I had two “Running Firsts” last week.
(1) I met an amazing new friend through running. I’ve made friends before, I’ve run before, and certainly, I’ve gone running with friends before… but I’ve never MADE a friend THROUGH running.
(2) I placed in a race. Yup, you read that correctly.
I PLACED SECOND IN A TIMED 5K TRAIL RACE.
And I got a prize. A PRIZE!!!! For running. Fast(er) than (almost) everyone else!
First, the friend. Last Monday morning at zero-dark-thirty I met my new friend for the first time in the parking lot of Flynn Rink in Medford, MA. The plan was to take her on a run / hike through the Middlesex Fells.
I was very excited about this. I even laid out clothes and gear the night before. I dug out two headlamps and extra layers in case she’d need them. This invited a lot of head scratching and eye rolling from my husband. I didn’t care though, because this wasn’t just any ol’ running date.
Let me explain.
A while back I read in Runners World about a woman in the Army that, as a new mom in her late twenties, decided to have a double mastectomy because she is a carrier of that super deadly breast cancer gene (the one Angelina Jolie has), BRCA. 2 or 3x BQs later, this woman is now running ultra-marathons on the reg. The story was vaguely familiar to me. After peering at the little thumbnail photo, I was fairly certain that I graduated from high school with this woman, but we didn’t really know each other, so I just filed the information away in the ol’ memory bank and moved on.
Fast forward to this fall. I read in the alumni newsletter that this classmate of mine recently completed the famed Leadville 100 ultra-marathon. I find her on Instagram and send her a note. We start pinging each other daily. I feel like I’m getting to know her, and I feel sort of silly about it. All we do is post pictures of runs and run selfies. We wonder why we weren’t friends in high school. Then, out of the blue, she tells me she’s coming to Boston for a seminar, and do I want to take her running somewhere pretty? Of course I do! That’s what brought me to the Flynn Rink parking lot in the pitch black at 6am last Monday morning.
We’re making small talk in front of our cars. Over her shoulder, I’m looking at the forest at the edge of the lot, shrouded in even darker darkness. I have never run in the woods in the dark. I think to myself, this is a very scary thing to do. What am I going to tell her?
“So, um, New Friend, I brought head lamps. Do you want one?”
“Oh, I think we’ll be fine, she says. “There’s enough moonlight, don’t you think?” I’m thinking: She’s in the Army. She’s been to Iraq. She gave breast cancer the ultimate FU. Leadville. Multiple BQs. I pause before saying, “I’m a little scared to be honest with you. Why don’t we run roads for a while, so we can catch up?”
“Sure,” she says. “No problem!” And we’re off. Being grown-ups is nice.
We talk about our lives, our families, motherhood, our careers, running, running after kids, running through injuries… We talk about our college experiences, the expectations we put on ourselves, where we come from, where we are now, respectively. We even talk about sex discrimination, and how much has changed for boys and girls these days, since we were in school. We cover 7 and a half miles and see the moon go down and the sun come up, all on foot. It is amazing. And I never would have met her again or had such an engaging conversation if it wasn’t for running, with an assist from Instagram. Huh.
That night after the kids went to bed, my husband asked me, “Soooo, how’d it go this morning?
“It was amazing. New Friend is so cool. Did I tell you she runs ultra-marathons? And she’s in the Army? Wait ‘til you hear what she does in the Army. It’s so badass-”
“I meant the run,” he said. “How’d it go running in the dark?” I had completely forgotten about the run.
“Oh, that! It was amazing. You should have seen the moon. Oh and the sun rise, too…”. But it was the connection with New Friend that propelled me through the rest of the week. I’m happy to report that we are now talking about organizing a group of our high school classmates to do a race together for charity in the lead up to our 20 year high school reunion.
So I made my first friend through running. And she’s a keeper!
Now, the race. I bet you thought the second of my Running Firsts was going to be the more interesting of the two, didn’t you? Don’t lie… Well, it was pretty cool, too, and also a serendipitous coincidence, because the race was put on by a group called the Pink Angels to benefit breast cancer research. As I hustled up and down the trails of the Lynn Woods Reservation on Saturday morning, I definitely thought about New Friend, her mom, and all that they’ve been through battling and preventing breast cancer.
My main motivation for doing the race was to check out the Lynn Woods, though. I am understandably apprehensive about running in an unfamiliar wooded areas by myself, so I figured the trail race would be a great introduction to this large trail system that is 2o minutes away from my house. It poured cats and dogs the night before, so I anticipated a bit of mud but a really good time. The pre-race scene was very festive with tents, music, and food. The Pink Angels had many volunteers on hand, which was nice to see. Most of the participants were women but certainly a solid representation of men was present, too.
The race kicked off at 9am through stone pillars into the woods along a gravelly fire road covered in fallen leaves. No mud, to my surprise. The crowd at the start quickly faded thanks to a steady uphill climb on the fire road for the first 3/4 of a mile. I quickly paired off with a woman who appeared to be about my age, but taller. Shorties like me always take height into account. Always.
I could tell she was a seasoned runner. We were out there by ourselves for a good long stretch, switching off the lead every few minutes. I would have struck up a conversation with her, but (1), she had me hauling ass (!) and this was not conversational pace, and (2), she was wearing earbuds anyway. It finally occurred to me that this woman was actually racing me!
This was another first.
Finally, she broke away from me and I figured it was for good. We still had more than half of the race to complete and my heart rate was all the way up. Moments later, the trail abruptly veered to the left and up a steep, rocky single-track route. To my surprise my race buddy just stops and says something about her gait, and that I should go ahead. Buoyed by this stroke of good luck, I charge up the trail sucking wind the whole time. The course continues on this rocky single track for another half a mile. I pass a few men, and I then am passed by one or two other guys. Before I know it, we are back on another gravelly fire road and heading down the home stretch. Using the downhill to my advantage, I try to accelerate as best I can. I hear a woman on the sideline about a half of a mile from the finish say, “I think that’s the first woman,” as I pass her and I quickly look around me. No other women in sight. I think that she can’t possible be right. I’ve been running between 9 and 9:30 minute pace. This is impossibly slow by any measure, never mind a 5K! Still, it’s a very small race. People aren’t accustomed to trail running. Could she be right? I pick up my pace a little bit more. I’m thinking back to the beginning the race, trying to remember the crowd of women at the start. That’s when I remember the one woman in the pink shirt with the cute bob hair cut. She tore out of the start. There’s no way I caught up to her. She definitely finished already. Sure enough, as I round the final turn and lay eyes on the finish line, I see the woman in the pink shirt with the cute haircut cheering for me.
Soon after I finish the race I get in my car and leave. It never crosses my mind to ask if I placed, or if there are prizes. Later that afternoon, I am perusing Facebook and I see a note from one of the race organizers to me, congratulating me for being the second female finisher, and asking where can they send my prize?
I almost fell out of my chair. For real. I could talk about nothing else for the rest of the day. I must have relived that race over and over in my head a 100 times. I will never forget that feeling as long as I live. Seriously. I know it’s cheesy, but getting that $50 gift certificate to New England Run Co. was priceless. I want to frame it and hang it in my house. Here’s a picture of me post race. All I knew at this point was that I had a good run, and race buddy never caught back up to me after the single track.
So thats the story of the time I placed in an actual honest to God running event. Against other people. In my age group no less. Really. Here’s the proof:
What should I buy with my gift certificate?
Do you think placing in a running event would be more exciting than winning the lottery? It is.