Friday, January 27, 2017

The Torchlight Experience

In my previous post, I wrote about my very first 5K. You can check that out here.

I had absolutely no plans for running another race after the Fit2Fight 5K. However, on July 1st, I received an email from Virtuwell. They were hosting a "Summer of Run" and were giving away entries to various races across the Twin Cities throughout the summer. I had submitted an entry to win a bib for the Minneapolis Torchlight 5K, never actually expecting to win. So, when I opened my email and I read, "Congratulations, you were randomly selected as a winner in the Summer of Run Torchlight 5k giveaway," I was completely shocked. Sure, I could've not run the race, but I kind of figured that I had ZERO legitimate excuses given that I won my entry.

I hadn't run at all since the 5K at the end of May. It was already July and the race was 19 days away. I wasn't terribly concerned with training, because I knew that I was capable of running the distance, and since I wasn't planning to continue running, I wasn't trying to improve upon my time at all. Between July 7th and July 18th, I went on a total of five runs and the combined distance for those runs was only 9.7 miles. Not exactly impressive numbers, are they?

The Torchlight 5K is a part of the Minneapolis Aquatennial celebration. The Aquatennial is a four-day long celebration that starts on Wednesday. The events for the first day include the Torchlight 5K and the Torchlight Parade. The 5K runs along part of the parade route, so as participants run the race, they are passing all of the parade spectators that are already lined up.

My husband dropped me off close to the starting line of the race, and then he drove to the finish line to meet me. As I walked to the starting line, I became more aware of how big the race really was. It was so much different than the little 5K I had run in May. The Torchlight had over 5,000 racers and volunteers! I was absolutely astonished at the size of the event. The lines for the port-a-potties were really long, so I knew I had to get in line right away. I also had to find my pace group.

The weather for that day was not exactly favorable for running. There were record-breaking high temperatures forecasted for the entire week. On the day of the race, the daily high temperature was 93º with 94% humidity and a heat index of over 110º. By race time the temperature was roughly 88º so the heat index was lower, but it was still a very steamy race!

Some races make runners line up according to their pace, and for the Torchlight it was especially important because the Lightrail train crossed the race course. There was a lot of communication between race coordinators to help ensure that racers wouldn't be stopped by the train, though the event was chip-timed and there was supposedly a time mat at the train crossing to help any runners that did get stuck.

After I lined up with the 11:00/mile runners, I tried to stretch and relax, but I found it nearly impossible. I was so busy trying to take everything in! It was incredible to see all the different people. Some were clearly very serious runners, and some were probably just there for the after party. Regardless, the atmosphere was energizing.
Before the race started at 7:30 PM, the national anthem was played. This was not something I expected and it was kind of neat. Then, one by one, pace groups were ushered across the start line after waiting for the okay from the race coordinators down the route by the train tracks. My group didn't start the race until about 7:45.

As I ran down Hennepin Avenue, I could not stop smiling. Spectators were cheering and shouting encouraging words as I ran past. It was invigorating to be running down the middle of the street and taking in the sights of a city that I don't usually hang out in. I knew I was running slowly, but as I said, I wasn't trying to break any records. It wasn't until I reached a bridge that had an uphill that I gave in to my urge to walk. Given the high heat index, I pretty much assumed I wasn't going to run the entire race, which ended up working out because I was so busy trying to enjoy the beauty of the course.

In the end, I finished with an official time of 38:53. That put me in 2,550th place out of 3,501. I finished in 238th out of 341 for my age group. While I wasn't overly impressed with my performance, I was happy that I participated because of the experience.

Do you remember how, after my first 5K, I joked with my husband about doing five 5K's before my 35th birthday? Well, now I had done two 5k's and the idea of doing five didn't seem so intimidating. While I wasn't ready to go out and start searching for races to run, I kept the idea of doing five races in the back of my mind. The Torchlight was an experience that made me begin to understand why people pay to run races. I had experienced the runner's high, and I was starting to warm up to the idea of running regularly.

As it turned out, I would end up having the opportunity to run another race only a few days after the Torchlight. But of course, I didn't know that, yet.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


In high school, I was on the track and field team, but I hated running. You can read why here. In college, I joined the military and was in the best shape of my life, but I still, maybe even more so, HATED running.

