Today I followed through on one of the toughest of my goals for the new year, and ran the Louisiana Riverfront 5K in Kenner, LA. Even though I’ve been running for health off and on since 2008, and have run several 5Ks and a marathon, this was definitely a turning point for me. It was the first race that I’ve ever been completely prepared for going in, the first race that I had a definite goal in mind other than just passing the finish line, and also the first race that I had a friend running with me. All of these factors led to a race that actually defied my expectations.
The race was very different from all of the ones I ran in Chicago. To begin with, it was a cold day for Louisianans, and I’m sure the 50-degree weather kept a lot of people from coming out. Also, it’s a Sunday, meaning that most New Orleanians were either hungover or getting ready for church when the race started (or both). In all, I’d say there were at most 200 people for the half-marathon and about the same for the 5K, which made for much less confusion at the starting line than I’m accustomed to.
There were no pace groups that I was aware of, though they did have a few officials on bicycles who acted as front and back pacers for the entire race, and also called in timing information on the half-marathon so people back at the line could know who was in the lead. I didn’t know where to stand among the starters, since I knew that my general time was around 10:40/mile and I didn’t want to start out with incredibly fast people that would throw me off balance (or make me feel bad). I just hung out in the back, and concentrated on my goal of coming in in under 30 minutes, which would mean shaving off a considerable amount of time. I ran some faster runs last week, though, so thought I might be able to come in pretty close to my goal.
The race was along the run/bike path that sits atop of the levee that protects Kenner from the Mississippi. The path isn’t incredibly wide, so for the first mile there was a little bit of congestion back with the slow folks like me. Instead of running a loop, like many races, the course was set up as a flat line with a spot to turn around. Luckily, by the time people started getting to the turning point, the pack was loosening up enough for the returning runners to not have to jostle for space or slow down at all. My running buddy, Bill, runs a considerably faster mile, so we passed each other going opposite directions. For a lot of people I think that might have been discouraging, but I was actually happy to see him and be able to acknowledge that he was doing great and I was still in the race. It gave me a mental nudge to not chicken out or slow down.
For most of the first half I followed behind a girl wearing these gorgeous teal sneakers. She and I ran the same basic pace, so I was just using her as a good way to stop thinking and just keep moving. In fact, I didn’t feel tired or scared I wouldn’t make it until a little after the second mile. It’s important to note that I run a 5K distance a couple times a week, so it’s not really that big deal. What makes it tough is that when I’m running at home, I’m running a route that I know inside out, where I can look up ahead and know my turns, my finish line, everything. I had forgotten how important that can be, though.
Out on the levee today I experienced something I haven’t seen since 2009. I didn’t know my route, and I let my mind start screwing with me. When your normally quite rational brain starts telling you that there is no finish line anymore, or that “it’s really soon, oh wait! it’s actually at least another mile” it’s easy to start feeling like it’s time to give up. I was also running into the sun and a pretty strong wind; people started to pass me. I had just under a mile to go, and I thought seriously about walking a little. Then I remembered that Bill was back at the finish line waiting for me, and I’d just be a jerk if I gave up on him like that.
So I didn’t stop. I even managed to dredge up more energy for the last quarter mile, sprinting as soon as I saw the finish line. And when I crossed, my time was 29:35 – roughly 3 and a half minutes faster than my personal record! It’s the first time I’ve finished a race and had a genuine reason to be proud of myself, other than just for finishing. It’s a damn good feeling.
I’m actually thinking about going against my original resolution rule and starting to tack on a little more distance. I’m thinking I might want to run the Crescent City Classic 10K in April. Does that sound crazy?