One Tough Pumpkin: Race Bling!

You know you’re a runner when you’ll do a race alone.

Originally I planned to run The Great Pumpkin Run 5k in Oswego with a friend, but she had to back out. We’re still cool. Then I realized that this race looked like too much fun to pass up! It was at Keller’s Farm Stand– how fun is that?! It also included a black half-zip hoodie- black with an orange jack-o-lantern face. I LOVED IT!

So today I hoisted a pumpkin and went for it. There was a “Tough Pumpkin,” option– completing the challenge entitled you to a second medal. Paying a small fee allowed you to select a pumpkin from two large pins, weigh it, and carry it during the race. I saw it in the promo pictures and it looked really fun! Plus, you get COLD apple cider at the finish line.

I loathe everything pumpkin spice, but I’m a sucker for apple cider!

So yesterday at packet pick-up I tried out a few pumpkins and walked with them a short distance. I guessed one would be six pounds, and the scale confirmed it. Perfectly round with a long stem to carry it with, I felt ambitious! Two other people selected theirs first: both wanted the smallest one possible. Even the man!

The weight range was 2 to 10 pounds. So I was satisfied to be in the middle. I wanted to EARN that race bling. So I made some rules for myself:

1. Keep it on my shoulder or above my waist at all times.

2. Only hold it with one arm. Switch off when necessary.

The parking situation was crazy! A much bigger race than I estimated. But I got to the start line 5 minutes early, and it was exciting!

There were a lot of people in matching team costumes– one was for a birthday. I felt a little jealous at first, I always do. It’s awesome to do races with friends, but the races I want to do don’t usually line up with what’s on the circuit for my running club, or they may conflict with my friend’s schedules. So the majority I run solo.

But running alone also makes me feel that much more like a serious runner.

I also told myself I wouldn’t wear any headphones this time.

So I started with my left arm, and held that pumpkin high on my shoulder.

And ran– sloooowly. And yeah, also walked.

But it was so beautiful!! We started weaving through an orchard, it looked like. Going between the rows as marked by signs and the occasional volunteer. I almost signed up to volunteer, but was glad I didn’t. They had to wear orange long-sleeved shirts and looked miserable! All their sleeves hiked up to the elbow.

Last night it had been a HOT September day, and I anticipated it would be again today. Checking the weather online confirmed it.

Usually I wear the race shirt provided. This marks the first time I went and bought something specifically for a race!! Last night I went shopping and chose a black tank top with a white skull on it in a lacy design. Sexy and feminine! And my black Nike shorts, which are pretty high. But hey, I wanted to be comfortable in the heat.

And I was. So many people wore the race-included hoodies. I’ve been that person: I usually do. You want to be festive and especially when the swag is comfortable and cute. But sometimes it’s just not compatible with the weather! I’ve had plenty races where I was sweltering or shivering, due to wrong assumptions about the weather and layering.

This time I got it right. Just those little details make me feel like a veteran.

There appeared to be a young couple in front of me: both wearing orange and blacks striped knee socks, black shorts, orange t-shirts, and backward baseball caps. They didn’t hold hands, so I wasn’t sure if maybe they were just friends or even siblings. The male’s hat cracked me up. It was black and white and declared, simple: “Titties.”

That gave me a good snicker.

The course progressed from a dirt trail, to gravel. At the halfway mark, water!

I stopped and asked someone to take a picture of me against a golden field. Not sure what it was: soybeans? Definitely not wheat or corn. They were short shrubs.

I was so happy.

Then at the 2 mile mark, we headed on for the final stretch! A few volunteers pointed us toward the finish line.

One of them was remarked to me: “You got the big pumpkin!”

Hell yeah, I did. It was almost the size of my head, looking at pictures.

Another runner exclaimed, “SHADE!!” The shadows indeed gave us a break.

My only beef with this race is that I never saw a photographer. I was really looking forward to race pictures! Good thing I stopped and took some of my own.

I finished strong!

Received my finisher’s medal, then the second– The TOUGH PUMPKIN!! Posed at the finish line with my pumpkin and my bling. Enjoyed every sip of that COLD cider.

