Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I went NUTS!

Approaching the starting line, I hadn’t even imagined there would be so many people participating in this 5K. There were people everywhere! Young, old, teens, parents, serious runners, walkers, joggers and even some babies in baby strollers who would have no recollection of being involved in this event as they grew older. My stomach began to knot up as I got closer to the mob. “Why am I nervous? It’s just a run!”

In spite of the fact that I kept telling myself it was ‘just’ a run, I was unsure of what this experience would hold for me. All I really knew was that I had a fantastic base of support 300 miles north of me and I wanted to give this race everything I had, making sure there was nothing left when I crossed the finish line.

As I walked over to the group, I wasn’t quite sure where to place myself in the pack. Should I start near the starting line? There was a tightly packed group up front, and I thought that perhaps they were all serious runners, so I maneuvered in about 20 yards behind the start line. I imagined that it wouldn’t matter anyway, since we were wearing timing chips that would begin recording our time as we stepped across the start line.

5 minutes prior to race start. We sing the National Anthem. I look around excitedly and nervously. I try not to be nervous; after all, I’ve already succeeded in raising $2,500 and a greater awareness among people who know me – whatever happens, for once it’s NOT about me and my time, but about running for all of the people I’ve encountered over the past three years. I smile as I have this thought, and begin to breathe a little easier. However, being the competitive person I am, all I can think about is how cool it would be to earn a podium spot and be proud that I did it for such an amazing cause. The quick breathing returns.

Visions of past triathlon mass starts cloud my thoughts. Would it be like that, with people’s arms in my face, elbows in my side, people all struggling to carve out their own space in the pack to get going? “At least there aren’t any feet kicking my face,” I thought. No feet, no water to be splashed around in your face as you gasp for air. That was a relief. As I finish that thought, I look up to the grandstand as the announcer readies the crowd. “Everybody get ready to count!...10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”

The gun goes off, but nobody around me moves. After about five or six seconds, the crowd around me begins to steadily draw forward. Baby steps first, then bigger steps, and finally, about 15 seconds later, my foot crosses the starting line in a full stride. I start my watch, relieved to be out of the cattle corral.

While I have no worries of elbows or arms in my face, my breathing is similar to past races. I am struggling to keep myself from hyperventilating from the excitement. I want to run fast, but the adrenaline rushing through my body is intense and I can feel every muscle remaining tight. My heart is pounding hard. I remember my deep breathing techniques and practice drawing in long, deep breaths and exhaling them just as slowly. I remind myself what this race is truly about. I contemplate (albeit briefly) what ‘doing my best’ in this situation is. Among the many lessons I’ve learned in my job, one of the best ones has been about taking charge of what you can control and not focusing on what you can’t.

I can’t control how other people are running. I can only control myself in this situation, and I can control how well I stay within myself. I know from experience that if I start out too hard, even in a short race, I won’t have anything left for the end.

Slowing down just slightly, my breathing eases. I forget about the people around me. I focus on the goal I have ahead of me and what it is I’m setting out to do. I am going to perform to the best of MY ability today.

With the grey overcast of Los Angeles above me and the streets of downtown lined with crowds, my muscles begin to relax and my stride lengthens. I begin to notice the people around me with ease, and even start to pick out some people to pace off of. I notice a mother and son running together, and decide they’re running at a nice fast rate. After some time, I eventually pass them and as I do, I hear the mother say to her son “Well that was about a mile, so we’re running at a good pace.” Looking down at my watch, I see 7:32. Nice!

But how did she know it was a mile? I supposed that it was about that, but as I looked to my left and to my right as we began to turn a corner, I could see no markers of any kind. I picked up my pace just slightly. I figured if I had just run one mile, then I only had 2.1 left!

It’s a nice feeling to continue passing people. My spirits are high, and I’m running fairly hard. Each person I pass gives me just a little more confidence in my pace and my strength, and it makes me smile to wonder how fast I’m really running. However, it isn’t until about 13 minutes in that I hit the turn-around point. That doesn’t seem right. If I was running a 7:30 pace, and the course is 3.1 miles, then how could I have slowed THAT much? Was I really running slowly? 13 minutes at the turn-around would put me at about a 25 or 26 minute finish.

