The morning started like any other race morning, with two packets; a square packet of Quaker Instant Oatmeal and a rectangular, tube-like packet of Starbucks Via. Unlike a usual morning, I Instagrammed my breakfast. I spent a moment wondering if I was a loser or a cliche or both because really? Choosing a cool filter for a photo of prepackaged food? But I went ahead and did it anyway, wrote a caption, slapped on a few hashtags, and boom, there was my first ever Instagram post.
I got out the door, drove to the Y down the street from my sister’s house, in Attleboro, MA, the one I’ve been to several times, made a few u-turns in the very confusing office park where it’s located, then gave up and parked in some biotech company’s parking lot. I tried my best to follow the markings on the road to get to the race start but missed a crucial point, which sent me way out of my way… So I got my warm-up in. If you saw an idiot in a pink Lole hat (the kind with a little slit just for your ponytail) running around pretending to be doing a relaxed warm-up while her eyes were darting around, searching for any sign of the YMCA, that was me.
I got to the packet pick-up area, where I ran into one of the friends I planned to meet, about 30 minutes before the start. We warmed up together, then ran into our other friend right before the start. When the second friend and I spotted each other in a sea of people, we screamed like teenagers, which was fitting, considering we are high school friends.
The first friend and I decided to run together once we figured out that our PR’s were eerily similar. Within a minute, I was in front of her. I wished I’d had her next to me, but it just didn’t happen. Right away, I noticed a woman in an orange neon top and a long blonde ponytail. I made it my mission to keep her in my sights. The scenery was unimpressive, but I didn’t mind. I was staring at that bobbing, blonde ponytail, anyway. The course was very flat, weaving through the empty streets of an office park, down wide, sidewalk-less, curving roads, past office buildings, and through deserted parking lots. Through the first mile, I kept asking myself “Is this the right pace?” It had been a while since I did a 5k. I realize, having done a bunch of Stroke and Strides this summer (a 750 meter swim, followed by a 5k run), there is a huge benefit of doing a 5k over and over and over; it’s not just that you gain fitness (although that is great). It’s that you hone your sense of what the distance feels like and how to gauge your effort. Three months since my last 5k, my gauge was a bit rusty.
I looked at my watch as we passed the first mile mark and saw 6 something and thought to myself, either I went out way too fast, I’m a fucking machine, or my watch is wrong. When we passed the second mile mark, I was having trouble focusing on the itty bitty numbers on my watch because, well, I had been running at 5k race pace for two miles. The watch is a hand-me-down from my mother in law, and I had used it maybe once before, so I was not used to it. My (not so) trusty Tom Tom has been malfunctioning, which is why I was relying on a watch with numbers so small I could barely understand them. To TomTom’s credit, my GPS watch is no longer under warranty, but they are in the process of issuing me a new one. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t worn a watch at all.
Just after the second mile mark, I began to feel like I was on the verge of puking. On one hand, I was thrilled because, regardless of my pace, this meant I was doing something right. On the other hand, I really didn’t want to puke, so I was doing my best to find the sweet spot of running as fast as I could while keeping my oatmeal down. I wanted to run faster than my body was letting me. I still had my eye on ponytail girl when I started passing people. First a high school boy with a wonky, out of control gait. He reminded me of a really tall five-year-old, all enthusiasm and flailing limbs. Then there was a dude I passed on a hill. A chick in a Rhode Runner shirt passed me, and though I had every intention of passing her back, I never did. As we approached the 3 mile mark, I looked at my watch, which read 20 minutes and some seconds, and I felt sure that if I could just keep moving forward, I’d run my goal time of 21: 45.
As it turned out, I wasn’t a fucking machine and I had not necessarily gone out too fast… My watch was messed up. I crossed the finish line, absent of a finish clock (??), and looked down at my watch, which read 20:35. I was incredulous.. for good reason. It wasn’t true. I found ponytail girl, who’d finished just ahead of me. After I thanked her for motivating me, I asked her what her time was. She said twenty one twenty something, so I knew my 20:35 was completely wrong. How you mess up pressing a start button on a digital watch, I do not know, but obviously it is possible, because I did it.
As it turned out, I did PR by one second, with a time of 21:58, which made me the fifth female and first in my age group. I was happy with that, but I had to wonder if I could have found another gear if the stupid watch hadn’t given me a false sense of speed. Live and learn, right?
The best part of the race was not my time or my place, but the fact that I got to catch up with my old friends. It turned out the friend I started with was right behind me the whole time. We enjoyed a nice cool-down jog together, and then met up with the third friend. I promised myself I would not spend more time on this race report than it took me to actually run it. My timer is counting down and I have 13 seconds left… Till next time:)