Hours after finishing, I am still buzzing from the endorphins and adrenaline of my first race, the 2012 Bupa Great Edinburgh Run 5K. Here is my race report, the first of many, because I’ve already signed up for my next 5K and will be starting a 10K training regimen on Tuesday. More on that later. This is long, so grab yourself a beverage before starting!
Yesterday I was a bit of a mess. I can work myself up over things I have never attempted before, especially those with a physical component because I have not yet built confidence in that area of my life. Aside from dance classes throughout childhood and adolescence, I avoided most physical activities because I wasn’t very good at them, opting to do things I could figure out and master the basics of quickly. We could go into the psychological reasons behind that, but this isn’t that kind of race report and no longer that kind of blog.
So back to yesterday: in between hydrating as instructed by many wise friends and the race booklet, I tried to take it as easy as possible in between minor fretting over how to attach the timing chip to my shoe or when to pin my number to my shirt. I also couldn’t decide which gadgets to bring, so I ended up with all three: my Garmin Forerunner 110, my Fitbit, and my iPhone. As usual, obsessing over the littlest details gave me something to focus on whilst the real “holy crap, I’m running a race tomorrow” thought loomed in the back of my head. It wasn’t so much dread as it was just not having anything to compare it to in my life.
I tried very hard to go to bed early, which translated to around midnight, later than I’d wanted but it took ages to calm the nerves … and the piercing headache … and the backflipping stomach … and my ridiculous brain that kept asking me if I was really going to do this.
The alarm went off at six this morning, and I had a small bowl of porridge and tried to eat a banana but the latter was inedible. I had another pint-glass of water whilst checking email, Facebook, and Twitter. I took my friend Claudine’s advice at this point and had a little bit of caffeine in the form of a small cup of tea, first a few sips to test out my stomach, and then the rest when I confirmed that it was going down all right. FunkyPlaid was up with me and went to the store as I showered so that I did have a banana before the race like I wanted — bless him. He also brought me a Cadbury creme egg to tuck in my pocket for after the race. He is officially the best.
I left the house only a few minutes later than I planned and began my two-mile walk to Holyrood Park, which I took as slowly as my nervous legs would allow. The Pleasance was blocked off to traffic already, so it was just me and the police and other runners walking — and some running, those showoffs — to the start. I listened to my Couch to 5K mix and breathed slowly and deeply. When I realised where I was in the city — which still happens suddenly, dramatically for me because of my awful sense of direction — all of my scaredy-cat nerves fell away. I saw Arthur’s Seat in front of me and all I could think was, “Let’s GO GO GO!”
But first I had to go. You know. All that water and then the tea! So I beelined for the toilets where I found my first-ever non-queue queuing situation in Edinburgh. One line of portapotties and no queue. People were dumbfounded. I was fairly befuddled, even though I come from the land of Me First. I saw one woman trying to make her own queue by standing behind random people, but they kept wandering off to, I don’t know, actually use the toilet. She might not have made it to the starting line. If my bladder hadn’t been yelling at me, I would have spent more time dissecting this cultural anomaly.
This is where it gets to be a bit of a blur. I found my starting group — green for “goes really slowly” — and removed my windbreaker, since the sun was already starting to warm me up a lot. I remembered the race booklet saying something about hydration stations along the way, so I didn’t grab a bottle of water before the warm-up, and that was a mistake. There were no stations. (Lesson #1: I will not leave the starting gate without a bottle of water in my hand.) The booklet also promised pipers at every km marker but I heard none — and it’s not like bagpipers can be stealthy. But first, the warm-up, which was led by a very cheery, muscular man on a hydraulic lift near the start. Six minutes later, I was so very ready to just run already.
Slowly the colour-coordinated starting groups were shuffled to the starting line. Scottish long-distance runner Freya Murray was sounding the air-horn to release each group. Green was the last group, of course, and I positioned myself near the back to avoid faster runners having to weave around me. The sheer number of people meant that the event coordinators had to herd us quickly through metal gates positioned a few yards before the actual start, giving me the vague sense of being in an airport security line only I was allowed to keep my shoes on. (Bliss.) One of the event coordinators, a young man in a bright blue shirt, said in my general direction, “Let’s do this.” And then we did.
I knew to pace myself, and was a little surprised at how many people around me took off sprinting first thing. I was excited to hear the pipers at each km marker so I left one earbud out and listened to music only very softly. Mostly I was listening for the folks on Facebook who were leaving me comments, which were then relayed through to me via Runmeter, which read them to me in a sultry female voice with just a hint of an English accent. Ah, technology.
