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.