Getting my photo the finish line was such a reward. There were so many times I wanted to just drag my pumpkin or ditch my pumpkin all together. Put I persevered. I got a great arm work-out! They’re not as weak as I thought.

This was honestly one of my slowest races: but I exceeded my own expectations!

I noticed that most people didn’t have pumpkins.

The ones I noticed on the course mostly had chosen ones small enough to still run with without hindering their normal arm swing. I saw one woman carrying hers with both hands. Most people let their arms dangle with it.

I even saw two women with backpacks toting something large: the cheaters! Maybe they had a 10-pounder in there but in my eyes, that’s the easy way out.

I carried my damn pumpkin the whole time, mostly on my shoulder, and I’m proud.

Then Tammie called and we met up. Her car was parked close and she offered to let me put my pumpkin in there so I didn’t have to carry it anymore. I accepted! Then we walked around the farm: the petting zoo, the hay “maze” inside for kids. My feet were too tired for a whole corn maze! We sat in this giant pumpkin carriage type thing and took a picture. She had some stuff to do first that morning, but we had arranged last night to meet up and hang out post-race today.

And I tried something: I did a pull-up gripping the arch to enter it. Wow! I REALLY felt that in my core– no wonder you see all the ripped people doing pull-ups in their work-outs. That feeling made me want to actually work out, in addition to running. Goals!

It was great to have a few hours to just hang out with Tammie. She’s been a friend and a mentor to me since high school. We caught up about our lives and we’re both doing great. Happy. We took selfies and leisurely strolled around.

Thursday night we’re going to see a band she told me about years ago– Here Come the Mummies! She plaid a few songs for me in her car as she drove me to mine.

I’m stoked for FALL RACES! This is just the first.

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Lucky Race #15– Running Rockdale

Today I took a step toward restitution with myself for the race I missed.

I signed up last-minute for a 5k in the same town, Rockdale. And lucky for me, part of the course was the same– a few streets. The weather was also similar- chilly and windy, but no rain. A little warmer, I think.

I began on Meadow Ave. and then up Morris St., just as I would have last time. But this time, I was healthy, rested, and ready. I had slept great the night before, I’ve been cooking vegetables and eating better.

I gave myself a full three weeks to get over my cold and recover. I ran twice this week at 5:30 a.m. with a friend from work. I rested on Friday. Those runs were slow, but today I felt great. NO KNEE PAIN! No pain at all.

It was a small race. I parked at a Catholic church two blocks away and got there in just enough time to drink a little coffee first. I stretched, and a race photographer took a picture of me.

I was slow and steady– and did actually run the majority. My estimated pace is 14:33 according to my Nike Run app, though I find it’s usually a little different than what official race times record. But I saw the clock– I finished at 45:43!! Within the 45 minute range. I hit my goal– pace under 15!!

The race was honestly pretty easy. I enjoyed the course– the hills and the space. I was confident in my outfit, too. Just 3/4 running pants and one base layer zip-up, a hat. Some light gloves, wool socks.

Near the last mile, I dropped one of my gloves. A woman who seemed close to my age was running behind me, and she stopped to pick it up. I thanked her. She brought it up to me, and then began walking. We were at the same pace for awhile– though opposite sides of the road. I tried encouraging her to run, “Come on, you can do it!” and “Let’s pick it up!”

But she was winded, really struggling. How many times have I been her? Many. She knows the limits of her body and how much rest she needs in a race. So I wished her well and passed her up.

When I saw the finish line, I went for it!! I feel like I finished strong. Volunteers were handing out medals for everyone– I was so grateful! We also were given a bottle of water.

I asked someone to take my picture! Posing triumphantly.

There was a variety of food in the tent.

I got a free sports massage, which I’ve always wanted to do at a race! He worked on my calves, it felt great.

I didn’t stick around– it was too cold! But all day, I felt wonderful.

Then I went and signed up for a three-month membership to my local athletic club. Tomorrow I get re-fitted for my new running shoes.

