5K in 36:29

About twenty-five years ago I ran a 10K race. I wasn’t a fast runner then, and I’m a good deal slower now at age 50. But I achieved one things in this mornings 5K race that I didn’t manage then – I did better than the goal time I had set for myself.

I had been training for a good deal longer back then, and I had hoped to average an 8 minute mile. I don’t remember what my 10K time was, but I know it was well over 49.7 minutes.

I just started training for today’s race a couple of months ago, after not having run at all since my mid-20’s. At first it felt discouraging to be so much slower than I used to be, and I imagined what a pathetic old slowpoke I must look like to anyone watching me jog past, breathing hard even at such a slow pace.

But once I could jog over a mile without having to take a break to walk and catch my breath, I started to find some of the satisfaction I remembered from the activity. I’ve never been good at any sports, lacking speed, strength, coordination and – most important – interest.

I did try really hard to get better at basketball my senior year of high school, after having a friend at camp during the summer who encouraged me to play. But getting my arms and legs to work together for a lay-up shot was more than I could manage, no matter how many times I tried.

The nice thing about running is that it doesn’t require much in the way of coordination. As long as I can keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’m making progress. Of course, I don’t always succeed even at that. Two weeks ago, I tripped on a crack in the pavement and fell face-first. But at least I’m persistent. I got up and finished my run, oblivious to the blood dripping down my elbow.

And as I find myself tiring and my breathing comes harder, I know that I can still keep pushing myself forward. I never questioned whether I could finish today’s race, only how long it would take me. The last three runs (or should I call them jogs?), I finished 3K in 24 minutes. I hadn’t gone as far as 5K, and figured my speed could only go downhill after the first 3K. So the best time I expected for today was 40 minutes.

That’s probably about what I would have done if I had been running on my own. But this morning I ran alongside a co-worker, Steve, and his wife for most of the course. Near the end his wife must have gotten a burst of energy because she took off ahead of us. I’m sure Steve could have matched her stride (if not for a recent injury, he estimated he would have been doing a 7-minute mile).

But he stayed with me, constantly encouraging me. Near the end of the race, another co-worker, Jeremy, who had finished already, came back and jogged with us to encourage me also. At the time, I thought I would have preferred to run in silence (except for the sound of my labored breathing). But I probably did push myself more with them on either side of me than I would have on my own.

I did get a nice burst of (relative) speed the last fifty feet or so, and crossed the finish line looking (I hope) less exhausted than I felt. Steve had been telling me I’d finish in well under 40 minutes, but even so I was surprised when he told me my time.

Now I have to decide what goal to set for next year’s race.

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