This was my first race…. ever… well to be fair I did a race in a random PE event in elementary school; I finished 6th and earned the coveted “Great Effort!” medal. But the Pasadena Marathon: 5k was the first race I truly took serious. It had only been about 6 months since I started running regularly, just getting to the starting line would prove difficult.
The night before the race I was very nervous and hardly slept. My brain tends to panic and worry about every possible thing that I can go wrong before any big life event. Naturally this time I worried about making it to the start on time, if there was enough parking, if I would get lost on PCC’s campus, if… yeah my brain was in full panic mode that morning.
Despite all that could go wrong we managed to get to the starting line without any delays. In fact, we were about 30 mins early. I looked around and was immediately intimidated. It seemed like everyone had on enrolled in cross-fit classes for months in advanced and in a massive group had cleaned out the local running store. Meanwhile I stood among them wearing my Target clearance rack shirt, well-worn soccer shirts from my earlier days as a piss poor intramural goalkeeper, and my beat up Nike cross-trainers whose only glimpse of cross-training was a short run two days a week. Meghann noticed that my demeanor had changed and quickly got me back on task by telling me to stretch… only 10 minutes until start time.
As I tried to remember what yoga moves I had learned early in the week, I quickly realized I should just copy whatever the people around me where doing. Cross-fit had to have shown them how to get ready, right? When they lunged, I lunged. Squat? Alright. Downward-dog? Now you’re talking! Weird plank thing with legs crossed… ok back to stretches I remembered from PE 101. I paced around like a golden retriever waiting to play fetch. Thankfully by my fourth lap around Meghann the announcer gave notice that it was time to line up:
Walkers and slower runners move to the back. 8-12 pace middle. Below 8, move towards the front. If you don’t know what your pace is, MOVE TOWARDS THE BACK!
I moved towards the back. At this point I just wanted the race over with. I began to doubt why I was even here. Why had I paid $45 to run through the same neighborhood I ran during the week? Why did I drag my ass out of bed so early on a Saturday when there was a perfectly comfortable bed with two over-sized cats waiting for me? Well when I finally got to the back it hit me. I looked around and saw people with over-sized sweats, tennis shoes, and most were preoccupied with taking their latest Facebook picture.
I moved towards the middle. I had not woken up at 5am every Monday just to show today and take a stroll through Pasadena. I had signed up for this race to see where I stood. Next time, I would improve my time. Next time, I would wear the proper gear. Next time, I would know what my pace was. Why look at that, I was starting to think about “Next time”. Now I was fucking ready to run!
As soon as I heard the signal I looked for a path to weave through the walkers. By mile marker one I had managed to find a fellow JPLer and tried to keep pace with her… and despite my best efforts she left me in the dust by mile marker 2. I didn’t care. I looked around and saw the cheering crowds, the wide open streets, and the pissed off drivers who didn’t read the countless warnings about road closures. I had found my happy place. From there I just kept a decent pace and took in the sights. I recall being annoyed by the show-off trying to hit on the cute girls around us but that’s about all the interaction I can remember. I was busy aiming for a good time and to see Meghann cheering for me at the finish.
I rounded the corner at Hill/Colorado and saw the finish line in front of PCC. Strangers were cheering my number and encouraging me to bring it home… And so I did. I sprinted despite my knees starting to tense up. I controlled my breathing while my lungs begged for more oxygen. I ran towards Meghann! Or so I thought it was her. I had told her I would probably make it in 30 minutes. She was barely making her way towards to the line at 25 minutes when she saw me come running by.
As I crossed the finish I looked towards the clock… 25 minutes 35 seconds… new personal best. FUCK YEAH! I took my medal like I had just beat Usain Bolt to the finish. It didn’t matter that I had seen about five teenagers run past me with ease. It didn’t matter that the man who was taking medication mid race managed to pass me twice. All that mattered to me was that I got out there and enjoyed every minute of it. Except for that terrible coconut water they handed out post-race. I couldn’t drink more than a quarter of that crap.
Afterward, I met up Meghann and we headed towards the nearest bar! It was closed… so instead we celebrated with breakfast at our favorite café. She was quite proud of me and talked up the fact I had come in well below my expected finish. Seeing that smile of hers motivated me to look up other races nearby. This time I would try to get her to experience the race as I did. Amongst the crowds and running through the streets… in my happy place.