Excuses, excuses, excuses. I’ve had them—and good ones, too. But perhaps it was the specter of turning 50 that made me want to start running for my life. I’ve written before about how I started running and about my magic running shoes. And slowly but surely, I’ve gotten a little bit stronger every run—which only occurred weekly if I was lucky.
As many of you already know, I come from the family that owns Runner’s World magazine and am the CEO of the company. So when David Willey, editor-in-chief and GM of our Active Living Group and one of my favorite coworkers, told me he was going to put on a Runner’s World Festival in our hometown of Bethlehem, I felt it was time for me to get some skin in the game and support the team. No pressure or anything. I signed up for the 5K.
As focused as I am at work and at home, I am not a competitive person in general, so for me the most significant wins were going to be mental: Could I put myself out there in front of all my coworkers and strangers and have them see just how slow I really was? Could I run a 5K without walking? Could I find a bathroom if I needed one because, let’s face it, sometimes while running I really, really need one? Could I actually run that early in the morning—8:00!!!—a time when I’m usually still drinking coffee and sitting down doing things like writing blogs? (As I write this, it’s 7:44 a.m.). Well, there was only one way to find out.
I arrived with my sleepy kids in tow at 7 a.m. We all went to the bathroom at least four times. I went maybe six. The bathrooms at the venue, Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, are awesome. There are dozens of them for women. No lines! Flushing! (I was very relieved to find out that I wasn’t the only one who was worried about this.)
I knew I was slow when I saw they didn’t have a starting line for my usual time, 16 minutes per mile. So I got in line at the back. I found myself next to lots of woman heavier and older than I am. One woman, who couldn’t have been more than 4 feet tall and who had a decade or two on me, told me her favorite training book was Run Your Butt Off. We published that, but I hadn’t read it. I looked around and felt confident I could hang in there. When the race started, they all flew past me.
How do they do that? I asked myself as I started out at my usual pace. I knew I could do three miles because that’s the distance I usually do when I run. When I run out of my driveway and go left or right, there is no shortcut home; it’s three miles of mountains. Steep mountains. So the first little hill of this course had me questioning, Is this it? Is this the hill?
I kept running. Other people were run/walking. Many of them were still faster than I was. But I decided then and there I was not going to let that bother me. I was just going to enjoy the autumn morning, the chance to run down the middle of roads that normally were filled with traffic and the pleasure of the fact that—miraculously—I didn’t feel like I had to find a bathroom. Although it did feel like my pants were falling down; I hadn’t worn these winter running pants since last year, and I had visions of them slipping down and showing my big white butt. As I ran I found that string that tightens the waist and did my best to make them more snug. Whew! That would have made headlines.
And so I ran. I was listening to music in my headphones. I got emotional when Bruce Springsteen’s song “Wrecking Ball” came on and I was running in the shadows of the old Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces. Pennsylvania is not Springsteen’s beloved New Jersey, but it’s close. We are like siblings who sort of like each other. Sometimes. I started to formulate this blog in my head. Running a 5K gives you a lot of time to think about stuff! I saw a few coworkers who were on bikes coming around to check on the pokey runners like me. One coworker, Budd Coates, who is older than I am and has won marathons, offered to run the last mile with me and I said no. Thank you, Budd, but I was in my space at my own pace—which was right with the large and beautiful woman of African descent with the pink satin sash that said “Fabulous” on it.
When I saw the finish line, I was still running strong and steady. And slowly. The clock said 46 minutes, which I thought was about right on my usual pace, maybe slightly faster. I felt good when I finished. But I felt even better when a coworker scanned my bib and I realized I had run at a 14:26 pace. Still damn slow, but my first PR, which for those of you who don’t know (I didn’t, even a year ago) stands for Personal Record. Because most of us aren’t running to beat others, we are running to beat ourselves and our own prior times. My actual time was 44:55, younger than my age. Slow. But I did it. And I enjoyed it.
But here was the best part. My 6-year-old ran the kids’ race (¼ mile) later that morning. She was the first girl to cross the finish line!
That night, when we were listening to amazing speeches by Bart Yasso and Matt Long, she was busy writing in her journal. This is what she wrote: “I love to run. So does my mom. I won a medal at the race. My mom won a medal too in a race.” OK, I did correct her spelling for the sake of this blog. And my medal was just for finishing. But winning comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, and at many speeds.
