The 2013 Edinburgh Marathon Festival 10K last Saturday was not only my first 10K race but my first time racing with a friend. It turned out to be just as fun as I hoped it would be, and I am so grateful for the experience.
The day before, I rested, hydrated, and ate well. Gingiber (my race partner) and Seth came by for a cuppa and we chatted about the next day. Despite the time difference, I got to Skype for a few moments with FunkyPlaid before I went to sleep. Unfortunately, I did not sleep well. I woke up later than intended and had my usual banana and porridge later than intended, too. This would come back to bite me later.
Just before 08:00, I met Gingiber at her flat to hand off the cookies I made the night before so that Seth could bring them to us at the finish line. (If you like cookies like I like cookies, make a point to do this.) We walked down to Holyrood Park in an easy pace. The weather was gorgeous, warm and cloudless.
In the forty minutes that passed like a blink, Holyrood Park filled with runners and spectators. We had one last pit-stop and then I drank half a bottle of water, which was unwise. Gingiber found her friend Carmen, who was also running. There wasn’t any warmup, so once we found our pace group and did some stretching, there was nothing left to do but start the race.
Due to the sheer number of participants, the awkward jog/walk to the actual start line was a bit clogged. Carmen soon disappeared into a throng of faster runners. The clog of runners didn’t even out until we passed the first km marker, when the ascent up Arthur’s Seat went from “annoying” to “painful”.
Yet again, after those first 3 km, it was entirely worth it for the views.
Most of the race went by very quickly. My late breakfast and that half a bottle of water combined into a powerful side stitch, which wasn’t fun, but aside from that I felt great. I was shocked when we passed the halfway point, because up until recently that was the longest I had ever run in one go. The reality of running my first 10K race was finally sinking in, and I got very excited. Gingiber was consistently encouraging and positive throughout, which added to the enjoyment. The endorphins didn’t hurt, either.
The water station came up at the 6 km marker. Even though I was dealing with a side stitch, I was extremely thirsty, and so Gingiber and I split a small bottle, just a few sips each. I dumped the rest over my head and back so I could cool down a little. That’s something I didn’t expect: overheating in a race in Scotland.
Running into Duddingston was really fun. There were lots of spectators cheering us on. I loved how Gingiber thanked every single person who gave us a “good job” or “keep going” along the way. And there were many!
The Innocent Railway path was the hardest part of the course for me. My intrepid running partner did not walk once during the race, but I had to walk a few times, particularly during this section. We were already 8 km in, and I was feeling fatigued. The grade, albeit slight, was not helping.
But then there was the awful climb out of there and we were nearly done! Somewhere during that last km, a guy running near us was egging his friend on and thought it’d be similarly motivating to Gingiber and me if he tossed some cold water on us. So he did that. I didn’t like it at all, and muttered something about how if I could catch him, I’d kick his ass. But honestly, if you’re encouraging someone you know, and they don’t mind you throwing water on them, that’s fine and your business. But don’t throw water on me. I don’t know you, and it doesn’t make me want to run faster.
This simple moment made me ponder the nature of motivation and why I enjoy racing. I like it so much because I’m accomplishing a difficult goal alongside lots of other people doing the same thing, all for different reasons. All of those different reasons have different motivations. It is a lovely impulse to want to help motivate someone to do their best, but we should be mindful of how we do it.
But back to the race! Although my gear was dampened, my spirits were not. We were nearing the finish line … except we couldn’t see it. Obviously there was a spectating mass up ahead, but the actual line wasn’t in sight. Though at this point I was turning into my usual soppy self, so maybe I just had something in my eye. Then, suddenly, we turned a sharp left and the finish line was right there. Gingiber said something about running for it and we took off at a sprint. It was a glorious way to cross that sneaky line.
We collected our medals and goody-bags and went off to collapse on the sunny lawn by Our Dynamic Earth. Seth brought us cookies, Carmen found us, and I rode the endorphin high the rest of the day.
So what’s next? When I signed up for my first 5K, I decided that I wanted to run a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, and a marathon. I will be running another 10K in July, and on Monday I began training for a half-marathon that I hope to complete before the end of 2013. I just have to find the right race.
As always, I am deeply indebted to my friends and family for encouraging me to do whatever crazy thing makes me happy. This makes me happy. And knowing you believe in me makes me even happier.
Tonight’s slippery 6K run ended my third week of 10K training. It wasn’t a fast run, and it certainly wasn’t comfortable, with those giant, wet snowflakes sliding down my collar and up my sleeves, but it did the job.
So now I am one-quarter of the way to being ready for my first 10K race, which happens this May during the Edinburgh Marathon Festival weekend. I had wanted to run a 10K for my birthday, but the training timing didn’t quite work out, and I am okay with that. Better to run confidently and happily instead. I’ll also be running with friends, which will add to the fun!
To train, I am adhering strictly to a twelve-week regimen that starts out with three runs per week, bumping up gradually to five runs per week. Honestly, I cannot wait until that point. My running days are so much better than my non-running days that I hope soon I can regularly run at least five days out of every seven.
Subjectively, it feels like I have become a stronger, faster runner. I wanted to see the numbers to back that feeling up. Advanced metrics are only available with “pro” subscriptions on the sites I use, so I just took my most basic stats and compared them against the last twelve months. I was pleased with the results: my average distance is the highest it has ever been, and my average pace is the fastest. When I started running, I could barely run half a minute, and now I feel good running 45 minutes straight.
