Today I ran in O’Connell’s 16th Annual St. Paddy’s Day 8K Run in Norman, OK. The run benefitted the Special Olympics of Oklahoma. Thanks to events like this over 10,500 Special Olympic athletes participate in more than 140 competitions and training events annually. It’s been almost five years since my last real race and I figured a fun race benefiting a great organization was a great way to start. I spent those years on the sideline with injuries and workout restrictions due to pregnancies. This is the first race I’ve been able to run that I’ve been able to train for. It’s almost easier to run a race that I haven’t trained for. My expectations are set so low that I really am just concerned with finishing the race rather than pace and stride.
This race had all the makings to be a personal disaster. My worrisome mind was beginning to get the best of me and I had a giant stomachache. My IT band was tight and my knee was aching for the past few days. The weather was overcast, cold, and windy. Not the sunny, temperate day I was expecting.
As I did a quick warm up jog and stretched out near the starting line, the bag pipers started playing and my mood brightened a little. The runners lined up at the starting light and a few of the Special Olympic athletes recited their mantra:
“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
It was a keen reminder of the purpose for the race and for runners to give their best regardless of the circumstance.
At the sound of the shotgun the race started and it was a sea of green runners headed down the streets of Norman. The first mile was uncomfortable because my muscles took their time to warm up in the cool early spring breeze. Around mile two I was surprised to find my own personal cheering crew. My husband and two young daughters decided to brave the chilly day and cheer for me along the road. I nearly broke out in tears to see my four-year-old daughter jumping up and down, waving me on. The joy I felt from getting high fives from my family was short lived because as I turned the corner for miles three and four I started getting passed by other runners and the enemy within was repeating “you’re so slow”, “your legs are concrete”. My training was seemingly failing me.
But my little cheering section popped back up again at mile five. My husband’s smiling face saying “you’re freaking awesome” was all I needed. I reminded myself the reason I run is not because I’m some star athlete hitting world records. I run to be healthy for my family and to be an example for my kids. I want them to understand that fitness is a lifelong effort. And that they can do anything they set their minds to. After seeing them again I decided the only repeating words in my mind would be “you got this” and “run with joy”. So that’s what I did. I waved at spectators, I focused on relaxing my face and smiling, and huffed out a couple of breathy thank you’s to the cops directing traffic along the race route. I turned the corner to the final leg of the race and saw the beautiful, inflatable finish line. My cement legs were aching and I didn’t have much gas left in the tank. I couldn’t make out the numbers on the clock until I was steps from crossing the finish line. As I crossed the finish I saw 4X:XX. It didn’t matter what the rest of the numbers were because that ‘4’ told me all I cared about. I just ran an average pace of sub 10/mile. The race had been full of pleasant surprises so it was only fitting that it finished with one as well.
I finished 100th overall, 39th out of all females, and 10th in my age range. The winner, Matthew Brafford, finished in under 25 minutes with a 5/mile pace. My sub 10/mile seems mediocre at best compared to that. But it’s my personal race and my results have encouraged to keep running and continue to improve.
Even better, there was beer, a bouncy house, music, and face painting after the race. Despite the chill in the air, my cheering squad and I were able to enjoy the festivities and have a great Saturday morning.