When I decided to start running again, I had no thoughts as to how far I wanted to go or what I wanted to accomplish. It was December of 2010 when I first stepped on the treadmill and began trying. I was making very little progress because I had no direction or goals at this point. After a few attempts, I decided I was too old to be start my childhood dream of being a runner and decided to stick with cycling. Sometime in early February I saw an ad for the Cowtown Marathon.
I had done the 10k run for the Cowtown back in 1984 when I was 11. That event meant enough to me that I still remember my finish time was 1:06. Back then they had the full marathon and a 10k. Now I see this add for everything from an ultra to a 5k. It dawns on me I am probably in good enough shape I can trudge through a 5k and maybe start running again. Now I had a goal and started trying to run at the gym. I was able to make it through a very slow mile at about a 15 minute pace and then alternate walking and running to get to two miles.
I set my mind to seriously contemplating doing this. This is it! A step back into running that I gave up on while in junior high. I came up with an idea that may not have been the best but it did get me back out there. The Saturday before the race I went to the gym. I ran as much as I could with plenty of walking thrown in with the goal of just making the 3.1 mile distance. As long as I could make it and not give up, I would register that day. Forty five minutes later, I hit my goal and my future was decided.
Before I register, my wife Leona calls her kids to see if any of them would be interested. All three are currently running cross country and track. Amber steps up and says she’ll do it. That night my wife signs us both up and the nerves begin. Nothing ever goes perfectly in my world and this would be no exception. On Thursday, my wife gets a call from Amber. She has hyper-extended during track practice doing the long jump. She is out of the running but still wants to at least go and see the event.
As luck would have it, Leona is off on the day before the race and goes down for packet pickup. Since Leona has to work on the day of the race, picking up my packet is her contribution to supporting me. I have an incredible wife who has stood by me through all the running challenges I have been through and deserves a medal and more gratitude than I can possibly ever show. She has been my biggest supporter and I love her all the more for it.
I get home from work and my packet is there waiting on me. I get out my tshirt and see the Cowtown logo across the front. I have a moment of reality and excitement because I really am going to do this in the morning. Then I pull out my bib and it gets even more real. Before I went to bed that night I seem to feel suddenly unprepared. The first thing was to get cracking and create a playlist on my ipod.
For my favorite Texas Rangers player, I start off with Black Betty by Ram Jam. It was Ian Kinsler’s song when walking up to the plate. I can’t remember what all was on that playlist as it has been changed a dozen times. I know I tried to keep it upbeat with Lady Gaga (shut up people!), Gnarls Barkley, Hatebreed and I have no idea what else. After getting that done, before heading off too bed I double checked my tshirt, bib, and timing chip to make sure I was all set and had to just wake up and go.
I get up early and very nervously get dressed. It was a combination of nervousness and excitement that seemed to last until sometime in the afternoon after the race. I wake Amber and feel guilty dragging her along on crutches. Instead of sleeping in that girl was a trooper and was going to go anyway. The drive there was a piece of cake until I noticed we were not parking close and I had this girl on crutches trying to keep up with me. Keeping up with me is never an easy feet as I do tend to walk fast, but this was Leona’s daughter so I would do everything I could to accommodate her. I still feel guilty about her going with me that morning.
After getting through most of the pre race crowd, we find a place where we can drop her off to let her sit. Being a beginner, I had to much in my pockets and leave my phone with her which I would need post race. We agree to meet up back where I left her at and off I go to try and figure out how to handle a race. I wander through the crowds trying to look as if I know what I am doing. Even in this crowd of thousands I luck out. I bump into my coworker Ross that had once been a supervisor so this gets cool because now I can relax a little not totally by myself. I’m guessing he is thinking the same thing as we stick together before the gun goes off. I see other familiar faces from work but just keep hanging with Ross.
