I can honestly say that while I’ve traveled the world and seen some of the most amazing things, nothing can compare to the beautiful sight of the finish line of my very first race, the West Point 10k at the United States Military Academy. This past Saturday, I achieved my goal of running in a race and I accomplished every goal I made during my training. Starting with a 10k as my first race was a lofty goal; most people start with a 5k, but I chose a 10k on a challenging course because hey, go big or go home. I work out a lot and run 6 days a week so I thought a 10k was the challenge I needed to push myself to achieve a higher level of fitness.
I arrived in upstate New York on Friday night and met up with my cousin Betsy, my Uncle Jonathan, my Aunt Katie, and their close family friends. There were 10 of us in our running group, and we happened to be staying at the same hotel Pauly D and a whole entourage of Snooki lookalikes were staying at because he was DJing at the Orange County Chopper Motorcycle Cafe (yes that’s really a thing) next door. What an experience! It was a tough decision, but we decided to go to bed early instead of party it up Jersey Shore style. Maybe next time.
The morning of the race, we woke up early, though to be honest I didn’t sleep much. I wasn’t sure exactly what the course was going to be like, I just knew there were going to be a lot of hills and there was a 70% chance of rain in the forecast. I’ve never really run in the rain because I usually run at the gym on a treadmill. I had asked a coworker who has run the NYC marathon if it’s different to run in the rain, and he told me, “it’s harder, it makes your shoes heavier…but at least no one can see you sweat.” I love a good silver lining! I just had three goals: don’t walk, don’t stop, and average less than 12:00/mile. I knew the race had a lot of hills and was a challenging course and I knew I’d be happy if I just accomplished these three goals. By race time, I was SO ready.
I’m not a fast runner; I never have been and probably never will be. When I first began running, I found this fitspirational picture on Fit Sugar and I repeat it to myself every time I’m trucking along at my 11:00-11:30/mile pace: no matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch. If you’re concerned about speed, don’t be. Your race, your pace. As long as you’re out there, your time doesn’t have to matter unless you choose to make that a goal. The important thing is just to get out there.
My nerves were running high before we even got there. I could feel my heart racing and I couldn’t do much to slow it down. As we lined up for the race, I started my heart rate monitor, which I use to track my fitness and make sure I’m in the best zones for cardio training. Normally when I begin a steady-state endurance workout, my heart rate goes from my resting rate (60-70bpm) to about 120 once I start moving, then up to the 140s/150s. I sometimes make it into the 160s if I’m at it for awhile. But I was at 164 when the whistle blew. I tried to breathe deeply and focus on my music playlist to distract myself, but it stayed elevated. I had no choice but to persevere.
The course started with several big hills and I stayed between 168 and 181 for the entire race. That is a really, reaaaaally long time to sustain an elevated heart rate. I’m not gonna lie, I was struggling. The nerves were affecting me, and the myriad of hills only made my heart beat faster. Hey, this is where the army cadets run. This is a challenging course. But I kept going, with my goals fresh in mind: keep going, keep running, stay under a 12:00/mile, and make it to the finish line. I remembered the advice that I learned from the little engine that could, which my dad used to read to me growing up to teach me to believe in myself: “I think I can, I think I can.” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Just. Keep. Going.
I saw the 5-mile marker and knew I was in the home stretch. The top of my legs were starting to burn and the humidity was really getting to me. I’m tougher than I realize, but I am easily affected by the elements and not used to running in these conditions. The moisture in the air was getting in my lungs. I kept going, trying to distract myself. In my head, I was coming up with new lifting routines, new smoothie recipes, new makeup wish lists and new travel destinations to try to avoid focusing on the road ahead of me. I knew I was a little less than a half a mile away when my favorite song by my favorite artist came on my playlist: Til the World Ends by the one and only Britney Spears. It was exactly what I needed. I knew there was no better way to finish than with Britney, who’s music has gotten me through many tough times in life (don’t judge, she’s amazing). I started sprinting as fast as I could. I had one last hill to climb and I knew I’d see the finish line when I turned the corner. All I could think about was that I was almost there…almost arriving at my goal. Almost officially in the record books.
And then it came into sight. I could see the huge banner of the finish line getting closer and closer. I booked it as fast as I could. I saw my family shouting for me and heard the crowd cheering. As I approached the finish line, my family and friends all reached out and gave me a high fives. And then I crossed it, at 1:07:13. A 10:51 mile.
I did it. I ran a 10k. I didn’t stop. I didn’t walk. I was more than a minute faster per mile than my goal. I was on top of the world.
I’ll always remember that feeling. I ran my first race, I achieved all my goals, and I realized I could do anything I set my mind to. And on top of it all, we ran for Boston and I raised $590 for the One Fund for the injured victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Setting a goal and achieving it is one of the best feelings in the world, and being able to help others while doing it makes it even better.
We celebrated our victory and enjoyed the rest of the day at West Point, just taking it all in. Arriving at that long-awaited goal makes me want to set more. I don’t know what’s next, but what I do know is that whatever I decide to do, I am capable of accomplishing it. It took me years to realize that, and now that I know, there’s no stopping me. I have a lot of fitness goals still ahead of me, and I’m ready to achieve them one by one. It feels pretty good to be a firework in progress.