Saturday, October 19, 2013

Day 160 - Running a 5k

I have never run a 5k race. Although my previous experiences with running have always resulted in me gasping for breath in a heap on the floor, early in my “I have never...” year I decided I would complete a 5k race at some point during this year. Admittedly, this was an event I knew I was going to tackle at some point, but I procrastinated heavily when it came to actually acting on that intent. As spring moved to summer I started taking note of the increasing amount of 5k races being advertised nearly every place I visited. Regardless of the number of races I encountered, my inaction on signing up for such an event continued through late summer and into autumn. Although there were opportunities to participate in a 5k race at nearly every turn, I eventually found myself two and a half months from the end of the year and still lacking the experience of running a 5k race.

Realizing the opportunity to run a 5k free of the sting of winter was fading with the season, I decided in September I would finally run a 5k when the next opportunity presented itself. As a result, I began searching for 5k events that would fit into my calendar, which caused me to stumble upon the Glo Run 5k event in Madison on October 19th. Although I still had a great degree of hesitation about committing to an event that required running 3.1 miles, as I read about the Glo Run I found myself thinking it was a near-perfect event to tackle for my first experience with a 5k. After all, the race wasn’t timed, it occurred during the evening when the air would be cooler, and the theme concentrated on making the race more about fun than about running. With those thoughts in mind, I forced through my reservations and committed to participating in the Glo Run. With Rachael agreeing to accompany me, I braced myself for the experience and wondered if I would be able to make it to the finish line when the day of the race finally arrived.

The Glo Run entrance
With my daily “I have never...” events occupying my time, I found the day of the Glo Run upon us faster than I expected. As a result, I tentatively prepared for the night’s event as the afternoon traced into this evening. With unusually cold weather occupying the stretch of the last week, Rachael and I bundled up in layers of clothing we deemed most appropriate for a night run in mind-October, adding the final touch of our fluorescent race shirts and stacks of glow sticks to our race getup before heading for the door. Shortly after leaving home, we found ourselves pulling into the Alliant Energy Center in Madison for the second time in as many days, which served as the starting point of the race.

After parking our car, Rachael and I headed into a crowd of people gathering on the festival grounds outside the nearby Coliseum. Around us hundreds of people in workout gear and costumes built around the familiar Glo Run neon shirts gathered around a live DJ positioned on a temporary stage. In the quickly cooling evening air, members of the crowd danced and jumped around to keep warm, making the most of the time before the race began. In the following minutes the crowd swelled further until an announcement indicating the race was ready to start blasted over the speakers on the stage.

Trying to stay warm before the race

In response to the announcement, Rachael and I stacked up behind a portion of the massive crowd and prepared for the race to begin. To my surprise, I found myself anxious to begin the race as the final countdown to the start began. I enthusiastically jumped around and stretched as we stood by waiting, and I found my earlier hesitation about running the 5k diminishing among the crowd of people. In that moment I told myself there was only one way to gain the full experience of the race, which gave me pause just seconds before the race began. As the sound of the DJ yelling “Go!” tore through the air I started moving my feet and grabbed onto a moment of clarity in my mind. I knew it might leave me in pain and winded, but everything inside me told me I could complete the race without stopping or walking. I was going to experience my first 5k the way it was intended to be experienced, by running my heart out.

Making our way to the start line

Once we crossed the start line, the crowd around Rachael and I began to fan out into pockets of sprinters, joggers, and walkers. Intent on keeping our feet moving, I let Rachael set our pace early on, which led us into a moderate jog as we wrapped through the first few bends of the course. Several minutes after we began, I was pleased to find that I was not deteriorating into a state of labored breathing and overwhelming fatigue. Instead, I was steady and energetic. We were making headway, and that alone was enough to keep me going as we pressed on toward the mid-point of the course.

The first tunnel
A little further into the course, I was happy to see Rachael and I maintaining our stamina in the face of the growing distance we had run. After passing another DJ booth, crossing a waterway, and barreling through a black light tunnel, we came upon a stretch of roadway barricaded for the sole purpose of the Glo Run. There, some Glo Run volunteers cheered us on and announced we had completed half the length of the course. The information immediately gave me a rush of confidence and inspiration as I realized the pace at which we had conquered one and a half miles of terrain. We covered the distance much faster than I expected, and my ample amount of energy seemed more than enough to get me through the rest of the race. Bolstered by the moment, I quickly checked with Rachael on her condition. After she confirmed she was still doing fine at the midpoint of the course, I turned back to the road ahead and focused on the next stretch of the race.

Getting there!
Together Rachael and I pushed forward through the rest of the street leg of the race until we came upon a colorfully lit tunnel that broke into a series of gravel trails running through a park very near the Alliant Energy Center. Underneath to bright light of the rising full moon, we wound our way through the slowing crowd around us in our wide loop around the park, which eventually led us to a stretch of land running parallel to the Alliant Energy property. Still on the gravel path, we met the crest of a small hill that exposed the familiar sight of the Glo Run’s starting line. “We’re almost there! I can see it!” I called to Rachael as we continued moving our feet at our familiar moderate pace.

Although obvious pain had moved into my leg muscles over the previous miles of running, seeing the start line gave me another breath of energy as we rounded a hairpin turn into the last tunnel of the race course. Emerging on the other side of the laser-lit and foggy tube, an undulating stretch of asphalt remained the only obstacle left between us and the finish line. With each step I took, the reality of nearing the finish line starting setting in and motivating me to keep my sore legs moving. I was about to complete my first 5k, and I hadn’t stopped for a break at any point during my effort. Rounding the final corner of the race, a smile crossed my face as I gave one final push, quickened my pace, and powered across the finish line. With Rachael at my side, I had taken on a 5k and I came out victorious. While that might seem a small feat for some, for me it was something to celebrate.

Catching our breath

With the race complete, Rachael and I took a little time to catch our breath before we headed home for the night. Curious about our performance, I did a quick check of the length of time it took us to run race. To my surprise, we had run roughly ten and a half minute miles during our trek, which was far better than I ever would have expected. Lifted by my findings, I stood tall and took in my last views of the Glo Run course before we left for home. Around us racers lit by racks of black lights danced to the music still pumping from the stage near the start line. In one final celebration of our collective effort, they happily sprang back and forth in the cool night air, fluorescing in the unique setup that gave the Glo Run its name.

Busting loose after the race

As I looked over the crowd, I couldn’t help but feel proud of the effort Rachael and I put in to running the race. Despite the pain in my legs and uncomfortable feeling of wearing sweat drenched clothes, I was happy I put myself through the challenge of taking on a 5k. For the first time in my life, I realized why people choose to run, and although that discovery flew in the face of every feeling I had about running up to this point in my life, it somehow made sense to me. The ability to overcome a challenge more than justified the effort, and the feeling I walked away with was highly fulfilling. That realization represents a massive shift in my perspective on running, one that will keep me thinking for some time. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if it’s enough to convince to run again. At this point only time will tell...

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