“I should just stop running races.” The thought crossed my mind as I warmed up on the way to the Eastside 5K, a weekly 5-km race along the Waikato River organized by the local running club, the Hamilton City Hawks.
“Why am I even doing this? Perhaps my time will be disappointing again, like that 10-K race in Cambridge. I should just forget about races and start running for fun, without times, mileage, heart rate zones, PRs or even training schedules.
“But then, if I don’t challenge myself I will never know what I am capable of.”
Deep inside I knew I was in great shape. My trainings were going fabulous, and I had recovered from my anemia. Now was the perfect time to test my fitness, with less than two weeks until the next race I had planned, the 12-km Round the Bridges run on November 15.
But that exact knowledge was to blame for my raised expectations and the disappointment I would subsequently feel in case it did not go as well as I had hoped. And although the race was a weekly one and not a major event I had trained for for months – quite the opposite – several runners had told me things got rather competitive during the summer months these races were held, whatever that meant.
As soon as I arrived at the east riverside, however, my nerve-wracking thoughts were swept away by practical issues. Where was the start actually? And where the registration? I jogged around the park but did not see a “hawk” (a member of the local Hamilton City Hawks running club) or anything that looked like a café, where the registration and post-race drinks supposedly took place. A fitness instructor preparing a boot camp base came to my rescue, pointing me to the right direction and assuring me there was no way I could miss it.
She was right. I soon saw a group setting up the start and finish area, another group jogging up and down the path in an attempt to warm up for the race, some runners stretching their limbs and yet others chatting collectedly. I paid my 6 dollars – on top of the annual club fees but hey, that would give me a well-deserved cold beer afterwards (never mind I don’t drink beer) – and got my bib and chip.
My relaxed state continued until the gunshot that marked the start of the race, and even after that. It was crowded and the path went uphill, making it nearly impossible to run at my own pace. My GPS watch told me I ran the first kilometer in 4:16, quite slow for me for a 5-km race and nevertheless it was not a comfortable one. My pants were almost falling down (note to self: don’t wear those pants during races anymore) and my heart rate belt did not stay where it was supposed to, either. Why did I even need to wear it?
Following this first kilometer, things went uphill – at least figuratively. I tossed my belt to a bystander, the sweat on my body made my pants ‘stick’ and the crowd was thinning out, so I could run at a pace that felt ‘comfortably fast’. The second kilometer flew by and I saw something sub-4 minute on my watch. “I’m almost halfway,” I thought, and the hope that I could perhaps keep up this pace and finish with a personal record slowly entered my mind. I passed other runners and felt strong; another hill loomed ahead, and I embraced it (thanks to this awesome running mom blogger). I knew there were no ladies ahead of me anymore, and my legs flew under my body. “Be strong and continue.” I repeated the words – my running mantra for the past several years – over and over.
Only 100 more steps. Or perhaps 200? Another curve and Victoria Bridge was in sight. The finish was before that bridge, I knew, and I geared up with all the energy I had left to conquer the last uphill slope. Another curve and the timer marked 19:40! I can finish sub-20! I felt exhilarated. This was not just a PB; this was my first-ever 5 km sub-20 minutes! Something I had only dreamt of. I pumped my arms faster and faster in an attempt to increase my pace and crossed the finish line with a big relieved smile on my face: 19:47, my watch told me. Nearly 40 seconds off my previous best. Despite the hills. Despite the fact that I hadn’t had a proper night sleep for the past 6.5 months. Despite the fact that I had given birth to my sweet baby girl 6.5 months ago.
I could not only come back. I could be stronger than ever.
Although I had promised Ahmed I would come home right after the race, I had to stay for a while, if only to receive my price and feel my 6-dollar participation fee had been well worth it. Whether it is we will only know when I give my parents, who will be arriving in New Zealand this Sunday, their welcome drink.
P.S. As I left for this race without even bringing my camera I don’t have any pictures of it. If I join again and have some supporters with cameras with me I will insert their photos into this post to give you an idea of the race.