Saturday, April 13, 2013

14,683 Monumental Steps

The goal was to finish the Monument Avenue 10k in 2 hours. Was I able to do it? The answer is... You know what? I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a step back for a second.

This whole running thing is kind of new to me. I decided to start running back in September of last year and as soon as I started, I began to question what I'd gotten myself into. I had never been a runner. I was never much of an athlete as a kid or as a teenager. But back in the fall I decided it was time to start making an effort toward being healthier. Running seemed like the most logical way to get moving with that. I knew it would be difficult, but I was sure it would be worth it.

I set a goal for myself to run in a 5k race at some point in 2013. After running throughout the fall and winter, I figured I was on my way to accomplishing that goal. I just needed to find a good 5k and register. I even talked Mark and Brandon into joining me. Well, time went by and finding a nearby 5k was becoming a challenge.

One day in January I got a call from Mark. He asked me how I'd feel about going to Richmond in April to do the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10k. I took a deep breath. 10k? I thought, That's twice as much as I've been training for... Could I even be ready for that thing by then? Needless to say, I was nervous. But I figured if I was running the race with two of my best friends, it wouldn't be that bad.

So the months went by and I kept pushing myself in an attempt to get ready for the 10k. While the weather was cold and the mornings were dark, I decided to make use of the treadmills provided by my apartment complex. I was feeling good. I reached a point where I was able to run a full mile without slowing to a walk for the first time in my life. I mean, I was the kid who would walk the mile in elementary school during the annual physical fitness test. I don't think I ever finished that thing in less than 20 minutes. I wasn't sprinting, mind you, but my jog wasn't exactly a snail's pace.

After reaching that milestone, a week later, I was able to run a full 2 miles before slowing down. I was feeling really good. Then, a couple weeks ago, Mark dropped the bomb that he might have to drop out of the race. Apparently there was some work thing that had come up and he would not be able to get out of it. Was that really it? Or was it that he had been talking a lot of smack to me and Brandon and had not been training even a little bit, so he decided he couldn't back the smack talk? Okay, I'm sure he really did have career commitments that he couldn't get out of. Just seems a little fishy to me...

But that didn't deter me. Brandon was still in this thing. And even if something happened to pull him out of the race, I wasn't going to back out. I was excited. I might not have been fully ready in a physical sense, but my mind was set on crossing that finish line, no matter what.

Last week, the weather finally got really nice. Like, ridiculously nice. Cloudless skies, cool breezes, moderate temperatures. It was phenomenal. So, last Saturday, I decided to take advantage of the pathway that runs next to the New River. It's right across the road from my apartment, why not? I ran from my apartment to the far end of Bissett Park and back again. Well, on the way back I walked/ran. But I felt good. I felt that I needed to push myself a little because the 10k was only a week away and I'd never gone that far at one time before. Last Saturday's run got me to 3.9 miles in just under an hour.

Then something strange happened. The next day I was in tremendous pain. I wrote it off as just aches from having pushed myself harder than I was used to the previous day. But, on Monday, my shins began hurting. A lot. I started to wonder if I was dealing with the legendary shin splints that I've heard so many people talk about in the past. I remember seeing volleyball and soccer players during college coming into the dining hall after practices with ice packs taped to their shins. I couldn't figure out why I would suddenly get this pain now, less than a week from race day, when I hadn't experienced it at all in the last six months.

Well, there are probably several contributing factors. My shoes are awful. I don't have shoes that are designed specifically for running. And they're kind of old. They've gotten the job done, but apparently not well enough. Then there's the fact that I switched from treadmill to asphalt kind of suddenly. I'm sure my body wasn't prepared for that surface change. Also, I'm sure I haven't been stretching properly before or after my runs on a consistent basis. I should really start doing that.

But I wasn't going to let this deter me either. I ran again Tuesday evening, but wasn't able to go as far as I had Saturday. And the pain was a little worse. So I decided then to just rest until the 10k. And rest is what I did.

That brings us to today. Race day. All week I had been more excited than anything else. I was ready to do this. I'd been telling myself that I only wanted to run the first half, that my true goal for this moment of my life was to run a 5k. If I had to walk the second half, so be it. I wanted to finish 5k in an hour. I wanted to finish 10k in 2. I had no lofty aspirations for setting or breaking records, except maybe my own personal records. And, since this was my first ever 10k race, the bar was set pretty low.