I hated running so much that when my neighbor moved in next door and mentioned that she needed a new running buddy, I just laughed and said, “I hate running.” She would still ask me to join her on a run every now and then. I joined her maybe once. It felt like torture. Why do people subject themselves to this? Who in their right mind would pay someone to be able to run? I would NEVER be a person who paid money to someone in order to run a race. People who do that are surely insane.

Fast forward two years.

My neighbor’s husband, in addition to being in the Air Force, is also a firefighter. When they moved in next door, he went through the necessary steps to be able to work with our local FD, which is largely volunteer based. In May 2016, the FD held a Fit2Fight 5K Fun Run. There was a competition between the different stations in the department to see which station could get the most racers signed up. My neighbor was running to support her husband, and I in turn decided pretty much out of the blue to sign up to support both of them. I was 7 months postpartum and ready to lose some weight. Training for a 5K seemed like a good place to start. Despite my distaste for running, there was a minuscule part of me that had always wanted to see if I could complete a 5K. If you hated running so much, why would you want to see if you could complete a 5k? I know. I’m a walking ball of contradiction.

I didn't do too much training for the race, as I only ran three times in the month leading up to it. I did my best to practice the route to ease some anxiety and just to see if I could run the entire distance before the actual race. I think the best I got was two miles without stopping to walk. But, I was proud of myself for that because the last time I had gone two miles without stopping was in the military eight years ago. I don't recall there ever being a moment that I actually enjoyed the running, but I did it because I had committed to the race, and I wanted to do my best.

Race day came and I felt sick to my stomach. Not from an illness but from nerves. Like, worse than stage fright – and I've performed in front of some large crowds. I had two goals for myself for the race: first, I wanted to run the entire distance and second, I wanted to not finish last. There were several walkers, so I figured I had a chance of finishing before them. But, I was unsure if I was capable of running the whole thing. At race check-in, we found out the course had changed slightly. So, I thought I might get mentally defeated like I used to with my military PT tests.

Once the race began, my neighbor and I stayed together for about a half mile, I think. After that, she slowly got farther and farther ahead of me. I wasn't trying to match her pace, though. I just did my best to keep putting one foot in front of the other. By the time I got toward the end of the race, there was a bit of an uphill. I wanted to walk so badly. There were some young girls in front of me that were walking, and every time I caught up to them, they sprinted ahead a bit and started walking again. It was frustrating that I wasn't passing them. They were walking!!! Aghhh!! However, I didn't feel like I had anything more to give. I tried to focus on myself and not worry about what those around me were doing.

As I rounded the last corner and saw the finish line, I was able to pick up my pace a tad. Adrenaline helped, I guess. My kids were standing along the course to cheer me on and give me high fives. My husband was off somewhere trying to take pictures. I pushed as hard as I could to the end. My finish time was 35:32, but due to the course change, the route was only three miles and not a full 5K. In any case, I was so ecstatic that the race was over and that I had completed it without walking. I enjoyed my post-race snacks and headed home with my family.

I just ran 3 miles without stopping!

I contemplated saving my race bib, but I ended up throwing it away because I didn't expect to run any more races. Racing was surely a one-time thing, though perhaps, I'd do the same race next year to support the FD. I briefly joked with my husband that I should commit to doing five 5K’s by my thirty-fifth birthday – slightly less than a year away. But, when those words came out of my mouth, I was certain it wouldn't happen. Because, if you recall, I would NEVER be a person who paid money to someone in order to enter a race. Doing it one time didn't count because I was supporting the FD.

The next month passed and I avoided running. I did some cycling and a lot of walking, but I didn't expect to run again. Then, on July 1st, I received an email that would change that.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Recruiter That Recruited

To find out how my running journey started, we have to go back to high school when I was on the track and field team for 3 years. You can read about that here.

As I mentioned at the end of that post, I thought I was done with running when I graduated high school. But at the beginning of my third year in college, I brought my then boyfriend to an Army Reserve recruiter. Long story short, the recruiter was good enough at his job that he convinced me to join, too! All of that promised tuition reimbursement I thought I'd get – don't even get me started on that. I expressed some concern to my recruiter about my “exercise induced asthma,” and he said that if I didn't mention it at MEPS, then there wouldn't be a problem.