The most important thing is to just get out there and do it and not worry too much about what everyone else is thinking. And then, just experience the joy. Focus on the joy. Yes, there will be some pain. But there will be more pleasure than pain. And the joy makes it all worthwhile.
Awesome! You go girl!!
I ran a PR too…and cried when I saw the clock through the finish line. It is so true – our biggest competitor is ourselves. It was an amazing day and I really hope this becomes an annual event! Cheers to your PR! I hope you have your number and medal proudly on display!
I loved reading this! I am approaching 50 with a 5 year old daughter and am a slow walker/jogger. You have inspired me to sign up for a race soon. My daughter has just run her first 1K and came in a distant last but her face was radiant as she crossed the finish line. I was so proud of her, and better yet, she was proud of herself.
Thank you for sharing your story.
You are awesome, Maria!
The most common thing I hear among female runners is “…but I’m slow.” I’ve heard it a lot from women who can keep up with guys to women who can walk after than they run. I wonder what it is that makes so many females feel the need to preface their running with a comment on speed.
What matters, as you pointed out, is that you did it and improved on your own time/goals–and you did so just like that woman’s sash–fabulous(ly).
You go, girl! Inspiring!
Maria, very impressive! That’s a big step to conquer a milestone as big as a 5K and most importantly, all those mental stops! Congratulations!
Congrats Maria! I’m not slow, I’m no runner at all! I so wish that I had started sooner. I do love to walk, so that’s my goal, to walk a marathon for a worthy cause, which are many.
I’ve got six years on you, and I don’t think that I want to start running at this point, except on a treadmill. I greatly admire you. You keep up the good work, and run to your own beat. That’s what I’ve done all my life, not caring about what someone else does or is doing, but doing it because I know that it is right for me.
Inspiring. Thank you. I pledged to walk a 5k with a friend (I have a knee that will not tolerate running-though if I could just lose 10 pounds…) and both of us have put it off for the past three years. Maybe it is time I just do it, with or without her. You are right. The only one I need to impress with this is myself. Come March, I am in.
Nice job–and nice story!
Yeay! Well done, Maria!
Good for you Maria! Sounds like you were “born to run”…..
Thank you all! It feels so good to see all your positive feedback! That settles it. I’m going to keep on running!
I have Run Your Butt Off! on my coffee table; borrowed it from the library when I got my rheumatologist’s OK to start a runner’s training program. I don’t need to lose weight but the authors’ and program participants’ stories motivate and inspire me as I work my way through Stage 3 this week. Your story does, too. I’m a young 42 with Rheumatoid Arthritis (and new left knee as of December 2011) and I want to run–well, jog slowly–and enjoy that “high” that comes from it. It’s good for my heart, lungs, body, and confidence, too. Perfect timing, reading your running triumph today. Thanks!
Amen to running the race & not worrying about the pace! I ran my first 5k last July and then ran another last September… the running has been on and off since then, but just got back to a regular schedule of at least three times a week! Thanks for your inspiration… I especially love the image of the “Fabulous” pink sash… I hope we are all “wearing those” everyday! May God bless us all with continued inspiration and momentum!
Congratulations! Running your first race is a huge milestone. To paraphrase Anna Quindlen: Don’t ever let anyone else’s definition of success be yours. YOU are in charge of defining what personal best or personal record means to you. If there’s anything we at RW can do as you keep running, don’t hesitate to ask! Every finish line is just the start of a new adventure! So nice to finally and formally meet you! Best, Jen
I turned 50 this past August. It was awesome.
I had intended to enter my first 5k with my husband (48) who has been running the last three years. We would have started together and he would have cheered me on at the line. Earlier this year, I developed a stupid cranky bunion (apparently the women on Mom’s side get these at some point). I walk but never made it to jogging.
At the race I had intended to enter, where my husband ran another PR/PB, the last runner to cross the line wore a t-shirt that said “No More Excuses!” across her back. She was heavy-set and moved slowly, but she did it. She was pure inspiration. I talked over my goal with my family. Youngest son (17) said, “Mom, you don’t have a bunion, you have a Funion!” I’m ‘in training’ for 2013! First 5k at age 51 comin’ up!
Way to go, Maria! I used to do a lot of running, especially when I was at RW, & know it takes determination & effort. So congratulations to you for both running & writing your story so well!
Wonderful~Way to go and I greatly appreciate your honesty…I started running 6 months ago (first time in a decade) and have come to a similar conclusion….it’s for me…for my own physical and mental health and the time doesn’t matter…because we are lapping everyone sitting on the couch~