My Race

juliestanley5kThe SAMM 5k…this is my race.

Not in the sense that I own it, or that I started it, or that I’m anything special in connection to it. No, this is my race because it’s special to me, just like all races are special to someone. So we lay claim to our race, along with everyone else who feels this is their special race, even though it doesn’t really belong to us.

The 2012 SAMM 5k was the completion of a goal I had set for myself when I decided to do something about my weight. I challenged myself to become fit enough to run a 5k…someday. As my weight loss progressed and my activity level increased, I began looking for a 5k in the area and found this one. It was an exhilarating experience for a middle aged grandma who had just lost 80 pounds. A year prior to that, I could not have run from the front door to the curb.

Running in that first 5k sealed the deal for me; I was hooked. I was thrilled to find fliers in my goody bag for other races coming up. I immediately registered for the Modesto Memorial Classic. I began to check the ShadowChase calendar on a regular basis to find more races. And, I set a super secret goal for myself; one that I didn’t even want to admit to myself, maybe because I thought it was impossible. Next year, I wanted a medal in this race.

The idea entered my mind in a flash, and was gone just a quickly, but the shadow if its imprint was there, hiding in the back corner somewhere, working on my sub-conscience…a medal…in this race…my race…

Over the next several months I ran in as many races as I could. Manteca’s Hit the Streets for Hunger in April, our own Modesto Memorial Classic in May, the Hilmar Udder Run in June, (now there’s a story all its own…), Escalon Park Fete in July.

Also in July, I decided take my training up a notch. Too bad I didn’t talk to someone who knew something about how to do that.

After Hilmar in June, I began to be concerned about the nagging pain I had been having in my lower legs. It started with some twinges in my ankles, which were replaced with twinges in the outside area of my shins.

I kept running through all the twinges, and they finally went away, but were replaced by something a little more painful on the inside of my shins. Since the pains I had been having had always gotten better after awhile, even though I kept running, I expected this new pain to do the same. It didn’t.

I finally stopped to visit a physical therapist friend who confirmed I had some mild shin splints going on, and said that I should be ok to keep running. What he failed to caution me about was the fact that I should NOT go out and see how far I could push my limits while I was waiting for my shin splints to subside. I guess he figured I was smart enough to know better. He was wrong.

So, in July I went from running less than 10 miles a week to running about 20 miles a week. No gradual 10% a week increase for this tough broad, just 10 miles one week and then 20 miles the next week, and the next week, and the next week…

Then, for good measure, I decided to do some hill work. I had done some with a group about a month before. We ran the long, gradual climb from the park to the parking lot on Scenic Drive for about 20 minutes. I figured if that was good, then steeper and faster would be better. I found a shorter, steeper hill in the park near the golf course, and ran up and down that as fast as I could until I couldn’t do it anymore.

The results of this self devised training schedule were double edged. My next race was Color The Skies in Ripon on September 1, 2012. Even with legs that were painful just walking, I turned in a personal record of 28:12 and placed second for my age group. These were the results I was striving for with my workouts. Unfortunately, the tradeoff for the fast gains I was making turned out to be serious injury.

Sometimes, I can be a really slow learner. Or maybe I just wanted to believe that if I ignored it, the pain would go away. Whatever the case, the Marathon Training Group for the 2013 SAMM was starting up at about this time, and I decided to join. While I had no intention of running the Marathon, or even the Half, I figured training for it could only make me faster in the 5k. And I had this super secret goal…

While I had already registered for it, the training group was making the Riverbank Cheese and Wine 5k one of their training runs. It would give those who had never been in a race some valuable exposure to the excitement and distraction a race creates for a runner, and it was the right distance for where we were in the training program at that point.

Unfortunately for me, because I didn’t want to lose the momentum I had going, I didn’t back off my training and allow my legs the time they needed to heal. I ran the race in Riverbank, but turned in a slow time and left immediately to go home and ice my legs.

I had one more race I was scheduled to run; the Peace Officers Memorial in about a month. I iced my legs every chance I got, took anti-inflammatory meds, gave myself leg massages, and took time off from my running. Unfortunately, I had pushed myself too fast and too hard for too long. I ran my final race for 2012 with a decidedly unremarkable time and finally admitted to myself that I had a real injury that I needed to address.

After x-rays failed to reveal anything specific, I had an MRI performed on both legs. The results were as I expected by this time; I had stress fractures on the tibia of both legs; a result of overtraining. The treatment; no running for 2 months.

I can’t believe it took them this long to find a diagnosis. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t realize it would put me out of action for a while. When I think about it though, at least they diagnosed me properly – at least they took the time to find out just what was wrong with my legs and why I was in so much pain. Unlike my friend, who was misdiagnosed by her doctor, and eventually had to think about hiring lawyers for medical negligence compensation, so she could get the justice she deserved. No, it wasn’t anything like this, luckily! But it was still annoying all the same.

