Out There: Back To The Scene Of My First 5K

Do you remember your first 5K? Chances are you were a different runner back then. Photo: www.photorun.net

Columnist Susan Lacke remembers her first 5K and notes how much she’s changed as a runner.

Last weekend, I went back to my home state of Wisconsin to do research for an article. While I was there, my little sister suggested we do a 5K race together. In a twist of serendipity, we found one taking place on the college campus where I used to teach.

The course was one of the very first 5K races I had ever run … way back in 2009. As I filled out my entry blank for this year’s race, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself: Who says you can’t go home again?

Admittedly, I didn’t know much about running in 2009. I doubled up on sports bras to keep “the girls” in place and went to Kohl’s to buy my first pair of running shoes. I didn’t know anything about pronation or heel-toe drop. But I did know pretty, and my first pair of running shoes were really, really pretty. They also gave me blisters.

Looking back, I probably did a lot of things “wrong” when I first started out. I vaguely recall telling a friend of mine it was OK to eat an extra scoop of frozen custard, because “running burns, like, 1500 calories an hour or something like that.” Naturally, when I gained a few pounds, I didn’t blame the custard, but instead believed it was because “muscle weighs more than fat. I must be getting ripped!

No, I didn’t know much. But I did know one thing: I wanted to finish a 5K without walking. And I did. After my first 5K, I was pretty darn proud of myself, giddily holding up my race bib for a photo: You see that? I just ran 45 minutes without stopping!

Since then, a lot has changed. I do 5Ks, Ironman triathlons, and everything in between. Thankfully, I now know that specialty running stores exist, with high-impact bras made for the sport and shoes that are both pretty and purposeful. I have a little more muscle and a little less fat — though I still use a 30-minute run as justification for an extra scoop of frozen custard. And I’m no longer a college professor, but instead a columnist for — of all things — a running magazine.

In our sport, we’re always striving to get better, to turn in a faster time or scamper up hills with more ease. Each finish line is really just another start line; rarely do we bask in the happiness of a race completed, but instead begin plotting what needs to be done differently for the next one.

It’s good to be faster. It’s good to climb the hills with barely a sweat. But stop just for a second, I beg of you. Take a look behind you. The view should be both familiar and beautiful.

At last weekend’s 5K, my time was 23 minutes, almost halving the amount of time it took me to navigate the course in 2009. I was pretty darn proud of myself, but this time, it was different. A runner can’t really appreciate how far she’s come unless she looks back at where she’s been.

My sister, who is still new to running, finished the race in 35 minutes, a new PR. Her shoes, by the way, were rad. And yes, we went out for frozen custard.

Who says you can’t go home again?

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