Settle down, Sally. I’m not going to share details of that ‘special’ night back in 1983 when, after plying myself with copious amounts of my then boyfriend [now husband]’s dad’s homemade wine, I had my first go at the horizontal mambo.
Nope, I’m talking about my first ever 5k race. Although in fairness calling it a race is a misnomer because it was not, in fact, a timed race, rather a “fun run” for charity. But I, being me, made sure to time myself to the second. Because that’s what I do.
The Ugly Sweater Run took place in Toronto on Saturday November 16th.
Based on a number of mitigating circumstances, I wasn’t planning on a super successful run that day. Chief among those circumstances, the fact that the run would be outdoors, in Toronto, in November, which didn’t bode well for my predilection for cold-induced asthma.
And also because I was already battling a head cold, so the nasal congestion would force a lot of mouth breathing, and therefore lots of coughing, courtesy of the cold-induced asthma.
My ego kicked in that morning, and assured me that no matter how long it took me to finish, or how many walk breaks I had to take, that this event was about charity and the fact that I could tick running a 5k off my fitness bucket list. i.e. I set myself up for low performance and told myself I was okay with that.
I took a quick selfie at home while Mr. Enthusiasm was still putting his outfit together. Did I mention that this sweater (a thrift shop find courtesy of my sister-in-law) had shoulder pads sewn into it? Oh yes, it’s a special kind of ugly.
We arrived at the venue a little late, which turned out to be okay as they were staggering start times to prevent too much congestion. We ended up starting with the fourth (and last) group of starters.
Strollers and dogs [on leashes] were in large supply, making the start of the run a bit tricky to navigate.
The temperature was allegedly around 14 degrees Celsius (57 Farenheit), so I began to question my choice to don a long-sleeve wicking shirt and a dri-fit yoga zip jacket under my ugly Christmas sweater.
There was no use worrying about it at that point as the emcee was just about to begin his 10 second countdown to start my group off.
Oh that ego likes to handle me with fine kid gloves. It’s no wonder I’ve fallen under its spell as often as I have.
One quick pose together before we started the run.
And we were off!
Mr. Enthusiasm gently nudged/guided me away from the stroller obstacles ahead of me, and with a final push told me to “go do this!”.
That’s all I needed to hear, so I picked up my pace and started running. My breathing became strained pretty quickly, so I slowed my pace a bit.
And a minute or so later, Mr. Enthusiasm passed me.
I rubbed my eyes to make sure it was really him. How was this happening? He hadn’t been training. He hadn’t been running. He gets his cardio in walking and biking. What the what?
I picked up my pace again, and willed myself to catch up to him. That earlier self-protecting-benevolent side of my ego just got quashed by my ego’s far more powerful dark side. It’s name, competitiveness. Suck it up, stupid lungs. Run!
It was at this point that I noticed that my pants were halfway down my ass. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? A wardrobe malfunction during my first 5k? Why me?? WHY?
I don’t know what kept causing my pants to slide down, but the first 1.5k was spent hauling my waistband back up. I guess I finally pulled so hard, likely jamming them up so high and causing an atomic wedgie, that they finally stayed put for the balance of the run. I’m sure the view from behind (and possibly straight on) was something.
The event organizers had cute little hot chocolate stands at the midway point – and I even stopped to grab a small cup. I checked my time, but since I had no way of knowing how far I’d run, I couldn’t tell if I was doing well or not. No mile markers. I assumed, based on the fact that I had taken a few walk breaks of several seconds each, and stopped for hot chocolate, that I would be finishing around the 39 minute mark.
My previous best 5k time was 36 minutes, but my average was just under 37 minutes.
Note, I lost sight of Mr. Enthusiasm during all the wardrobe issues, hot chocolate drinking and picture taking. I assumed he was behind me, but kept pushing myself on the off-chance that he was ahead.
As I turned at another bend in the road, I noticed a bunch of the runners climbing a hill. This picture doesn’t do it justice, it was a ridiculously steep hill. And I thought, oh fuck no. WHY?
But then I heard a race organizer shouting, stay on the road, the hill is not part of the course. Small mercies. I suppose a number of the runners knew this, and since they weren’t running a timed race (and didn’t have giant egos to contend with), they took the little detour anyway.
Me, not so much.
I saw this as an opportunity to pass another bunch of runners, which felt pretty darned good, regardless the circumstance.
Suckahs!!! Have fun on that stupid hill! See you at the finish line. [I’m good with the smack talk.]
In what seemed to be the final mile, I found myself running right behind a pair of gals, one of whom had jingle bells attached to her ugly sweater. The sound of those bells, ringing with each blessed step she took, began grating on my nerves in a way that was most unbecoming. I didn’t feel as though I had a lot of gas left in the tank, but with whatever I had remaining, I willed my legs to go a little bit faster and take me away from those damned bells.
As I wound around another bend, I could finally see the finish line. I could hear the event emcee, cheering runners in. I heard him say, “Come on runners, finish strong!”. And I dug just a little bit deeper.
I gave’er all I had for that last stretch (maybe a quarter mile? I’m so bad with distance, forgive me.) and as I approached the finish, I raised my arms in victory, with the biggest smile on my face. The emcee said, and I quote, “That’s the most enthusiastic finish we’ve seen today! You win the finishing with flourish award!“.
I was beaming!
You would have thought I had just finished a half marathon. 🙂
I looked down at my watch, knowing nothing could diminish this feeling – regardless how slow I’d finished. And that’s when I saw my time: 33:50.
A year ago, I couldn’t run more than 2 minutes without stopping. Even a month ago, finishing 5k in less than 35 minutes seemed an aggressive (and probably unrealistic) goal.
The cynic in me kicked in about 3 seconds later, saying, no way that was a full 5k. Maybe the course was shorter.
And that’s when I allowed my ego to come back and tell that cynical voice to just piss. right. off.
Whether the course was just slightly less than 5k or exactly 5k (and I have no way of knowing), what I did was a giant win and worthy of my celebration and pride.
The girl who was a non-runner her whole life, the same one who couldn’t go 120 seconds without a walk break, just finished a 5k in less than 34 minutes.
Joy is the only word that even comes close to describing what I felt.
I waited patiently for Mr. Enthusiasm to arrive. And when he did, I had my camera at the ready.
Slow and steady, and sporting a giant grin. Go Mr. Enthusiasm!
But then I realized I didn’t get any shots crossing the finish line myself. So I staged a fake finish. Which was totally lame, but hey, I needed photo evidence of some sort to commemorate the moment. Sort of.
After grabbing some more hot chocolate, we strolled around the venue and snapped a few more pics, some successful, others not so much.
And then I warmed myself by the cozy fireplace.
This 5k may rank among the most fun I’ve had in a long time. Kudos to the organizers, who hailed from Denver, Co, for putting together an event that was light, fun and welcoming to runners and non-runners alike.
My first 5k experience will be a cherished memory forever.
If the Ugly Sweater Run comes to your city, I would encourage you to sign up. It’s a ridiculously fun event, and supports local charities. Our event benefited Children’s Wish Foundation. What could be better?