Part of the reason why I knew to pace myself was because I studied the course elevation profile pretty closely the night before. (Being obsessive pays off occasionally.) I knew that the first km was going to have a sneaky little hill that began on Holyrood Road and looked innocuous enough but then kept ascending around the turn onto St Mary’s Street. I saw many a dejected runner stop running on that corner. Since I hadn’t been training on hills, I knew my pace was going to suffer, but I was determined not to walk. This strategy paid off for the most part. (Lesson #2: Train on hills, dammit.)
One of the most unusual bits of advice I received from seasoned runner friends before the race was to smile. (Thanks, Laura.) It turned out to be great advice because once I started, I couldn’t stop, and when I smiled at other people, they smiled right back. Running downhill on the Royal Mile with a giant grin on my face was one of the best moments of the whole morning. I knew the next hill wouldn’t come for a while, but I was worried about wasting energy by going faster, so I just let the momentum speed me up and grinned a lot.
Upon seeing the 2 km marker, I became desperately sad. Not only had I heard nary a piper but that meant the race was nearly halfway over — and I was having so much fun! The endorphins had hit at this point, and I was feeling confident about the Regent Road ascent. More and more people were slowing to a walk behind me, then would get some breath back and overtake me. This see-saw of focus and intention was unbelievably energising to be around. There seemed to be no “runner type” aside from our trainers and sweat. To be truly one with a group of diverse people, all running for our own reasons and toward our own goals, was a feeling I will never be able to describe. There were tears in my eyes as I ran, just as there are as I write this.
And then came Regent Road, and all my sweet, sweet thoughts of unity turned to muttered curses. Well, not quite, but I did catch one of the official photographers snapping my reddened visage just as that grin was starting to slip. One moment I was trudging up that pavement, and the next it felt like the pavement was overly eager to meet my face. I recognised this feeling as a sudden loss of blood to the brain, had a millisecond of disappointment, and then slowed to a walk. No way was I going to faint and not finish this thing. I walked briskly for about thirty seconds until I felt less awful and then started up again.
It’s true what they say about starting up again from a walk: it sucks. I had lost momentum in my body and my brain. But soon the turnaround was in sight, which meant we were well into the third km. That and the comments from Facebook friends were enough to get me up and smiling again. Jason inexplicably said “Milk and butter!” which sent me veering into another runner’s path as I cackled.
The last km was quite mixed. My muscles were buzzing with endorphins but I had a few moments of nausea that unsettled me. However, as soon as I saw the Capital FM bus blaring music, I knew that we were nearly done — one benefit of having run past that part of the course on the way out! The two announcers were next to the course, encouraging us for the last little bit. One of them raised his hand for a high-five and then jogged backwards, making me run farther to smack his hand.
I hit it really hard.
The announcers said the finish line was “right around the corner” but I couldn’t believe it. And then suddenly there it was, and I started giggling. Me, about to finish a running race! By the time I crossed it I was laughing maniacally.
Everything was incredibly organised, and I was especially grateful after I finished because my brainpower was very low. After struggling a bit to rip the timing chip off my shoe — I told the chip collector, “HULK WEAK!” but she was not amused — I wandered to the nice people handing out finisher’s bags and water. So much water.
After some stretching and rehydrating and texting and tweeting, I decided to walk home. Along the way, I watched the 10K runners with a huge smile on my face. And promptly decided to run a 10K in February or March of 2013 for my birthday. Training starts on Tuesday.
As I write this, I am wearing my souvenir t-shirt and my medal. My official time was 38:08, but that’s just a number. Officially I set out to achieve two goals. The first goal was to prove to myself that I can reclaim my body from chronic illness. I no longer have to be in a war with my physical self, thinking only in terms of how I don’t look or what I can’t do anymore. I would not have been strong enough mentally or physically to run a race just a few short years ago.
The second goal was to prove to myself that when I’m not getting in my own way, I can do anything.
Running isn’t for everyone, but I believe those two goals are. I hope you achieve them in whichever way makes you happiest. Thank you for reading this, for blowing past my Diabetes UK fundraising goal with your generous donations, for listening to my years of Couch to 5K training updates, for sending me love (and milk and butter) during the race, for pinning my number to my shirt because my hands were shaking too hard … for never once telling me not to do this.