My spirits sank somewhat. I sure didn’t FEEL like I was running an 8:30. What was going on?

I shook these thoughts and continued to run. Another five minutes passed, and in my mind I calculated that I should be finishing somewhere around 23 minutes. Great, then I was nearing the end! I looked to the other side of the street, where there were still hundreds of people making their way through the course. Most were walking, and, to my surprise, cheering us runners on as we sweated our way toward the finish! It was a nice sight, and I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the crowd.

The energy from that crowd also began to play a crucial role in keeping my pace up. At about 21 minutes, my legs began to fatigue. There was no finish line in sight. How could that be? Theoretically I should be only 2 minutes away! Yet, I hadn’t even turned the corner to come down Figueroa street where the finish line was. How could I be so tired and yet running so slow?

Again, I shook these negative thoughts and focused on a man running next to me. He and I seemed to both be wondering the same thing, yet neither of us said a thing to each other. I could just feel his thoughts. It was comforting to know that somebody must be going through the same thing I was. We paced off each other and held on strong, in spite of the fact that after another three minutes, my legs were screaming.

24 minutes. I’m running down Figueroa street, but there’s no finish line! I see runners rounding a corner. If not there, then where is it? How much longer? Should I start to sprint? What if the finish line is still far away? Then what? If I sprint, that’s it. The tank will be empty and there will be nothing left. Suddenly, I look ahead and there it is, around the corner to my right. I do my best to pick it up as much as I can and run hard through the finish.

25:33. I had to admit, I was disappointed. 25:33? For 3.1 miles? That’s an 8:14 mile. I ran faster than that in a triathlon with a longer distance! How could this be? I wondered all of this as I walked over to the table to get a cup of Gatorade. As I stood, contemplated and sipped, I began to overhear a conversation nearby.

“I had 3.48.” “Yup, I had that, too.” “Well you might as well take 2 minutes off your time then.” “How could they do that?!”

I approached the group and began to converse with them, realizing that several of these people had tracked the distance with GPS watches, all recording a distance of 3.48 miles. That was nearly half a mile longer than 3.1 miles!

Comforted by these thoughts, I continued to wait around for the race results. After what was not too long of a wait, a woman walked over to the table to tape down the several pieces of paper she had in her hand, and I excitedly followed close behind.

Using my finger to follow my name across the page that held the results, I read the time:
Sarah M Trejo 25:33 4 92 25

FOURTH IN MY AGE GROUP?! No! How fast was the 3rd place woman? Was she close? Oh no! Well, no matter. Fourth is good. Just…oh, one off of 3rd! Geez! But, I did get 92nd over all and 25th out of all the women, so it was still something to be proud of.

I spent the rest of the day feeling satisfied with my performance and proud of what I’d accomplished. I truly cared about sharing this cause with friends, family and colleagues and I did. I ran for something that has meant so much to me over the past three years, and on top of that, was inspired to run the fastest I’d ever run.

What I later learned was that the ‘4th place time’ was my clock time – the time from when the gun went off to when my feet crossed the finish line. Because they were using timing chips, that becomes the more official time – the time recorded from when your foot crosses the starting line and when it crosses the finish line. There was a 15-second difference in my clock time and chip time, because it took 15 seconds for me to get to the starting line. Thus, my official race time – 25:18 – actually placed me into third in my age group!

In the end, I was truly able to say that I’d gone out and ‘won for NBTF.’ It’s been a fantastic feeling that still hasn’t subsided, and I’m enjoying every moment of it.

3 comments:

Carla said...

Go Sarah! Shit, I can't run that fast even for ONE mile. I ran 5K the other day and I won't even tell you how long it took!

Christine said...

Hey, great to hear about your run!! You are going to kick butt at wildflower. I'm just getting into this whole blog thing and reading your blog and Jessica's is keeping me motivated!! Can't wait to see you at FF.

Christine

Kaisen L said...

I need to start running.