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Running 101: My First Race Experience

Although I consider myself an athlete, runners have earned a new respect from yours truly.

Last Saturday, your own Tarpon Springs Patch editor took part in Frenchy's Tiki 5K Beer Run in Clearwater.

Usually, I am pretty active, but a recent case of plantar fasciitis had the doctors telling me to rest and to keep my exercise to a minimum. 

I started feeling better, and when I heard about this race, I checked with the doc to make sure it would be OK to attempt it. 

It was Thursday morning when I tried to register, unsure if I would be accepted since it was so late in the game. Fortunately, I was able to get in.

I had endured NCAA Division I pre-seasons, thousands of miles around a soccer field and gym workouts to boot. How bad could this 5K thing be?

This was my first organized race experience, and to be able to share it with my Patch family had me more than a little excited. I have to add that I was pretty nervous. 

I'm a competitor at heart and sometimes it can be a curse more than a blessing, which in the past has led to further injury.

Last Thursday afternoon I went to the gym for the first time in over a month. After a half hour of cardio, I was spent. Of course, this made me even more nervous knowing that I was not in the shape I wished to be.

Nevertheless, I reminded myself that this was supposed to be fun and not a competition. When it comes to athletics, I have to make a genuine effort to separate the two.

Friday, I went to the gym again, more determined than Thursday, and boosted my cardio up by another 15 minutes. I had never prepared for any kind of distance run, so I just followed my soccer roots and ate pasta on Friday night and began to hydrate extensively.

Saturday morning came, and I was ready to run. 

The race wasn't until the afternoon hours, so I headed out early to coach a local youth soccer team. After that, my nerves spiked again.

I knew I needed energy via carbohydrates, so I came home and pulled a Michael Phelps, compiling a smorgasbord of whatever I could find in my house. I wasn't able to make it to the grocery store last week, so I believe the combination went something like black beans and corn, a Greek salad, a cheese sandwich and some Cheez-Its. And lots and lots of water.

It was time to head to Bright House Field. I had prepared the best I could in the 48 hours prior to the race. 

When I arrived, I stretched out with my fellow Patchers and asked questions to the more advanced runners of our crew. Gulfport and Dunedin editors Cherlene Willis and Katie Dolac have completed a marathon and countless other races. At least I had some good advisers.

We walked to the starting point of the race, which seemed like a 5K in itself. That was probably just the nerves, though. 

Before we knew it, we were off. Prior to the race, I created a playlist on my iPhone of some songs that seemed to pump me up. The list ranged from Jay-Z to Madonna. That was a big help.

After the first mile, I was feeling good, and it seemed as if I would be able to keep a steady pace. Over hills, through local neighborhoods and around a lake we ran. Then, we ran some more. 

Prone to shin splints, I could feel my calves tightening up after mile one and made an attempt to run on soft ground whenever possible. I spent more than half the race on grass, rubble or dirt.

We made our loop, and I started seeing familiar sights and a feeling like I could see a light at the end of the tunnel came over me. Then, I saw a mile marker coming up. It was only mile two. 

I panicked for a second, wondering if I should start walking to save some energy. But, the competitor in me wouldn't have it. I did slow down, but never to a walk. That had been my goal from the start, to run the entire 5K without walking. 

Finally, we were nearing the stadium, where the race was to finish. As I looped around the parking lot and curved around the outside of the stadium, I was ready to cross the finish line. As I got closer to the stadium to make my entry, I realized that once we entered the stadium, we still had to run the entire course of the baseball field before hitting home plate, which was also the finish line.

Now, the perimeter of a baseball field might not seem that big, but when you're mentally prepared to stop, it's multiplied by about five football field lengths.
With the finish line finally in view, walking wasn't an option. I had to reach my goal of a nonstop run. 

As I rounded the third baseline, I tried to add a final kick of energy. I only ran track in elementary school, but they always taught us to "kick it" in the last 100 yards or so. I felt like I was going a bit faster, but chances are I was probably moving like molasses. Regardless, I tried. 

I finished! Now, if only I could breathe. 

I caught my breath and cheered on my Patchmates as they too finished the race. 

As we were standing around and chatting just after we all finished, I asked, "what are those blue things everyone is handing in?" I was referring to black velcro straps that were being removed from runners. A small, blue chip was removed from the strap before put into a box. 

"Oh, you didn't get one of those?" one of my fellow editors asked. 

"Very funny," I replied. 

We are all sarcastic beings to a degree, so I thought it was a joke.

There was no joke. I had missed out on retrieving my run time. When I checked in, all I received was a number and a wristband. Since I'd never run a race before, I was unaware that there was a time chip I was supposed to have.

We laughed it off, and I was just happy to have finished the race.

However, I did get handed a white piece of paper as I crossed the finish line. For some reason, I thought it was a raffle ticket, but a more experienced racer congratulated me and noted that the paper meant that I was in the top 50 finishers of my race. 

That made the time chip thing take the back seat. I was ecstatic. 

Patch reader and blogger Jim "Mack" McAvaddy showed support for what he named the "Patch Patrol," capturing photos as we each crossed the finish line.
He had snapped a shot of me finishing and the clock was in the image, which meant I could see my time.

I finished my first organized race with a time of 26:35, according to the photo.
Hopefully, this won't be my last race.

And to answer my question earlier in this report, "how bad could this 5K thing be?" Let's just say that runners are a different breed of athletes.

Katie Dolac December 05, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Go Rachel!
Jim "Mack" McAvaddy December 05, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Oh Dear, where to start? I am so proud of you and all of the Patch Patrol for meeting and beating the challenge of the Race Director, Suzann Henslee. The first race is always the hardest-Now that you know what is expected, the following races will be easier-Maybe we can get the Patch Patrol to enter races in each of the communities to show support. Great job Rachel and the "Patrol"..... mack
Jeff Vargas December 05, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Congrats Rachel! Maybe we will cross paths some day, on the streets or on the trails ;-)
Rachel Jolley December 06, 2012 at 05:01 AM
Thanks, guys! It was certainly a fantastic experience and one that I was happy to share with my Patch fam while also representing my new town :)

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