A joyful feeling

Today I couldn’t wait to get to the fitness class I teach, because one of my class members did her first 5K yesterday, as a walker.

D. attended my walking class over the summer. As I watched her form and speed improve, I posed a question to her: “Have you ever thought about doing some type of race as a walker?”

In a word? No.

But she was intrigued by the idea, and we chatted about it over the weeks that followed. I told her that I thought her speed was well within the parameters of walking a 5K, and that I was confident that she could do it.

As she turned the idea around in her mind, she asked me about the race process, both how to prepare and what to expect. Finally, she decided: Yes, this was a goal she’d like to aim for. Once she made the decision, her enthusiasm grew.

So I sent her a list with links to several local 5Ks. From there she chose one in a neighboring town, scheduled for yesterday. I thought about surprising her at the finish area, but she’d very politely turned down my offer to join her for the race if she wanted me to — I got the sense that she wanted to do this all on her own.

And I’m so proud to say that she did well, with a steady pace and a good finish time. It was written all over her face when she came into class tonight — she was beaming! — and I couldn’t wait to ask her about the experience. She thanked me for all the encouragement, but the truth is, I’m inspired by her experience. I think seeing first-timers complete a race is a bit of a high for me, too!

At the risk of embarrassing her (and saying as much), I shared her accomplishment with the rest of the class. They were quick to offer congratulations and ask her all about it.

And from what I can tell, I think a racer has been born: She definitely wants to do it again. She joked that the 3.1 miles seemed long enough, so the thought of 13.1 (a half marathon) seems crazy. I countered that 8Ks and 10-milers make great next goals, once she has another 5K or three under her belt.

One of the greatest feelings in all my life was when I completed my first race. The joy and pride have not diminished in nine years. And that’s part of why I’m so thrilled every time I see someone else experience that feeling — the feeling of setting a fitness goal, working toward it for weeks or months or longer, putting your training to use when push comes to shove, and achieving it. Knowing that it’s something you did solely on your own (with cheerleading support from family and friends, of course), through the efforts of your own body/heart/lungs/muscles … it’s a tremendous feeling.

So … congratulations to D., who can count me as cheerleader #1.

My first race (of 17 and counting)

We all have to start somewhere.

I started big — a full 26.2-mile marathon. Some people start with 5Ks and work up. Nope, not me! Ha!

And I started not with just any full marathon: My first race was the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., with about 30,000 other willing participants and a big rumbling BOOM of a Howitzer or some such as a starting gun. Talk about race-day atmosphere!

To be fair, most of the details of my first race were decided by someone else. If it were left to me, I probably wouldn’t have become a racer at all! Or at least, I doubt it would have occurred to me. Who knew you could walk in a race?

You see, I worked at Prevention magazine. (If you’re not familiar with it, it focuses primarily on health and wellness.) In 2005, our fitness editor/director, Michele Stanten, came up with the great idea to publish a story encouraging readers to set a fitness goal of walking a half or full marathon. We printed training info in the magazine and reserved some registration spots with the race for our readers. Response was overwhelming! We had a handful of entry slots for staff members who were interested in participating, too.

Michele asked us to let her know if we wanted to sign up. (Here’s where you can refer to my previous post, Why I Race.) In short, I thought about my own health and wellness and decided to be proactive. I have to confess that there was a bit of ignorance in there too! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But in the end, what I was getting myself into was utterly positive, rewarding and life-changing.

The MCM has a time limit that can be challenging for some walkers. It’s not about a finish time but about reaching and crossing a bridge three-quarters of the way through the course before the bridge is reopened to traffic — a.k.a. “Beat the Bridge.” Suffice it to say that it made us all be more committed to preparing properly for the event. Who wanted to train for months and months, racking up the mileage, only to be foiled on race day? It was a daunting thought. And that aspect served as a foundation for all my race training and preparation to come. Walking a race is one thing. Walking a race at a brisk pace that gets you through the course with support and across the finish line within established time limits so you can enjoy the atmosphere and the finish festivities is another.

During MCM training, we coworkers who were participating had so much to compare notes on and bond over as the months went by. I can’t imagine doing something like this for the first time all on my own, without a support system of fellow participants. It was reassuring to all of us.

The calendar ticked down and race day arrived. I could do a whole separate post on specific memories of race day (and maybe at some point I will), but I’ll share the highlights now:

  • A race-morning starting area is the biggest illustration of “hurry up and wait” that you will ever experience
  • Few things are better than seeing a familiar face cheering you on at about mile 13 or 19 when you could really use a boost
  • Walking a race is a great way to really see many neighborhoods of one city (and all in one day!)
  • Hiccup-crying for a whole mile is draining but cathartic (I beat the bridge, but wasn’t sure I would until I did!)
  • Cookies at mile 22 are the best cookies you ever ate in your life, followed closely by a celebratory bacon cheeseburger
  • Knowing you are going to cross the finish line after so many months of training and preparation is one of the most emotional things you might ever experience. It’s been nearly 9 years and it still makes me tear up even now.

Finishing a marathon is something no one can ever take away from you, and it’s an accomplishment to surely be proud of. Whether you walk it or run it or do a combo of both, everyone on the race course is entitled to give it his or her best shot and reap the emotional and physical rewards.