I didn’t have a plan.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I had an outline of a plan for the Right to Run 19K in Seneca Falls, N.Y. As per my usual these days, by No. 1 goal was to have fun. For this race, which is 19K for the 19th amendment which gave women the right to vote, I also ran to give thanks. Because of women from all walks of life, I’m able to run and bike and swim and climb mountains. I’m able to do these things without being warned that my uterus may fall out. (This was an actual concern of men in the medical profession for women who ran any distance over half a mile or rode bicycles.) Of course, women still are not given unfettered freedom to explore their athletic side. There are still social concerns over femininity and real issues over access and opportunity, particularly outside the confines of middle and upper-middle class America. And part of running in this event was my way to show solidarity, to push the envelope for other girls and women that they, too, might have the chance to run 19K and find their own stores of strength.
As for the race itself, I had a solid base from training and running the Around the Bay 30K in Hamilton, Ontario in March. I picked up a half-marathon training plan and went about my business of continuing to run. But I really didn’t have a race plan. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do and by the time I got to the start line Saturday morning my idea was to start slow and finish strong.
So that didn’t happen.
I started out a bit fast in that first mile, a nemesis of mine since I started running 10 years ago. I feel good and off I go with the crowd, looking down at my watch and thinking “Hmm. This is too fast.” I started chatting with a fellow runner, a woman who decided to write “Nasty” on her arm and a tank top that read “I run better than the government.” I kinda loved her. She was working through a hamstring injury and was supposed to be running nice and easy. She said she’d gladly run with me and I thought it was a great idea. I stayed with her for two miles, through the first water stop. We were running about 30 seconds faster per mile than what I had planned on running. This was a bad idea. I lost her at the water stop, sad to lose her company but relieved that my pace was back to something more manageable for the next 10 miles.
For the most part I was able to keep the pace I originally wanted, a bit slower during miles with water stops, which was just fine with me.
The weather overall was nice. The sky was solid gray with clouds, a blessing on a country road course that had little shade. Temperatures were in the 50s. The only downer was the humidity which was high. I struggle in humidity. It’s just not my jam. And I could tell the humidity was impacting me as the salt crusted on my face and my fingers started to feel a bit swollen.
Lesson No. 1: If the race doesn’t spell out water stops, ask.
Around Mile 7 when I was starting to feel the impact of the humidity, the distance and my tempo pace, I realized there had been no sports drink on the course. There were plenty of water stops, but they only had water. No sports drink. I assumed with the long distance there would be sports drink on the course. And you know what they say when you assume. You get no sports drink.
Lesson No. 2: Never trust a race that says it’s “mostly flat.”
There was no elevation profile for the course and while there was a race map, there wasn’t a description of the course. Mile 9 included a short but steep uphill on a dirt path then turned through a college with a portion of the course running through the lawn. Hmm. This was more hill than I bargained for. And I was caught off-guard by the cross-country portion of the course.
There was another hill. By this time my legs were shot and all I could think about was a big bottle of Gatorade.
There was some frustration bubbling through, but I caught it.
All right. So I did the exact opposite of my loosely formed race plan — I ran my fastest in Mile 1 and slowed up in the last three miles.
But so what. I kept moving forward. I celebrated the day. I was healthy enough to run. I was strong.I learned some valuable lessons about new races and relearned some life lessons about myself — about patience and planning and taking what the day brings.
At the end of the race, medal around my neck, I snuck up on the awards ceremony. There was a break in the action and I had a chance to make my most aggressive move of the day. Kathrine Switzer, of Boston Marathon fame, was on hand to hand out awards. I pounced on the break and asked for a photo with her. We had to hurry but she kindly obliged and I thank her. She made it possible for women to enter distance running events. She helped open the door for women to run, women of all shapes, sizes and colors. She triumphs women’s running, not just women who win. She has lived an amazing journey and she understands how running can transform someone’s life.
This. This is why I ran the Right to Run 19K. To celebrate the strength of women. To offer strength to those who need it. To live big and bold and be my best self. I don’t proper pacing to do that.