Holy crap! It is packed like nothing I ever imagined. I keep wondering how many more people are going to get crammed onto this street and corralled in. The volunteers were trying to organize people by pace. It’s amazing the number of people who like really overestimate their times. Or are so clueless as to what their time even will be. I wonder if it’s just ignorance or” ignorance x being fat” that makes this person who can barely walk think they belong in a sub eight minute mile corral. Granted, I am way up on the chunky side and even I think these people are idiots. And going forward I will soon learn that they are at every single race. Now on the flip side of this, I do see some larger people outrun me like I never imagined. It’s odd seeing a big guy with three times the gut I have pass me by and look like he is having a far easier time of it. I have to conclude that someone who never had the bad habit of smoking , even if they get big but exercise, can still out perform me. Same with some of the women. I saw women in spandex I am not sure how they got into and are stretching it to the very limits. Women with more junk in the trunk, than I have for a belly. They dart in front of you and are jiggling like jello and yet, they are passing me.
The other runners are not what is important to me. After over twenty years of smoking, drinking, and unlimited self loathing and pity, I have had enough. I am doing this! It’s only the shortest distance 5k, but it’s a step. I am sweating worse than anyone around me and look close to death, and the whole time I am grinning like an idiot. I am having fun and am so ecstatic being back in an organized race. I’m not one of those hardcore runners who worries about form, exact pacing, clothing, etc…, but I am smart enough to know from preparing to try and pace myself. I am having a blast and trying to just cruise along and not tire out. I have to wonder why I love running in races so much. I know I have no chance of winning, even getting a top three in my age group. But there is something magical about doing it. I have a sense of pride being a part of the Cowtown. I am just one face in the crowd of twenty five thousand over the two day event, but I feel special being a part of it. Being a part of this just enables me to push more than I think. And seeing all the people cheering and holding signs, a singing cowboy having fun on a corner, it was all so wonderful.
I know I am feeling good enough I can definitely make it at least one mile before I have to stop and walk. And I pass one mile and am doing really good until the water station. It was rather crowded. And honestly, for only a 5k, I didn’t even expect a water station. It makes sense though. This is Texas and it doesn’t take much for people to overheat. I decide to be on the safe side and hit the water station instead of zipping past. Once making it past the madhouse that is the water station, there is what I did not expect. I am staring at a rather large hill in front of me and the only way is up. I trudge along determined to make it to the top. That was a good idea but this is where I begin walking some of the way. After making it to the top, I pick up the pace again. But from here on, I walk for a while then run for a while.
I hit my longest stretch of walking and am beginning to feel defeated but I know I am going to cross that line, just nowhere close to as good as I believed I could. I am having moments of doubt while walking down Lancaster seeing people pass me more and more. I make it to the corner of Lancaster and University and I am really questioning myself and whether I should have ever tried this again. There is one of the volunteers on that corner. He says it’s just a few blocks down the street and then the finish. I did not know I was so close to the finish line. I make up my mind. Even if I never run again, even if I pull something and injure myself, I am going to run the rest of the way. It no longer matters what happens as long as I know I did not give up and ran, not walked, across that finish line. I find what was left in me and head down that last stretch.
I am giving it all I have and see things I didn’t quite expect. The crowd is growing larger and I come around the last corner on to the side street where the finish line is. And there is so much cheering and all the signs, I couldn’t believe it. I trudge on exhausted and then I see it and just want to stop. It’s the finish line and have I worked hard enough to really deserve crossing it? The answer is yes and no. Yes, I have trained and done a good enough job I will finish in front of at least one thousand other people some of which are struggling for personal achievement and I deserve it as much as they do. And no, because I didn’t work hard enough to do the best job I could have. But, once you are on this last stretch, you can’t just stop as you are corralled in and the only direction is across the finish. So I keep on running as I had determined to and crossed.
There is no time to take a moment and soak in what you just did. You cross, someone slaps a water in your hand, and you are herded out of the way very quickly and efficiently. The chute is nuts and the volunteers keep it moving otherwise you would have hundreds of people like me standing there being an idiot getting in the way. After I get out of the way and go searching for the food that the volunteers kept mentioning, I finally think about it. I did it. I’m exhausted and feeling like a champ because I started and crossed the finish line. If I really want, I can be a runner again. I dared at that moment to dream that I would be back in one year and do the half marathon. I went home and took a long nap and I was happy. Happy I have decided my future and I am now a runner.