Wait, you’re saying to yourself. Didn’t she say that her chiropractor made her swear off running?
But the 2010 Jingle Bell Run was my first-ever 5K, and the 2011 Jingle Bell Run was my triumphant return to running after having a baby, so the 2012 Jingle Bell Run felt like a necessity. It’s my runniversary.
Because I’d been so carefully following my chiropractor’s advice, and hadn’t actually been out running since July, I’d gone out running with Sheryl once a week for the past month, just to make sure I still had it. The race would be the proof of my functional fitness — do I really have a 5K in my pocket when I want it?
I arrived about a half hour early on race day and texted Sheryl: “Are you here yet?” Alas, she didn’t get said text, because she left her phone at home on the charger in her haste to get going. At that point, though, she wasn’t there yet, so I talked with some other race participants (including Kim, a physical therapist who works for my company), got my jingle bells onto my shoelaces, and snagged half a banana for my pre-run fuel. That’s right: I didn’t eat breakfast OR drink any water before I left the house. Mistake #1.
Mistake #2 was not bringing my water bottle — the small one that straps onto my hand, the one that Sheryl got me when she got hers. I thought of it when I finally found her in the lobby, and saw that she had her water bottle on hand and ready to go.
I didn’t realize what an impact these indiscretions would have at this point in the day, though. We walked out into the beautiful 40-degree weather and found a good spot at the back of the pack of hard-core runners, but in front of the walking contingent.
We spent a few minutes talking to each other about our mornings, and to the two tutu-clad cross-country girls behind us about triathlons and other running-type stuff. Before long, though, the gun went off and the crowd shuffled forward.
This is where I complain that Marware still doesn’t have the SportShell Convertible case for iPhone 5 ready to ship, even though I ordered mine back in September. See, that’s my favorite iPhone case. I’ve had a version of it ever since my iPhone 3G (and, thanks to the ever-changing form factor of the iPhone, I’ve had to buy a new case for each of mine). It has a belt clip that also snaps onto an armband, making it perfect for the sort of run where you might want to disengage the iPhone from your arm to take a picture. Alas, while I’m grateful to Sheryl for gifting me her more water-resistant case, it’s not quick and easy at all to remove the phone from the case to snap a pic of, say, the one-mile marker and pace clock. Suffice to say, in the absence of photos, that we were at the back of the pack, but not embarrassingly so. When we hit that first mile, we were just under a 12-minute mile — which is really good for us.
Which brings me to Mistake #3: I never actually ran one of our lunch runs without taking walk intervals. Sheryl and I would do a 2:1 run-walk every time. For the run, though, we opted to forgo the walk intervals and just rock it out. As we approached the first mile, I told Sheryl that running the entire 3.1 miles was going to be a challenge, but that I was going to give it a go.
As we approached Mile 2, I asked Sheryl if she’d be too upset if we took a walk break at the second mile marker. She did her due diligence of trying to ever so subtly talk me out of it — but I just couldn’t keep going. I actually petered out a little before that mile marker, and we spent about three minutes (per my RunKeeper splits) walking up to that mile marker.
There was a water station right before the mile marker, so I grabbed a Dixie cup of water and made it through about half of it before we reached the marker and started running again. I think the water was too little, too late (and too cold), but it probably helped me finish stronger than I would have.
At one point after Mile 2, a mom and her four-year-old daughter passed us. Sheryl and I had been passed during the Get Luckey 5K in February by a shuffling octogenarian, so we figured that getting passed by a four-year-old was a new low for us. Honestly, though, I was in such rough shape at that point in the run that I didn’t care who passed me. I just wanted the thing to be over.
But we ended up chatting with another runner about our age for the last mile or so, and both she and Sheryl helped me keep focused on not sucking (i.e. running with good form, even though I was exhausted). The conversation helped keep my mind off the fact that I really felt like I had chosen poorly and not prepared properly for this 5K.
Actually, as we were turning the last couple of corners of the course, I was reminded that Sheryl had been in my same position at this point in the race the previous year: I had been doing OK, but she was having a rough time. Thing was, last year, I wasn’t doing OK enough to be able to coach her on — in fact, I only had one speed, and it was faster than her one speed, so her friend Don (the half-marathoner who joined us for fun and support) played the role of coach.
We got to the final straightaway, and could see the big blue Finish Line. But I didn’t have anything left. I tried not to stop, but I seriously couldn’t do it. I slowed to a walk — just for a few yards, just enough to catch my breath — then Sheryl reached back and took my hand and we ran together, hand-in-hand, for a moment. Then we started joking about how all the spectators (all dozen of them) would be saying things to each other about the cute lesbians, and we eventually let go as we started the sprint to the finish.
I say “sprint to the finish,” but it felt like more of a slog. I attempted to put a fake-ass smile on my face as we approached the photographers at the finish line, and was only mildly surprised to see that we’d beaten our time from last year.
I felt like I was gonna puke.
We walked down the sidewalk and back, me with my hands on my head, while I caught my breath and decided whether I could stomach some of whatever food was left in the registration lobby — bananas, bagels, donuts, pizza, or just water.
Finally, I felt OK enough to chat with a co-worker, go get a raffle ticket for the door prizes, and wander back into the lobby.
Sheryl went ahead to find me some bottled water, while I got distracted talking to Tammy from Aikido, whom I hadn’t known would be at the race. Alas, Sheryl came back empty-handed — there was no more water to be had. No worries; there were water fountains. And bananas.
We wandered around and talked to various friends and co-workers until the announcement came to file into one of the theaters for the announcements of placement and drawing of door prizes. As always, we were astounded by some of the times of runners much younger and older than us; as always, we failed to win any of the door prizes, even though we’d scammed extra tickets from various places.
As we left, we checked the unofficial results, printed out and taped to the window of the lobby. We finished in 37:33! That’s three minutes faster than last year… but still a minute slower than my first 5K, the year before.
Overall, though, I’m pleased with the results. And I learned a few things. I learned that I do have a 5K in my pocket… pretty much. I learned that if I run without being properly fueled and hydrated, I will run with bad form. And I learned that if I run with bad form, that offset vertebra of mine plays havoc with my lower back later on.
When I do this again next year, perhaps I’ll start training in earnest a little earlier than November. And I’ll eat breakfast.