The year was 2008. I was 27, had just finished my third year of teaching, and in the last six months or so, finally acknowledged that I desperately wanted to get back into running.
Since starting grad school in 2004, I had given it up almost completely because of time, getting in *maybe* 3-5 miles once or twice a week (and sometimes less). After I graduated and started teaching, I joined a local running group on the Peninsula where I lived, and for a little while managed to run maybe 3 miles once or twice during the week and 5-6 on Saturdays.
The exact trail in Redwood Shores/Foster City I used to run with them.
"Do you run a lot of races?" I remember some of them asking me.
"Oh, no, I'm not THAT kind of runner," I remember saying.
A woman in the group had recently qualified for the Boston Marathon, which was big news as no one else in the group ever had. I remember some of them describing to me what it's like to train for and run a full marathon and being absolutely horrified and quietly wondering to myself what was wrong with these people.
"I just like to run a few easy miles now and then to keep in shape," I assured them, silently adding in my head, like a normal person.
"I really like having a race to train for," said someone. "It keeps me motivated and gives me some accountability. You should do a race sometime!"
"Oh, I really don't think that sounds like the kind of thing I would be into," I said, a little worried that someone might try to press-gang me into this appalling business. "At all."
They shrugged. "Suit yourself."
I used to do long runs like that, 10 and 15 miles, but never with a watch. And never for any real reason other than maintaining some kind of basic cardiovascular fitness. And certainly not because I was trying to participate in some kind of miserable race.
The Dish at Stanford, where those sorts of things used to happen.
Eventually, though, I had to admit that I didn't have the bandwidth for being a first-year teacher and karate and polo and running, and since running was the most pedestrian, the most unpleasant, and the least social, that's what drew the short straw. Sure, every now and then I'd go jog a few miles in the canyon behind my apartment, but that was about it.
Toward the end of 2007, I started to miss it.
I was still doing karate but polo had gotten more and more difficult to get out to, and with a few years of teaching now under my belt, work was no longer sucking up quite so much of my nights and weekends. So, I decided I would try to start running again, consistently.
And wow, did it suck. Also, I realized how terrible I was about consistency. (I still didn't have THAT much free time, and when I did, MAN, chilling on the coach felt WAY more appealing than lacing up my running shoes.)
Somewhere deep in my brain, a vague memory echoed. "I really like having a race to train for. It keeps me motivated and gives me some accountability."
"You should do a race sometime."
The idea was at once thrilling and terrifying. I had not the first clue how one found these races, how often or where they happened, or how they worked. Did you just show up and be like, "Hi, I'd like to run in this race," and give them your money?
Thankfully, there was the internet, and Google, and the Dolphin South End Runners and their $5 5K on Sawyer Camp Trail ten minutes from my house. I signed up on the internet and hoped that day in January circled on the calendar would keep me motivated to run consistently through the fall. (And by consistently, I mean three to four miles every other day or so. Which...kind of happened.)
Oh, friends, I went into that race so under-prepared. I knew nothing about distance training or pacing or tapering or any of that. The last race I'd run had probably been an 800m or 1600m on the track, and since I didn't have anything else to go on, I warmed up the same way I used to for those races, lined up at the back (having no sense at all of how I would compare to the rest of the field but preparing myself for the worst), and gave that little race everything I had.
Oh my lord this result is still on their website.
Having never been a distance runner, the time meant nothing to me, but I was pretty psyched, actually, to come in 6th out of the entire field of women. The fact that there were awards for the top 5 re-awakened my competitive streak vis-à-vis running, and suddenly I found myself thinking, "I bet I could shave 9 seconds off of that. I bet I could beat at least a couple of those girls if I tried again."
But then life happened and work happened and I fell back into my habit of running, y'know, 3-4 miles once every week or two.
With summer (and therefor more time to train) on the horizon, I went back to the internet again in search of another 5K to kick my butt into gear. Which led to perusing local 10Ks as well, which led me to the website for The Jungle Run in Los Gatos.
They had a 10K and a half marathon, and I kid you not that I had my finger on the trigger for the 10K when I noticed that if you ran the half marathon, they gave you a medal. Now, at this point I am not much of a medal horse (because OMG how many does a person really need just for not getting lost or forgetting to breathe?) but at that point I had not gotten a medal for running since I'd been killing myself on the track some 8-10 years ago.
I hadn't run over 6 miles since college and in all truth getting back to that point seemed only slightly less impossible than my band getting a record deal (did I mention I had a little band back in those days? I did. For about eight months), but dammit did I want that medal. (And, the race was like $40, which I figured was fair for the medal plus a T-shirt.)
Oh, friends. Did I up my running game? Technically, yes. Thanks to good ol' Hal Higdon, I was probably running AT LEAST twice a week by late spring, sometimes three times, and I'd gotten up to running 4-6 miles at a time during the week. The bad news was that I didn't have much time on the weekends for long runs, and when it occurred to me that the race was in three weeks and I had yet to run even 10 miles, I kind of panicked and just went out one day and did it. (I'm pretty sure that almost killed me.)
Anyway, the day came, and I drove to Los Gatos, had a cup of Gatorade 15 minutes before the gun like Bob Glover had said, lined up at the start, and took off with the pack when the gun sounded.
Now, like I said, I had no idea what I was doing. I hadn't trained with any kind of GPS tool and had zero sense of my pace or likely finishing time or any of that. I just figured, "Hey, we're all running this, so I guess I'll just stay with you guys?"
As I recall, within two miles I hated everything about my life and was pretty sure this was the worst mistake I had ever made. But I finished, and even though it was a hot day & the last few miles were pretty rough, I still managed to sprint the finish on the Los Gatos High School track.
I pretty much couldn't walk the next day, which is what you get for not training for a distance you haven't run in like 6 years.
Maybe it's a little silly but ever since then, I've kind of wanted a re-match with that race (now that I, like, train or whatever). In 4 years I took 38 minutes off my half marathon time, but I still have a fond place in my heart for that first half because that experience (and getting 6th in that DSE 5K) was what got me interested in running more road races and pushing myself to see just how fast I could go.
My first time A/G placing AND going under 1:40 in a half marathon.
Windsor Green Half, May 2012, 1:39:52
Before I try to PR in the marathon at Santa Rosa, I'm taking another shot at the Jungle Run in July, just to relive my past a bit & see what happens. I was kind of assuming the price would have gone up like every other half marathon around here, but when I went to sign up, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the fee was still only like $50. Way to go, Jungle Run!
It's Los Gatos in July so even though it starts at 7am, it can still get warm, so I don't know if it will end up being a GREAT race, but unless I break my leg or something I should at least be able to better my course record a touch.
Besides, there's always that medal...
Local peeps, if you want to join me, you can register with my referral link if you want. (It discounts me like $5 for every person who uses it.) Or not. I did not actually know this was a thing until they sent it to me.