Saturday morning I was ready to run my fastest ever 5k. My training and my racing over these past seven weeks gave me every indication that I was ready to break 21 minutes in the 5k. I had been doing my weekly tempo runs this fast (sometimes faster) week after week. I knew I could do it. It would NOT be easy, but it was absolutely within my reach.
My legs felt strong. I was excited. I had run this race twice before and though the course changed slightly, I believed with all of my heart that I could handle the added hills (both up and down) and that I would stay strong mentally as well as physically through them.
I woke up on Saturday morning and ran to the race start as a warm up. My husband packed up the kids in the car and they drove there to meet me. I LOVE having my family at a race. Knowing they are there automatically puts a smile on my face and makes me feel more at ease. I feel like I am not doing this just for me, but instead it is something our whole family can enjoy and take part in.
This was the perfect race for that. The We’ve Got Your Back 5k in Reston is not just a race for solitary runners. It is a race for families. The start/finish area was busy with activities for children (glitter tattoos, crafts, games, and the “Fun Bus” – an old school bus that was painted with bright colors and hollowed out inside to become a mini fitness obstacle course for young children). My kids had a blast before, during and after the race.
|The Fun Bus!
It is also a race for people who have overcome back injuries and chronic back pain. The cause is close to my heart, supporting spinal health and research. As a Pilates teacher I work with people who suffer from back pain all the time. Herniated disks, bulging disks, pinched nerves, SI joint pain, pelvic instability … and so much more. I myself have dealt with lower back pain since becoming a mother, and I can tell you it is horrible. There have been times when I have been stuck on the couch with ice wrapped around my back, watching my kids play all around me because moving hurt too much. It is awful. Thank goodness my pain has never lasted more than a week or two at a time – but even just one day of it is terrible. This is why when I found Pilates, I became dedicated to it. Pilates changed my life and has made me so much more aware of how to best care for my body and especially my spinal health. It changed my life so much that I wanted to become a teacher, so I could help others. My sister Jodi had back surgery in 2003 (she had a herniated disk) and as you can imagine she too is very passionate about this cause. She really wanted to be there on Saturday. I wanted her to be there too.
This was by far the best I had ever warmed up before a 5k. I ran two miles at a comfortable pace (mile 1 – 8:33, mile 2 – 8:11) and then I finished with another half mile right around 10k pace (a little slower, averaging 7:11). When it was time to start the race I felt physically as ready as could be.
But mentally, something was off. Was it race day nerves? Maybe. The fact that there were some seriously fast looking ladies standing at the start near me? Yes, that got me. When chicks show up to a local 5k race wearing underwear and compression socks a la Shalane and Kara, well that is a bit intimidating. Inspiring, sure, yet also intimidating.
The gun went off and the first 3/4 of a mile was straight down a hill. I knew I was running too fast. Way too fast. I glanced at my watch and saw a pace of 5:17 down that hill. WHAT!? What am I doing?! My legs were moving so fast down that hill that I literally felt like I was flying. This would have been exhilarating and awesome had I not had another two and a half miles to run. Or had I been planning to run that fast (umm, no). I came down to the bottom of the hill and turned right onto the trail and the road was flat again, my pace “slowed” to a 5:45. I was breathing heavily. My shoulders were tense. I still felt very much out of control. I told myself over and over again to run my own race, to slow down, to calm down and to settle in. I got myself into better place by the time the first mile ended. It was still way too fast though. Mile 1 – 6:11.
At the end of the first mile we turned onto a road with steady up hill. This was good news for me. It would help me slow down. I wanted to find my happy pace around a 6:45, but the fact is — I am not happy at a 6:45. That is still lung-burning pace! Especially up a hill. And then we took another turn into an office park which was basically ALL up hill. I kept fighting up it. When I looked at my watch at the end of the second mile I saw 7:15. This was slower than I wanted to be running. I still had a mile to go, time to make up for it. I still wanted to break 21 and I could do it. But I had to believe I could do it and that was the problem at this point.
The negative voice started to gain power over me. Telling me I went out too fast. That the first mile ruined me. Why didn’t I take control sooner? Why was I so foolish? How did I let this happen!? I felt like a crazy person trying to push through those negative thoughts. I just wanted to feel good, to feel happy. To enjoy myself. As I turned the corner to go UP that massive hill that I ran down in the beginning of the race, I knew I wasn’t going to break 21 minutes and that it was really quite possible that I wouldn’t even beat 21:18, my current PR. I was feeling really angry with myself. I was hating on 5ks. Mile 3: 7:27.
On the side of the course there was a woman holding up a sign. It said “YOU LOVE RUNNING!!” I smiled when I saw it. She is right. Nobody is making me do this but ME. And why am I doing it? Because I love it.
I LOVE RUNNING.
That was all I needed. My final pace for the final stretch was 6:34. My family was on the side of the road, cheering me into the finish. This made me smile from the inside out as I approached that finish line.
Official time: 21:40. I missed my PR by 22 seconds. What I am PROUD of — I ran this race 3 whole minutes faster than I ran it last year and almost 4 minutes faster than I did the year before. Also, I was the 9th overall female and third place in my age group. To be one of the top 10 females in a race like this – where the women who came in first and second finished in less than 18 minutes, and three of the top five overall finishers were women (yay!!!) – well, that is pretty much a dream come true for me. THAT feels good.
I did not run the 5k race I am capable of. I know that. But I did push through some pretty dark thoughts, through moments where I literally felt like stopping and giving up the sport altogether (crazy, I know). I did not give up. And while each mile was slower than the last, I learned a TON about myself as a runner and as a person.