Since I had already stopped running about 6 weeks before receiving this diagnosis at the end of December, I targeted mid January as my date to start training again. This time, though, I would be taking it very slowly. At the first sign of pain, I would back off.

Even though I had finally admitted to myself at some point that I really did want to try to medal at this year’s SAMM 5k, I believed my goal was now out of reach. But, I was still determined to at least be IN the SAMM 5k, even if I had to walk the entire distance. After all, this was MY race. There would be other races to medal in, so long as I got healthy again.

January 8, 2013; for the first time in over 2 months, I have risen before the sun to pull on my running clothes, lace up my shoes, and test out my recently pain free legs. I am to start slowly, walking most of the time, light jogging a little bit. Over the next few weeks, I can gradually run more and walk less until I can do a slow and easy 3 miles without pain. If it hurts, I am to back off immediately.

Fast forward two and a half months. It’s March 24, 2013. The sun is not yet up. My husband, bless him, rolled out of bed at 3:00 AM and is out setting up course barriers for the marathon. I’m wandering around the finish area, checking out where everything is located, lending a hand here and there with set up, trying to cope with the inevitable pre-race jitters I always seem to get.

I still believe my goal of a medal is out of reach, but I am well beyond thinking I should not run. For the past month I have managed to log about 6 miles a week of easy, slow, short runs. I don’t feel anywhere near ready to turn in a good performance, but my legs feel good. I’m mostly worried about my cardio. Will I have enough oxygen to sustain the pace I want keep?

The sky begins to lighten as the crowd thickens. The lines for the rest rooms grow ever longer as the start time for the marathon and half marathon nears. I call my husband. Is he going to be there for the start of the 5k? I have his camera that he left on the kitchen table that I want to give him. Yes, they’re headed back in right now.

I shed my sweats, jacket, and gloves, placing them in my drop bag and handing it over to the attendant at the bag drop station. I’ve learned that it truly takes an army of volunteers to put on an event like this, and I’m thankful for every one of them.

It’s almost 7:00 AM. The marathoners and half marathoners will be starting soon; time for me to warm up. I head out for an easy run away from the race route. Six minutes out, six minutes back. My cell phone rings. My husband is at the start line and wonders where I am. I’m breathing hard as I arrive and he chides me for wearing myself before I even get started. I tell him I’m fine. By the time the gun goes off, I’ll be perfect.

Runners are lining up for the 5k now. Each one tries to find his or her perfect spot to start. Too far to the front and we’ll be in the way, too far to the back and we’ll be dodging slower runners. Ephron is on the high lift next to us, talking, taking pictures. He introduces Karen, who is there to send us on our way.

And we’re off…

Before we reach the first corner the jitters have disappeared. This is what I came here to do. This is what I have been working toward for the past year. This moment. This race. All the training, all the worry about my legs, all the pain, all the impatient waiting as I healed. This is what I had been working toward. This race.

I concentrate on the things I’ve learned in the past few months. I try to keep my strides short and turnover quickly. Am I crossing my arms across my mid body? And smile…this is fun. I decide I will smile and wave at everyone I see; all the spectators, all the volunteers, all the musicians, all the peace officers, all the photographers. I want to keep my focus away from how fast I can go and just enjoy the fact that I’m here. This IS fun, and I’m so happy to be here.

At the first mile marker I check my pace. Not blinding, but faster than I expected. I decide to not check anymore. I’m just here to have fun. Wave to the onlookers. Tell the volunteers thanks for being here. Think about my form. Keep the stride short and quick.

Before I know it, we’re turning the final corner, heading for the finish. I focus on the clock as I get close enough to see the numbers. I can’t believe what I’m seeing. The clock reads 28:…something as I go under it. I can’t focus on it without feeling unbalanced, and I don’t want to fall. This is fast for me. I must have been mistaken.

We head for the results booth. I love this; we can get immediate results. I key in my bib number. My data comes up. My official chip time is 28:24:302.

I turn and bury my face in my husband’s chest. My shoulders start to shake as the emotions threaten to break free of my control. I feel the tears start to burn my eyes.

I’m stunned. This is just 12 seconds slower than my personal best. After pushing so hard that I end up injured. After all the time off. After all the frustration of feeling my goal slip beyond my reach. After weeks of short, slow runs. After making the conscious decision that this run was for fun and not time. Twelve seconds. Wow. .

I’ve finished 2nd for age group.

I did it. I earned a medal in this race. My race. Second place. Double wow

The SAMM 5k was special to me because it was my first. Now it’s special to me because it has taught me that I can achieve more than I thought I was capable of achieving. It has taught me to aim for that which I believe is beyond my reach, because reaching beyond my perceived limits is the only way I will ever learn just how far I can go.

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