Despite all of these positives, it hasn’t been easy. The negative self-talk is a constant running companion. Whenever a faster runner passes me, I feel a little self-conscious. I understand now why some trainers urge beginning runners to ignore pace, because it is such a bummer when I glimpse at my watch and judge my whole run based on how fast I’m running. The endorphins take longer to hit my system now, too, so I have to ignore the adolescent whining of my muscles for a mile or two before that all falls away.
Around the start of mile three tonight, I experienced something weird and wonderful. The whole way I had been fretting over how slippery the pavement was, convinced I was going to end up completely wiping out, perhaps even hurting myself enough that I wouldn’t be able to run for a while. But my legs kept telling me, “Just go faster. We want to go faster!” My brain struggled with this for a few steps before I just said to myself, “Screw it, I’ll aim for the grass if I feel myself start to slide.” And I let my legs go faster. Suddenly I was surer on my feet than I’ve ever been, and the last portion of the run flew by in what felt like seconds.
Today I ran my second 5K race! I didn’t think it was possible, but I am even more excited about running now than I was last time.
Last night, I wasn’t worried about the race because I knew mostly what to expect. I was a bit concerned about my health; my stomach and head have been a mess for the past week as the result of a post-commencement, post-vacation immune-system crash and reboot. So I took it easy all day, hydrated, and ate well. I prepared my race gear, then set out some freshly-washed clothes so I wouldn’t have to think about anything post-race but refuelling, showering, and resting. Then I went to bed on time.
I woke up around 07:00 — still quite dark in wintery Edinburgh — and my stomach was absolutely roiling. Race time wasn’t until 10:35, so I didn’t want to eat breakfast yet, but I wanted to test just how bad off I was. I had a banana and felt not-awful, then a cuppa, and tootled around online until breakfast-time, when I had oatmeal with a splash of maple syrup. I kept drinking water, too.
After waking FunkyPlaid up, I finished getting ready, and soon it was time for us to leave. It was wonderful walking down to Holyrood Park together. I wasn’t nervous at all, only excited, chattering away at FunkyPlaid about the upcoming race.
We got there on time, so I had to queue up for the toilets immediately. (This queue was quite organised, unlike the one at the last race!) Then we found the starting line, where I kissed FunkyPlaid goodbye and joined my starting group.
I was far enough back in the starting group that I couldn’t see any of the warm-up exercises, so I did my best to watch the others around me and fake it. I was so eager to just run already when my starting group lurched forward. FunkyPlaid got one last photo of me before we headed off.
The elevation profile for the first half of the course had me a bit concerned. Again, I hadn’t really trained on hills, so I knew if I was going to make it to the 3K marker without significant pain I was going to have to take it really, really slow. The race announcer confirmed this as we approached the starting line, saying, “I’m not going to lie; the first half of this course is a killer.” Great.
Most everyone else around me took off as soon as we crossed the starting line. The very first portion before the incline was fairly flat, but I saved my energy. Boy howdy, was I glad I did that! As soon as the incline really kicked in, I was able to keep plodding along. Right before the first mile finished, still on that incline, I started to feel that weird, vertigo-like sensation, so I slowed to a walk for about 30 seconds until it passed.
At this point, it was tough not to notice what was going on around me. Some who were stepping off the road and into the wet, slippery grass on shaky legs in order to pass slower runners were also wiping out. No major spills occurred that I could see, but enough to knock people off their feet and scrape some knees. Also, a few people lost their breakfasts. Many people were walking up the incline, and a few were stopping. I felt less awful about having to walk.
Soon after starting, I realised that Runmeter, the iPhone app I use for training, had punked out. I was very glad to have the Garmin as backup, although when I glimpsed my pace I started obsessing about it … until I saw the view out over the city. If my iPhone hadn’t been so tough to get out of my running belt, I would have taken some photos.
I loved how many people were running with partners or in groups in this race. When two people run together, there is usually one person who is a little faster than the other. Time and time again, I observed the faster person turning around to smile or touch the other person’s shoulder to give them a boost. Just witnessing that boosted me a little too. I realised that as much as I love running alone, I would love to run a race with someone someday.
Once the endorphins kicked in, I didn’t feel so awful, but this race was much more of a slog than the last one. I was grateful for my hat. My hat is a souvenir from my favourite museum, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I’m not really a baseball-cap-wearing person, but I had been looking for a hat with a brim for rainy-day runs. After a great day at the museum with my friend Kate last December, I wanted a reminder of that visit and the spectacular vacation that surrounded it. Fond vacation memories played in my head as I ran today, thanks to my hat.
As soon as we started going downhill, I knew the race was over half-done and I was a bit sad. I started taking longer strides and it felt like I was flying! When I started the final km of the race, I was keenly aware that I was behind my first race time by less than a minute, but as soon as I started pushing myself to go faster, I felt nauseated. So I opted to forget the time and finish happily. And that I did.
Success felt even sweeter with FunkyPlaid there to share it with me! He was energised by spectating at the finish line. There were so many people there today, at all levels of ability, united by intention and dedication. We both love that about races. Maybe we will run one together someday.
We stopped briefly on the way to lunch so I could put my medal on.
Then I ate so much food at Café Truva and had a boozy coffee too. On the way home, a passing stranger asked me how the run was. I was pretty exhausted at this point, but I think I mumbled something about it being great. She touched my arm and said, “Well done, you!” It made me smile a lot.
My second 5K race is tomorrow. I am not as rested or as prepared as I’d like to be, but I’ll give it a go anyway. The forecast for tomorrow morning is clear and 10º C, so I am not at all concerned about the running conditions. My health is another story. To soothe some of my symptoms, I opted for a vegan meal tonight: slow-cooker teriyaki portobello mushrooms on a bed of quinoa and baked kale chips. So far, my stomach is calm, and I am grateful.
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.