After my race was over, it was time for Abby and Will to race. We had signed them up for the 1 Mile Fun Run and they could not have been more excited. They had official race numbers, new “fast” running shoes (which Will proudly proclaimed would make him “faster than a car” when he tried them on) and more excitement in their little hearts than I can possibly describe. The three of us lined up at the start, ready to go.
Thoughts of my 5k quickly melted away, and I was completely swept up in the joy of being with my children – participating in a running event TOGETHER.
|three happy runners at the start
The plan was to stick together. The kids did not want me to leave their side. Will was even holding onto my leg as we waited for the race to begin. He was especially nervous about having to run on his own.
So you can imagine my surprise when Will shot off like a dart, literally blazing a trail behind him leaving us in his dust from the start of the race. I could see him powering up ahead, not relenting, and I was just completely shocked. Proud. Bewildered. Amazed. He just kept going and I could see his little head bouncing side to side as he ran. I couldn’t see his face, but I could imagine it. I knew he was having the time of his life.
I have seen my little boy run before. He SURGES, and then pulls back and walks or even stops altogether to catch his breath before going full speed again. The kid doesn’t have a middle ground. He is either ALL IN, or he is not playing. (This applies to all areas of his personality – he is the most determined and dedicated little person I have ever known. It inspires me. And terrifies me on occasion).
On Saturday, he was ALL IN. He got caught up in the excitement and he discovered something wonderful about himself.
HE LOVES RUNNING.
Abby was not enjoying the run nearly as much as Will was. She is very observant of every single thing – the most sensitive person I have ever known in all my life. I love this about her. It is one of her sweetest qualities. She is also a THINKER – has to analyze everything. And talk about it. She spoke to me the whole way – giving me every detail about how she was feeling. Her chest hurt. Her stomach hurt. She really needed to stop. She WANTED to enjoy the race, but, well, WHEN would it be over? I encouraged her to keep going. I told her how I understood what she was feeling, that she was doing a great job, that she was the strongest most beautiful runner I had ever seen, and that I was SO proud of her.
About halfway through the mile, she decided it was time for a break. Robert was on the side of the road cheering with baby Gus so she hopped off and walked with him. At that point I caught up with Will and ran him to his finish. He was still racing his little heart out. The look on his face, now that I could see it, was one of pure joy and solid determination. It was also a look of surprise. I ran next to him. Told him he was amazing. So strong! So fast! He was running up the hill (the same one I had to run up for my finish) and I knew what he was feeling. Watching my little boy run was INCREDIBLE. He cracked a smile at the sound of my voice, when I told him I could see the finish. That he was almost there.
Will crossed the finish line of his first real road race mile in 7:57. They gave him a medal and I wrapped my arms around him. His heart was beating so fast, I could feel it pounding on his little chest. Those big brown eyes looked up at me and with a huge smile on his face he said to me “Wow Mommy, I am fast!” My kid FOUND HIS STRONG.
Mister Will, who has life threatening food allergies and has to inhale steroids every single day of the year for his asthma – RAN A RACE on Saturday. I think he felt like he could do anything after accomplishing that. Running is a gift, pure and simple.
Will decided that he is a runner on Saturday. Yesterday morning he woke up and wanted to take me for a run on Mother’s Day. We ran 2.5 miles together. It was one of the sweetest gifts I have ever received. I will cherish the memory forever and I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to sharing this sport with him over the years to come.
After Will finished his race, we caught up with Robert, Abby and Gus. They were still walking on the 1 mile course. Abby was hanging her head. I approached her and took her hand. I asked her if she would finish the race with me. She cried and nodded her head – yes. We started to jog and she told me she really didn’t want to run, that she couldn’t do it. I told her she didn’t have to go fast, that she just had to go, to move. She had come this far and we were together and we could even walk if she wanted to. My little girl cried the whole way up that hill and across the finish line. And I held her hand. I wanted her to know the importance of finishing something that you started. I knew that if she didn’t finish, she would be sad about it later.
When we crossed the finish line, she smiled as I hugged her. Later that day do you know what she told me as I tucked her in for bed? She said “Mommy, you made me feel proud of myself today.” Until then, I wasn’t sure if I had been too tough on her at the race, if I was caught up in my love for the sport and if maybe I had said the wrong things to motivate her.
All I want is for my children to feel proud of themselves. To be confident and happy. For them to feel GOOD about who they are. I want them to believe in themselves. To know that they can overcome difficult times – whether it be physical pain, emotional heartache, disappointment, whatever. Life is full of rough patches. I want my kids to be raised knowing that they are loved for who they are. That they are strong enough to endure what comes their way. That there is joy in persevering when all they feel like doing is shutting down and giving up.
As their mother, there is only so much I can do to protect my children from broken hearts and disappointments. My first instinct is to want to put them in this little cocoon where I can shield them from anything bad or difficult, protect them from feeling pain or sadness. To give them anything and everything their little hearts desire. But I know that this not possible and I also know that it wouldn’t be the best thing for them – AT ALL. That’s just not how life is. I would be doing a disservice to them. Instead, I will do what I can now to teach them to fight. To teach them to believe in themselves. To encourage them to follow their hearts. To help them build their own wings so they can fly.
I am thankful to the sport of running for helping me with this. This is one of the many ways that running helps me to be the best mother I can be. It’s not just about what running does for ME and my own peace of mind, my inner balance, my self confidence. It’s about what my running does for my children. The example it sets. They see me doing it and they know it is not easy for me. They see the dedication. They see the pain. And they see the joy. And this weekend, they not only saw it, but they FELT it for themselves.
I am so proud. And so very grateful.