And just like that, it was over

Nine weeks ago, pretty much to the day, Phil and I committed to a running plan that would enable us to run a 5K — me for the first time, him the first time not in the Army and the first in 5 years. I remember the day we shopped for gear, anticipating the next day’s training session — a gradual introduction to running. At that time I could not imagine actually being ready to run a 5K in 9 weeks. Not without walking. Or collapsing. Or puking. Not intentionally. Not for fun.

I still couldn’t believe we were doing it, even as I started the day before sunup with the two early bird kiddos awake and raring to go.

We left the house at 7, loaded down with snacks and drinks, mostly for the little ones, and uncertainty. It was cold. Frost on the car windows and the ground, a chill in the air. But it’s November; what did we expect?

We were dropped off in the parking lot of the Lebanon Farmer’s Market, close to where the race would start. Blew kisses to the kids, whom we hoped we’d see later on the route, and took this picture after affixing our numbers to our shirts.

We cut through the farmers market building, receiving second glances as we did. It’s been four years. I’m sure they’re used to it by now. Potty break, then out to the street to mill around with the other runners.

We felt appropriately dressed, unlike the man we saw running around the block wearing only shorts, socks and shoes. Brr, I thought. Now, he’s crazy.

More than 200 people eventually gathered at the start line. Maybe we’re all crazy, I thought. 8 a.m. on a chilly Saturday morning in November and we’re getting ready to run 3 miles? And we paid money to do it? Yeah, we could definitely be called crazy.

After a few muffled announcements and a jaw-dropping rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by a girl who didn’t look much older than 12, I let out a squeal of sorts and then we were running.

What a sight. We were near the back of the pack, purposely, and we could see the rows of runners fill the street from side to side as they traversed the blocks ahead of us.

Not long into our run, the 10K’ers split off to the Rail Trail while we crested the hill toward Lebanon High School. We passed the finish line as it was being set up and the clock said 10 minutes. We were just about a mile into our run, and feeling good.

We wound through the parking lot of the high school toward a second entrance to the rail trail, volunteers pointing us in the right direction, cheering us on.

A mile behind us, we settled in to our pace on the trail. Just over a bridge, we glimpsed our kids, sitting snugly in the jogging stroller. Yesterday, Isabelle said she was going to say, “Go, Mommy! Go, Daddy!” I was teary just thinking about it as we ran. She got shy and just smiled and waved. Still, they were a sight for sore eyes. Or maybe legs?

Mile 2 was the longest part of the run. A straight stretch that felt like it was going to last forever. People started passing us going the other direction. First a few, then larger and larger packs of people. We knew the turnaround must be getting close. As the water station came into view, we could see people turning around. Two miles were soon behind us.

The home stretch found us leap frogging, per se, with a woman and two young girls, maybe 10 or 11, who alternately walked and ran. Spoiler alert: The girls finished before we did, which made me feel a little sad until Phil reminded me that those girls weren’t fat and hadn’t made two babies. Touche.

We passed our kids again. It was almost over.

A man on a bicycle rode toward us announcing we only had half a mile to go. I was beginning to believe we could do this.

We left the trail and headed back through the parking lot of the high school toward the finish line. People cheered for us. They called out our race numbers in encouragement to finish. The cheers got louder the closer we got.

Phil reached back and grabbed my hand, and the emotional dam broke. I was sobbing as I tore the tag from my number and handed it to the guy collecting them. Phil sympathy cried for a few minutes until he thought he might hyperventilate. The last few months have, at times, been a living hell for us. So many things have carried us through: prayers, notes of encouragement, shows of support, even the running. We don’t plan to stop running or exercising together, but finishing the 5K felt like closing the door on a tough chapter of our lives. Now, we look ahead.

I can’t forget to mention that seeing our time as we approached the finish line added to our mental state. We finished in 36:34. Our best 3-mile time yet, much less 3.2 miles.

We caught our breaths, walked around, found the cafeteria and gulped some water. Walked some more, ate orange slices and a couple of cookies. Grabbed more water, then went to meet the rest of the family.

We’re beat but proud of our accomplishment. Worn down but hopeful.

Home before 10 a.m. Eggs, bacon and toast for breakfast. Showers. Comfy clothes. Back to reality.

If my legs weren’t sore, I’d think maybe the whole thing was a dream, it all happened so fast.

Here we are after the race. I feel amazingly close to my husband right now. Getting through trial will do that to you, I guess.

My ever-thoughtful parents sent us these, delivered to our door a few hours after we got home.