The first part of enlisting in the Army Reserve was a written test called the ASVAB. After I passed my ASVAB with flying colors, I had to have a physical. I'm not going to go into too much detail because this is about my running journey and not about my military career. Needless to say, I passed my physical, swore the oath, and about nine months later I shipped off to Basic Combat Training (BCT). I spent some of that nine months doing physical training (PT) with my recruiter to help ensure that I could pass the first PT test at BCT. The military uses A LOT of acronyms...I refuse to type the full words every time.

All of the training with the recruiter paid off because my incoming PT test was a cinch. If you don't pass the first test, you have to stay in “Reception” until you can pass. Reception is a sort of waiting room for BCT and it's a special kind of hell. Thankfully, I passed my PT test and I got to officially start my nine-week long BCT. We ran at least two miles every other weekday but that was my limit. Especially because we sang cadences while we ran. Don’t they know running makes it hard enough to breathe?

We usually ran the same route, but every so often the Drill Sergeants would throw an extra turn in and things like that defeated me. I was already in the slowest pace group, and running anything over two miles just messed with my body and mind. Even with all of the mental games, I managed to pass BCT and the rest of my military training without too much of a problem. I was the most physically fit I'd ever been. But, I still HATED running.

Once I was out of training and with my Reserve unit, I had to take a PT test at least once every year. I usually failed. For one, I wasn't doing anything to maintain my fitness level. For two, if we weren't running on a quarter-mile track, I couldn't get my pace down well enough to pass the run. It was completely a mental thing, of course, but I NEEDED a quarter-mile track to be able to finish in the allotted time.

After deploying to Iraq for a year, I came back to finish college, and I decided to try out the new ROTC program at my school (in addition to my Army Reserve obligations). I only did it for one semester, partially because I couldn't maintain the credit load, and partially because I hated having to get up and run with the other cadets. I hated it because I was the slowest person, and I couldn't breathe if I tried to run at the same pace as everyone else.  Eventually, I was discharged from the Army Reserve, in part because I couldn't pass a PT test. It brought me extreme relief to know I was finished with running. I honestly think I would have rather been tortured by Arvin Sloane than to have to run another mile.

So, what changed in the time since then? What possessed me to start running regularly and start paying people so that I could run races? You're dying from curiosity, aren't you? Okay, I'll tell you! Next time.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

On Your Marks...

Have you ever sworn off something, just to come back to it later in life and think to yourself, "Look what I've been missing?!”

That's the way I was with running. It was something that I struggled with and never really enjoyed.  I was around smokers growing up, and at some point in time, running began to physically hurt me. It wasn't until college that I was diagnosed with "exercise induced asthma." I mean, I was an athletic kid: softball, basketball… I did plenty of running. I guess it was probably in high school when I noticed I had a decreased lung capacity when running.
My freshmen year, I joined the track team at the behest of my gym teacher (who also happened to be a track coach). You see, we had learned about some field events in gym class. We did a standing triple jump in the hallway one day, and the teacher looked at me like he'd just found a needle in a haystack. Of course, that made me feel pretty good about myself, so I took his recommendation and joined the team.

I foolishly thought that I could join track and field and get away with ONLY doing field events. I wanted nothing to do with the track part. But of course, being a part of track and field required me to run with the rest of the team during practice. I couldn't breathe. I felt like the slowest person, and I hated it. Exercise, especially running, was painful. Not only was I experiencing difficulty breathing, but those first few practices let me know how out of shape I was. I limped away from the first week of practice crying and ready to quit.

I ended up sticking it out and as a freshman I made it to number three on my school's "Top Ten" list for triple jump. That was a pretty huge accomplishment. I was the third best triple jumper my school had ever seen...WOW! Go me! In my freshman year, I also competed in the long jump, the 100 and 200 meter races, and the 4x100 and 4x200 meter relays. I refused to run any distance longer than 200 meters, because I was physically unable to sprint (or breathe) for more than that.  The coach actually tried to put me in a 4x400 meter relay at one meet. I called my dad, asked him to come get me, and I told the coach that I had to go home.

I was on the track team for three years. I opted to not be in track my senior year, because I wanted to be in the Spring musical, Hello, Dolly! It's hard to participate in multiple things when they conflict, and I disliked having to choose between sports and theater. In any case, I traded in my track uniform and running cleats for costumes and character shoes. I thought my running days were over. When I graduated high school, I was convinced I'd never be forced to run again. Boy, was I naive. Little did I know, two years later I would be volunteering to be yelled at to run.

Read the next part to my story here.