What I Learned From Running My First 5k

Today, I completed my first 5k as part of a relay team in the Vermont City Marathon. It was my first time running a race. I'm used to running the loop around my neighborhood - 2.9 miles - a couple times a week. I'm by myself - just my ipod and heavy breathing. Oh, and tight calves. But this race was different.

I was part of a team. A team of which I only knew one other person. I met the rest of the team an hour before the gun went off. Great group of guys, super encouraging, and in high spirits to complete the race. We weren't going for time. We were in it for fun.

Here's how this whole running thing happened in the first place.....

On April 30th, I got the text from my friend, Mike.

"Want to run the first leg of my marathon team? It's 3.3 miles. We had someone drop out."

I was sitting on my parent's couch watching the news. I hadn't gone on a "long" run in almost 6 months. The harsh Vermont winter kept me inside lifting weights, putting on a good amount of muscle.

I needed to do more cardio, anyway. But.....

"Maybe I shouldn't do it. I don't know if I can run 3.3 miles in three weeks," I told my parents. Doubt settled in - and it wasn't even 10 minutes. I needed new running shoes ($125).  Training needed to start immediately.

Screw it. Let's do it.

I texted Mike back: "Why not. Gotta start running again haha." It was starting to get warmer out. I figured I could at least run 2 miles non-stop, so what's another 1.3 miles?

I bought my new running shoes, assembled a playlist of top 40 hits and hit the pavement. I trained 3 times a week for the next three weeks and took two days off before the race. I also used this as an excuse to eat bread and pasta (YAY carbs).

Race day was here.

I was more nervous about getting a parking space in downtown Burlington than the race (ok, maybe not). I arrived at the parking garage at 6:15am -- plenty of spaces left. I couldn't wait any longer so I got out of my car in search of a bathroom. Pre-race jitters were here. Was I going to make it? Was I too dehydrated? What if I don't hit my time? What if I have to go to the bathroom again? (Personal side-note: I went 5 times before the race started. I was freaking nervous.)

I met up with my team, pinned my race bib to my shirt, and headed to the start chute. I had to ask three people if I was in the right place. It was impossible to know -- I mean, 8,000 people were at the starting line. It looked like everyone was just standing around. Type-A-me had to make sure.

The gun went off. It was go-time.

I launched my playlist (which also served as a timer -- if the music was over, I was behind).  We started out packed like sardines, as we trotted up Pearl Street.

People passed me left and right.

Good for them. People were behind me, too -- I was middle of the pack.

I had two goals for this day: Maintain my 10 minute mile pace and run all 3.3 miles - no walking. Every turn was an accomplishment. That's how I got through it:  I cut the run up into turns and simply ran to the next turn. Brilliant.

I saw a couple runners I knew - and just past the aid station, I saw my first familiar face cheering runners on. I pointed and waved. It was nice to see someone I knew. It gave me the extra encouragement to finish the last stretch.

As my leg came to a close, I got a little bit of shoulder pain.

It's something I've got to work on. I pushed my shoulders down and back - chest out - to get my blood flowing. As I rounded the final corner, I saw my relay team cheering me on - pointing to where my hand-off, James, was. I was so focused on finding him, I didn't even realize the bib numbers were categorized with signs.

I connected with James, handed off the relay bracelet, and wished him good luck.

My run was over.

The 3.3 miles represented more than a 5k, though (yes, I realize it's slightly longer). Pounding the pavement through the streets of Burlington was rewarding, inspiring, and, you know what? It was fun, too.

As I do in many of my blog posts, I like to reflect to see what I learned. Here's a list of what was running (pun intended) through my head as I took each step - and after my leg, too.

What I Learned:

1. Take risks

I don't know what made me do it, but saying yes to running a 5k with 3 weeks of training was crazy. I just had to plan, train, and get in the game.  I made time in my schedule for runs. And it paid off. One of the biggest hurdles my - and probably your - life is getting over fear. The only way to get over fear is to take action. I did it. I ran 3.3 miles. What risk are you going to take today?

2. Anyone can run

Several kids under 10 blazed by me. I ran past a man who must have been in his 80's. I saw all body types - skinny, heavy, muscular. Even a couple "you gotta be kidding me's". But you know what? They're out there running the race - right alongside me. They put their mind to it to run the marathon. Whether running the whole thing or as part of a relay time,  everyone killed it out there. It doesn't matter what time they finished. What matters is they finished. They accomplished their goal.

This could not have been more apparent than the Brainfarmer team wearing the sky-blue t-shirts. There must have been 12 of them - aids running alongside cognitively disabled kids. Anyone can run.

After finishing, I caught my breath and walked over with my team to watch the runners. A few minutes later, several of the Brainfarmer runners came by with their aids. The crowd went wild. I smiled and let out a big scream. The kid raised his arms and cheered. He was exhausted. But I could tell he felt accomplished. Amazing.

3. More cowbell

Along the whole run, there were residents, family members, friends, and a whole bunch of random people cheering everyone on. People literally didn't stop clapping. While there were more people in certain places, the energy was amazing. It didn't matter if you knew one runner or hundreds, every cheered for each other. And man were there a lot of cowbells! I loved it.

4. Focus on what's in front of you

For me, it's a struggle to "turn-off". I never stop thinking about my business. During those 3.3 miles, I did not have one single thought about my business. It was freeing.  Seriously.  How did this happen? I focused on what's in front of me.  I wanted to finish the run. That's all I wanted to do. So, how can I transfer this to my business? Well, I need to get tasks done. Don't start another project until the first one is done. No more doing six different things at once. Focus. Execute. Move on.

5. Be part of the community

I love Burlington. It's an awesome city. From the free high fives on the second leg, to the cowbells (see #3), and the energy of a supportive 42,000 residents, I'm proud to live here. I'm happy to see people supporting each other (I've never heard so many "Great jobs!" in my life), cheering each other on, and being part of something that happens just once a year. People are helpful here. People are friendly. And people are happy. This community is undeniably one of the best I've been a part of.

6. Reward yourself

I legit pigged out after my run. Greatest cheat day ever. Do it every once in a while. Work hard. Eat hard. (You could play hard, too, but well, eating is WAY more fun).

So, that's what I learned. After my part of the race, I debriefed with the guys about how it went. My friend, Mike, who originally got me to run, turned to me and said:

"I want to get you to run a longer leg next year. You in?"

I looked at him and said "Yeah. I'm game!"

This run was good for me. It was 3.3 miles of life lessons. Imagine what 5.8 would bring.

Congrats to everyone who ran in the Vermont City Marathon. A big thanks to the volunteers, the drag queens directing runners, event organizers, company sponsors, and everyone else involved. Definitely doing it again next year. You in?