I can’t say where the next months are going to take us, but something has changed in me as a result of this part of the journey. I feel stronger, tougher. Yet also humbled and awestruck. Running has deepened my faith at the same time it has toned my muscles. I’m more convinced than ever that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Running was not one of my ways to fix what was broken in our lives.

He knew better.

He always does.


We smell like bacon and we’re here to pick up our race packets

Pre-race meal: Chicken carbonara.

We cooked bacon this afternoon. And chicken.

Then, we headed to the Y to pick up our race packets.

It was kind of like Christmas, digging in to see what kinds of goodies we had.

Water bottle. Snacks. A long-sleeve, running T-shirt. And most importantly, our numbers. I’ll be the one wearing “4”. Phil is “5.”

We have a plan for the morning. Where to drop the runners off. Where to park the car. Where the kids can see us run past. What the kids will do in the meantime till we reach the end.

We’re ready to go.

 Here we are, post-rapture.

Kidding, of course.

All that’s left to do is drink some more water, sleep, wake up, dress and head out the door.

Tomorrow, then?

See you on the other side.

Now, we’re on our own

Week 9, Day 3. I should have posted this yesterday but the final 3-mile run in our couch to 5K training plan kicked my butt. Could have been the not so great sleep from the night before. Or the 25 mph winds we were running in. Or that I’d been at the grocery store all morning with the kids and thus was on my feet more than usual before a run. Yeah, I’m hoping it was one or all of those things. Phil, on the other hand, said it was his best run yet. He’d only had 2 hours of sleep the night before. He’s half seriously considering that as a strategy for running the 5K. Head in a fog = no pain. I think I’ll choose sleep, thanks.

38 minutes and some change. Running into the wind was a killer.

My encouragement is this: No matter what happens on Saturday, we completed a 9-week running program and can now run 3 miles. Two things I never imagined I would do and enjoy.

It’s been a crazy, wonderful journey and I know it’s not over, per se, but I feel a bit like the Biggest Loser contestants who go home — We’re on our own now to keep up the training.

Thanks for all your encouragement, support and advice through this whole thing. Two more days. I can’t wait.

What is THAT smell?

Week 9, Day 2. 3 more miles. 37:28. An out-of-town hilly route. The fun thing about running is noticing what you don’t normally when you’re driving. Like the beautiful country homes near the creek. Bridges and underpasses.

And, today, smells.

Running through the underpass brought a whiff of something stale and moldy.

Past a machine shop of some kind where the odor was so strong I wanted to vomit. (That’s the smell of death, my husband informed me later.) OK. Should we call the police? There were definitely signs of life, but the smell … oh, I won’t soon forget it.

Manure. Myerstown often smells like manure because it’s surrounded by dairy and cattle farms. Today, though, I was sure I’d stepped in it. Nope, just in the air.

Everything’s sore today. One more training run before the big day on Saturday. Can’t believe the goal is so close. And we’re still standing. Still having fun.

This time next week

Week 9, Day 1. The beginning of the end. Or is it the beginning of the beginning? A tough 3 miles today. Mostly because it’s Saturday and we’re tired and 3 miles is a long way to run. My legs are still aching, but maybe that just means it was a good workout.

One week till 5K and I’m starting to think of logistics. Where will we park? How far is the beginning from the end? How early do we show up? Will it be feasible for the kids and their grandparents to see us at the end? What am I going to wear? Those are just today’s questions. But this time next week, none of those questions will matter. Barring any debilitating injury this week (Please, God, don’t let that happen!) I will have run a 5K. Our goal is 40 minutes. Today’s 3 mile run was 37:26, so it’s possible. Probable even. But the course is unfamiliar to us, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m also looking ahead to what happens next. So, we’ve had this training plan to run a 5K. What do we do when the 5K is over to maintain or continue our training? It may have to be indoor and low-cost, so I’m open to suggestion if you have any. I don’t want to lose the winter and end up starting couch to 5K over again in the spring, but winter does pose its share of problems for fitness.

Three miles. I once thought it impossible, avoidable and miserable. I’m on the other side of that fence now. I think I might be on the verge of loving running. Who’d have thunk it?

Countdown to 5K

Week 8, Day 2. Another 2.75 miles. New route.

Time: 32:27

Feeling: Great! Today was the first that I thought I could actually keep running when we were done. I mean, confidently keep running without feeling like I was pushing myself too hard.

Days till 5K: 12

Training sessions left: 4

Feeling: Eek! I had a stress dream last night about the 5K. For some reason Phil wasn’t with me in the dream, and I’d been running, running, running and saw the first sign and it said .8 miles. I couldn’t believe that’s as far as I’d run. Then, I missed a turn on the route and had to go back to get back on track. That was pretty much it. We’ll see if the dreams get more interesting.