As we neared the end, Danielle asked if I wanted to open it up to get across the finish line. I wasn't sure if I could and I told her that. So, she said, "See that 45 sign up there? How about we pick it up after that?" "I don't think I can." We got to the 45, Kyle was there looking all relaxed from being finished for 3 minutes already, and Danielle sped it up. She and Mike both kept encouraging me that I COULD do it. You know what? They were right! It was only for a tenth of a mile but for that tenth, my pace was less than 9 minutes/mile!
My official time was 32:42. That's 2:30 faster than my first 5K, which I ran only two months before. The lack of hills combined with training and encouragement made a huge difference in my performance. It was so much fun to cross that finish line and know that I got faster! The best part is that every race and every training run is a learning experience and I'm getting better at knowing when I can push harder and when I need to back off.
After eating lunch in the crowded banquet hall, we took some impromptu camera phone photos, said goodbye and parted. Half an hour later, I was on the road home, glowing from my post-race euphoria. I'm still freaked out about the longer races I'm facing this year but I'm also confident that I can do it!