Improbable.

I had never known, before, that running a flat five kilometers in just under 21 minutes was something very exciting.

But this weekend, I competed in the Sunset Stampede 5k here in Navarre, and clocking in at 20 minutes and 43 seconds was very exciting indeed. It was good enough to get paid, which is something that I have never before been able to say about running. Here’s the story.

When I arrived in Navarre, I didn’t have much to do. I didn’t know anyone. I was living in a trailer with my single co-worker, and we saw plenty of each other during the day. I read books, and I researched a few stories for FasterSkier, but all in all, I was looking for something to do. And so I ran.

I didn’t run much, but the production of deciding to go for a run, changing into running clothes, going for the actual run – which was often only 35 minutes long – and then coming back, stretching, changing my clothes and taking a shower, eating…. well, that took up enough time. It gave me a window that I had all to myself, just me and the surprisingly deserted streets off highway 98.

That lasted about a week. Then I remembered that I was retired from racing and training and didn’t have to run if I didn’t feel like it. So I didn’t.

After I went through those two phases, I decided that I needed something to focus on. Luckily for me, there was a 5k right in Navarre at the beginning of May. I was sure I wouldn’t run fast then, but I decided to sign myself up anyway. Then, at least, I would have to run a few times a week, because everyone knows that racing while out of shape is no fun at all. I also knew that I would have to work the day of the race, so figured that I might as well train a little bit to give myself an opportunity to make up for the fact that I’d be tired.

I made myself a training plan, but I didn’t follow it. I never got around to those VO2Max intervals. Why would I? I’m retired, for God’s sake.

And so the week of the run came around, and I did a short run every other day. I meant to do a hard workout, but I didn’t. And then the day of the run arrived. I took special care to drink gatorade all day at work to stay hydrated, and by a lucky break, we finished early, so I had the afternoon to recover.

I warmed up just as I would for a normal race when racing was still my job, trying not to think about how the 40 minutes I ran were as long as any workout I’d done in almost two weeks. When we lined up on the starting line, I was in the midst of many very fit-looking Air Force men. Most were tatooed and were wearing nice running flats. I had my year-old Salomon trail shoes and a silly pair of sunglasses.

When the gun went off, I followed the leading woman. We ran at what seemed like a sustainable pace, going through the first mile at 6:26. Compared to the men we were running with, our strides were efficient. We were having an easier time of it, not fighting our bodies or our feet or the pavement, just running.

Then she got tired. I was in the lead on my own, trying to reel in men, at the halfway point when the race turned around and went back to the start. As I passed all the runners behind me, I noticed that I had a decent, although not indefensible gap. So I just kind of ran.

I had no idea how fast to run. I hadn’t run a race since Thanksgiving, and I hadn’t even really run any hard pieces. I didn’t know when I’d get tired. I just had no idea what I was doing out there. I went through mile two at 13:13, a bit slower than mile one, and told myself to pick it up.

With half a mile to go, I was undeniably tired. But it didn’t seem to matter; none of the women had caught me. I did my best to make it towards the finish line. As I turned off the main drag, a photographer told me that I had 40 seconds left. But as I entered the finishing straightaway, I heard a different message.

“She’s coming! She’s coming!”

I looked over my shoulder (bad form) and saw that, to my horror, someone was, in fact, coming for me. If I wanted the win, I’d have to start moving. I’d have to sprint. And so I did. It wasn’t a sprint I am proud of, but after running alone for two miles, I won the race by two seconds.

My time wasn’t something I’m proud of either. I didn’t train for the race, but I’m a competitive person and I hold myself to high standards. I ran faster than that in high school all the time. Training or no, I know what an okay 5k is. That wasn’t it.

But.

I won.

And I got interviewed by the local newspaper!

And….. I won a cash prize of $200.

What???

In my entire ski career, in which I was supposedly a “professional”, I did not win that much money combined. So I’m not sure what it says that as soon as I “retire”, I start winning money in a different sport. I guess the last few years of my life have been rather futile.

Mostly, though, I’m confused because I have been in more competitive races which have no prize money at all. I guess I just picked the right race on the right day. I couldn’t be more pleased with myself, even if it all is pretty confusing.

After the race, there was a fun little party at a beach pagoda, where there was free beer, dinner, live music, swimming, and a volleyball court which was mostly populated by people’s children. My roommate Jamie came out to watch the race – these pictures are hers – and we had a good time watching the sunset on the beach.

It was a really fun experience. More than the winning or the cash, it was fun because a lot of people came out for it. It was a big race, and an event that people were excited for. We heard the national anthem on the start line and had a moment of silence for our military comrades. There was a bouncy castle for kids, and everyone stayed for the post-race party. A lot of the racers weren’t from Navarre, so I can’t say that I became part of the town, but still, it was fun to see a bunch of local people get together, and it was fun for me to do something that I don’t do every day.

Mostly, it was fun to race in a low-key way, with no expectations, no pressure, just because I wanted to. That’s what I get to do for the rest of my life, and this was a great start.

Oh yeah, and I sweat a lot. I grossed Jamie out with my sweat. That was also kind of fun.

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2 thoughts on “Improbable.

  1. I loved that story! There’s such a stigma about not doing it the right way, but the real right way makes you feel good about what you did. It gives you something to look forward to (maybe catching up to your highschool times, maybe not!) and it gives you an amazing thing to look back on. Life can give you surprises that it might take time to process, as you may have noticed in the last few years!

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