I am not a runner. I’ve never been an athlete and most of my life I’ve been plagued by side stitches and shallow breathing when trying to keep up with everyone else. Even at my best, I’m just slow. I simply don’t have the need for speed that others do; I’m content with exceeding my personal mile markers, things like running consistently and improving my pace.
I’ve been slowly working towards new health goals in my life and this year, conquering running is my white whale.

When I was in my senior year of high school, my dad found out he was pre-diabetic. He took responsibility for his health and lost around half his body weight by making healthier choices. He began taking daily walks and those walks soon became daily runs. Before I knew it, my dad had signed up for the Cooper River Bridge Run, a huge 10K event in my hometown of Charleston, SC. My family are not runners, but seeing my dad become one planted a seed in my mind that I wanted to attempt the same.

I received a call a few weeks ago that they would be closing the road I live on in Amityville for the Great South Bay 5K the following Saturday. My boyfriend Mike and I run that route all the time; I figured it wouldn’t be a bad idea to give it a try. Mike is pretty athletic and ran track in high school, so for me to try and keep up with him while running is a recipe for disaster.

We decided it would be best for him to go at his own speed when we did the 5K together, for both of our sakes.
That Saturday, we walked down the street to the beach where the race was starting and got our numbers. We saw a lot of cars driving by with half marathon stickers and people warming up like it was a serious race. A 5K is nothing to sneeze at, but for some of these folks, 3.1 miles is merely a drop in the bucket. It’s a little intimidating to get ready for your first race and see people already running the course as their warm up! I was definitely feeling poorly prepared; I hadn’t had much time to run the past week.

We took our places at the starting line, waited for the countdown and took off! The first few moments were exhilarating. You feel like you’re part of a pack of gazelle as everyone takes off running, dodging puddles and setting the pace. Unfortunately, I was probably a bit too exuberant with my pace and soon was feeling my side stitch in full force. It wasn’t even 5 minutes into the race yet! I passed my friend and her dog Callie in their yard, barking at the runners. I kept looking for someone ahead of me that I could keep pace with, but I soon had to slow to let my side stitch rest. I eventually got into a pattern of running until the stitch came back and walking for a minute or so. I settled into a group of 4 or 5 women who were at a similar pace.

As I neared the finish line, I was ready to just walk it and forget about even trying to run; I was so out of breath and my side stitch was acting up. Mike was waiting at the end (having finished about 15 minutes ahead of me) and told me to finish strong and run the last stretch. I mustered up the energy and set a good pace and as I neared the finish line, another runner flew past me to finish just ahead of me. “Really?” I thought to myself, “What a disappointing way to finish.” I sat on the curb and watched as a mother and her toddler crossed the line, glad that I had at least been ahead of them.

Every time I run, it’s a new experience.

I thought I had enough running experience to have a fulfilling 5K experience, but this race was a real eye-opener for me. There are a lot of factors you can prep for when working towards any race as a goal, but if you’ve never run a race before, you can’t account for any mental obstacles you may encounter or your reaction to a new situation. Now that I have one 5K under my belt, I know that I’ll need a lot more practice at keeping a steady pace next time. I’m excited to try again because now I have a PR and it’s time to beat it!