I can *FEEL my life getting better.

Now I’m a runner, but come tomorrow, I will also be taking some classes, hopefully swimming, and learning to cross-train.

I’m so glad I didn’t let the loss of missing that race break my resolve to run.

As I’m learning, I’m actually pretty good at it.

Lucky # 13: My First Shamrock Shuffle 8k!

I’m floating!

On endorphins. On CRUSHING the race goal I set for myself.

On the joy of new running friends. On knowing that I am indisputably more fit.

This was my lucky 13th race, and a phenomenal PR all-around.

To give some context, the only other race with a comparable distance was the Cinco de Miler last year– a five mile, not an 8k. It was May 7, 2016, also in Chicago. At that point I had neglected running for seven brutal months– and then only did that race because my friend Lisa invited me to push past 5ks and try it with her. Like the naive casual runner I was, I ran four miles the night before– rather than resting. My race suffered immensely for it– I had to walk/hobble three full miles due to intense knee pain. I had to stop and sit and massage my knee. Three separate times, I desperately wanted to quit– there was also horrid wind and rain along the Lake Shore Drive. I ended up with a “pace” of 18:18 for 5.15 miles at 1:34:26. I was just happy to finish, period!

Today, my time is ONE HOUR, FOUR MINUTES, and SEVEN SECONDS!! My Nike Running app said my pace is 12:12, but the official race time reports 12:54. Whichever, I’m ECSTATIC either way!! In about 10 months time, I shaved nearly SIX minutes off my pace and nearly 30 full minutes off my finishing time!

Twinges of light knee pain a couple times, but otherwise felt like a gazelle. No knee pain post-race or hours later. I’m getting more fit!!

Today was the first time I’ve felt truly confident in all aspects of a race!

Last night I felt the beginning of a blister on my instep and put a Band-Aid on it. No problem today!

I knew to rest yesterday, save for walking around the expo to pick up my packet. I knew to eat a good dinner and a light breakfast. I drank water and avoided coffee. For the first time in a race, I feel like I finally knew how to DRESS! I had a real base layer and wasn’t cold once all morning. I had a race shirt that was exactly the right size. My race bib wasn’t on crooked. I was even okay doing a gear check without worrying about it. I’m more relaxed in general with the racing scene. And my bag had everything in it– band-aids, Bengay, Tylenol– though I didn’t need any of it.

Probably my biggest accomplishment?

I DID NOT NEED ONE BATHROOM BREAK THE ENTIRE RACE! I truly feel like a bad ass.

A few times I felt the urge to pee, but just told myself to hold it and shortly it subsided. I also only took the first cup of water, but only drank about half in sips and threw the rest out.

I ran only forward the whole timeРnot even considering what was behind me. I ran mostly in the middle of the road, at my own steady pace. Thanks to the official race results, I know I finished ahead of 2,885 people. BAM.

I saw one woman give another an extra ponytail holder as she passed by. I saw a woman in blue and white run to hug what seemed to be family members briefly, then keep on going. I saw signs of encouragement. I saw people shedding their hats and layers.

I was surprised by how warm *I felt– but I kept my racing stocking hat on because I didn’t want to carry it as I have in past races. And also because yeah, it looked cool!

Crossing the finish line, I was so calm. As I passed into the chute, I reached the volunteers handing out medals. I stepped forward so a man could put it around my neck. I grabbed my banana, water and chips from the boxes.

I asked someone to take a picture of me, sweaty and glorious– brandishing my medal.

I went to gear check, then easily found my running crew peeps.

Everything today went amazing. I was so warm after the race I changed out of my base layer in a porta-john and just wore the race day t-shirt.  People were excited to hear about how I did and so supportive! I got to meet and chat with several people.

I loved picking everyone’s brains about their own racing goals and bucket lists.

Runners are my tribe.

I’m smitten with racing. It’s my happy place.

Now onto my next race goal: the Rockdale Ramblin’ Run on April 29th!

I’ll be learning hill work and building up to 6.2 miles– my first 10k.

Cannot wait for the next adventure!!