Brandon and I stood among the crowd of run/walkers and waited for the announcer to send our group over the starting line. And we were off. Brandon took off at a good pace as soon as he was able. I was still stuck amongst the walkers for a bit. Then I found an opening and took off after him. I stayed behind him for a good while, then overtook him for about 30 seconds. It felt good, considering he's been running for several years now. But that lead didn't last for me. I kept up with him for a while longer, but then began to slow slightly.

I was able to keep up a good run/jog for about the first mile. Then the pain in my legs began to get to me. So I slowed down. I walked pretty briskly, but it was still a walk. So much for running the first 5k, right? Oh well, I could still make good time and I could still hit my goals. So I pushed. I would run for a while, then walk for a while, then run a little more, then slow back down. On average, I probably ran about half a mile for every mile of the race.

At the halfway point, my phone began to die. This was a bad thing for me because 1) I was tracking my run with the Nike+ app and 2) I was listening to my running/get psyched mix through the phone. Now, I won't say I was too upset about losing the Nike+ app. My phone has degraded into a near worthless piece of junk that does very few things accurately. Needless to say, it does not keep up with my run accurately. At all. Today, it told me that I completed my first mile in 5 minutes, 13 seconds. The thing thought that I had finished 3 miles just after I passed the real world 1 mile marker. Piece of junk. But I did miss the music during that second half.

Before I turned the phone off to save what was left of the battery, I was able to see that I had actually been going for nearly 45 minutes. That told me that I had beaten my goal of an hour long 5k! I was pretty excited about that news. That gave me a second wind and inspired me to push a little harder than I had for the previous mile or so. So I ran again.

Now I was without music blasting in my ears. This turned out to be a good thing. This gave me the opportunity to hear the people on the sidelines. There were hundreds... thousands of folks yelling and cheering as the runners and walkers made their way down Monument Avenue. The energy was incredible. And it only helped to get my adrenaline pumping even more, inspiring me to run even harder. People were waving signs and clapping and whistling as I ran past them. They didn't know who I was, but they were proud of me anyway. And even though they were cheering for the tens of thousands of other runners, too, it felt like they were cheering just for me. Especially when I heard anyone say, "Way to go, Superman!"

Soon I came upon the marker that let me know I had gone 6 miles. That meant I was really close to the finish. At that point, I didn't care how tired I was or how much my legs ached. I just ran. I pushed myself all the way to the finish line. I crossed, feeling more alive than I've felt in a long time. And, believe it or not, I probably could have kept going, I was that pumped.

Now that it's been over for a while, I've been able to look online to see the official race results. Are you ready for it? Drum roll, please...
  • 5k - 47:16
  • 10k - 1:36:20
I beat the goals that I had set for myself. Finishing this race alone was worth putting the time and effort into training. But finishing better than I thought I was capable of? Feels even better.

So now that I've accomplished this goal, does that mean I'll stop running?

It's not over. I will take a break for a bit. Probably a couple weeks. I definitely want to get some new shoes before I start running again, but they're expensive, so I may have to wait a bit. But I want to keep going. I want to set new goals and keep pushing myself. This Thanksgiving, I want to run in the Drumstick Dash in Roanoke. I walked it a couple years ago, this time I want to run it. It's a 5k, so I'm hoping I'll be able to crush it by the time November rolls around.

Next year, I want to do the Monument Avenue race again. But next time, I want to do it in an hour. I don't see why that can't be done. The year after that, I want to find a half marathon. Depending on how I do with the half, maybe someday I'll do a full marathon. I honestly can't wrap my head around that at this moment, but it's out there and it's a possibility. Until then, I'll have these 2 races to keep getting ready for. Who's with me?

Oh, I can't believe I almost forgot this... By far, the funniest inspirational sign I saw today said, "Keep Going! Keep Going! (That's what she said...)" Definitely got me laughing on the run.

*The number represented in this post's title is an estimated guess as to how many steps I actually took during the 10k. I did not actually count my steps.

1 comment:

  1. Aaron, this is fantastic! You have inspired me. I lost 22 lbs last Spring. Then, I lost my dad and gained back 10. I feel like a slug again, so I am going to try to get that 10 off by the reunion. Hope to see you there. Love you. Aunt Barbara