What once started as a weight loss journey has turned into something different; something more. Over the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to support others; whether it be with weight loss, an overall quality of life, or just trying to find new and creative ways to make life more enjoyable.
One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned since I started is that you don’t have to do something extraordinary to make an extraordinary impact on someone’s life. You don’t have to stand in front of millions and give a thunderous speech to inspire people. You can make a difference in someone’s life by being yourself and reaching out. Whether you know it or not, your actions will trigger a domino effect that will inspire others to reach out. The lives you touch will touch others, and those lives will touch others.
The fourth item on my bucket list was to run a race for a charity, and Thanksgiving provided a perfect opportunity to do that. The run was for the Life With Cancer organization, which offers support and education for those who are affected by cancer or who have loved ones that are affected by cancer. There are millions of people who are living with cancer today, and this organization makes their day-to-day lives a little easier.
Some background: I’ve never run a race before. Ever. So this was a very new experience for me. I did not train for this 5k race and only signed up a couple days before; however, my normal runs are anywhere between 2 miles and 4 miles, so running 5k (3.1 miles) wasn’t a stretch for me. If you have run races before, you may just want to skip to the end. If you haven’t run races before, stay tuned; I’ll be going through a lot of lessons that were learned.
I woke up around 5:45 AM for an 8 AM race. Normally before a morning run (despite most of my runs being in the afternoon), I may have an apple and a swig or two of water. Today it was 16 ounces of water and a banana, which I drank/ate at 6:25 AM. I was out the door by 6:45 and arrived at the race site at 7.
First lesson: If you’re running a race in November, dress warm! I feel like I was adequately prepared, but many people brought some of the disposable hand warmers and that would’ve been nice because – IT WAS FRIGID!
I’m making the assumption that most races have bathrooms or Port-a-John’s close by, which leads me to my second lesson: For short races, don’t eat or drink anything different than normal. I was nervous and over-thought the pre-race meal a lot, and as such, I was in the bathroom twice in a span of 45 minutes before the race. Rookie mistake!
Five minutes to game-time and I’m about 100 yards behind the starting line. There were over 3,000 people running in the race and I’m guessing I was around the middle of the pack. Everyone is standing around and talking. Meanwhile, I’ve got my headphones in my ears listening to “It’s A Fight” by Three 6 Mafia and “Warriors of the World” by Manowar, which aren’t my running songs, but usually precede a general workout.
The horn sounds and we see the front of the pack in the distance start to go. Lesson three: The start of a race is nerve-wracking and tense, especially for a first-timer, but it’s anti-climactic at best, so be patient. While everyone at the front was running, everyone around me was slowly walking forward. I found out later that it took me one minute and 55 seconds after the race started before I reached the starting line.
Fourth lesson: The starting line might not be level to the ground, so be careful. I tripped over the starting line like an idiot but maintained my balance and started to run. Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to run better when I’m trying to keep up with someone, so I began to look around for a “pace car”. In front of me was a woman and her boyfriend?/spouse? running at a decent pace with marathon jackets on, so I decided to stick with them for as long as I could.
Lesson five: Do not be phased by the people you pass or the people that pass you. Both will happen and happen often, so just run your race. After the first quarter mile, three younger guys just flew by me, and my initial thought was that I was going too slow and needed to speed up. I stayed the course. You’re not competing against 3,000 people or three speed demons; just run your race, I told myself.
Despite knowing that I was still running on pure adrenaline after the first 0.75 miles, I decided to go faster. I accelerated past my “pace car” and began searching for someone new to keep pace with. I came up on another couple who both looked extremely slim and fit who were running at a quicker pace than I had been running earlier. Similar to the last couple, I camped out about 10 feet behind them and just worked on keeping pace.
Lesson six: This may not apply to everyone, but it does to me. Do scout work ahead of time. I knew exactly where the mile markers would be and, in addition, despite not having a watch, I knew exactly where I should be in my playlist when I hit those markers. At the 2-mile mark, I was still with my pace-setter and WELL ahead of where I should’ve been had I followed my normal pace. I evaluated in my head whether or not I should continue to keep pace with him while wondering how long I can keep up the pace before running out of gas.
The side-stiches came at the 2.5 mile mark, with only 0.6 miles to go. Not now! Not when I’m so close! The pain continued until a couple minutes later when the finish line was in sight. I heard my pace-setter motivating his significant other, “There’s the finish line. Keep going.” The distance between us opened up as I could see them going faster. I sped up and caught them again, trying to muster every ounce of energy to stay within my normal 10 feet.
At the last tenth of a mile, my pace-setter went into a dead sprint, leaving his partner behind. I followed as we broke away from the small pack that we were with to cross the finish line. It was my fastest 5k time that I’ve ever run by a full minute and 45 seconds.
Your actions, however large or small, can be inspirational to those around you. Unbeknownst to them, by just running their race, that couple inspired me to push harder than I ever have before. Maybe one day, I’ll serve as the pace car to someone else.