Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sisterly Guide: Running Your First 5K

A Sisterly Guide to Running Your First 5K
and Keeping Up Appearances

I first wrote this piece for a graduate class I was taking.  However, it has evolved over time.  For all of you out there who want to be runners but just aren't... this is for you.
I’m an admitted ex-couch potato.  Six months ago, I was perfectly content sitting on the couch, watching Bravo marathons of The Real Housewives of New York, The Millionaire Matchmaker, and Project Runway.  I’d been successful pretending not to notice the extra pounds that had crept onto my thighs over the past several years until I encountered a sudden reality check—a photo taken of me as I taught a class of seventh graders.  That picture really got me running—straight to the nearest Weight Watchers location where I slapped on a nametag and handed over my credit card with gusto. 
That same day, I got an email about a local 5K race happening in my hometown in six weeks.  This was ironic, as the only running I had done lately was to try and beat my husband to the remote control so I could avoid watching Sports Center.  Normally, I would have hit “delete” right away, sending that email out into the vast cyberspace garbage dumpster, but something made me save it.  As I hit the “save” button, I vowed that I would complete a 5K and my only real goal for myself was to not be last.  And my sisters, I’m here to tell you that if I can do this, then you certainly can, too.  
Hubby and Me Just Before the Candlelight Run 5K (a night run in Greenville, SC)
As I trained for my first 5K, I was a little lost at first.  I started off asking my running friends for advice.  They said things like, “Try running for 5 minutes at a time at first.”  Or “Try taking long strides and keeping your knees up.”  I found that these two tips did not help me much.  Keep your knees up?  Run for FIVE minutes?  People, I was doing well if I could run for ONE minute when I started!  So, I found that I had to ask people who had once been like me—a true running virgin—and could actually remember how they got started.  Those are the kinds of people who will tell you to turn to a truly realistic training program called “From the Couch to a 5K,” in order to get ready for your first race.  And I found a lot of other helpful advice that I hope you can use, too.  I have even formed a philosophy about running which is at the heart of everything I will tell you here.  Listen carefully.  The idea is, “It’s all about appearances.”
First, let’s talk running gear.  When I started running, I just knew I needed a cute little running outfit, so I headed straight to Target.  I never knew spandex came in so many colors.  And skirts!  Made just for running!  With little shorts built in!  Matching dry-fit tank tops!    Everywhere I looked I saw tags that read things like “Wicking!” or “Dual-Layer Support!”  I was not sure what these words even meant, but I was pretty sure I would be a better runner if I had those clothes.  Sisters, I encourage you all to get up right now (or tomorrow morning), go to Target, and buy yourself a great-looking running outfit.  Even if it does not improve your time, it will make you LOOK more like a runner.  Remember, it’s all about appearances.
There are two other crucial pieces of equipment that you will need.  PLEASE, do yourself a favor and get yourself a GOOD running bra.  Do not buy the one that has the orange CLEARANCE sign hanging next to it and is about the thickness of pantyhose.  Spend the extra money and buy yourself a running bra that is reminiscent of body armor.  The girls will thank you.  It may have worked on Baywatch, but in real life, running without support is a disaster for any sister. 
We need to talk about chafing, too.  Yes, I did say chafing.  The most important thing you can get is this little tube of magic elixir called Body Glide.  It goes on like deodorant and will keep your thighs from chafing.  Remember what I said about keeping up appearances?  Nothing is more embarrassing than leaving the park walking with your thighs ten feet apart because you forgot your Body Glide. 
         Now, we’ve got to talk about running and pooping.  I know it can be taboo to talk about poop.  But sisters, it’s a reality we’ve all got to face.  You want to be light as air for your race, which means you’ve gotta poop before you get to that start line.  Personally, I think coffee helps a lot with this.  Have a big cup first thing in the morning.  Hopefully that will get things “moving” before you leave the house.  It’s no fun sitting in a port-a-potty just before a race (or anytime, really), but it’s even worse if you have to go DURING the race.  You try running while holding in a poop.  Seriously, try it.  Let me know how that goes.
Somewhere in the first mile...
About fifteen minutes before the start of the race, you may be thinking, “I need a shot of something if I am gonna get through this.”  You may be in need of some magic potion that will give you an immediate boost of energy and also help you to cross the finish line with energy to spare.  Well, I searched and one such magical potion DOES exist.  At your local sporting goods store, you should be able to find a variety of energy gels that will soup you up like Popeye’s spinach.  I recommend GU’s Vanilla Bean flavored gel with caffeine.  It tastes a lot like a mouthful of thick maple syrup, but in about 20 minutes, you’ll be glad you took this extra step.
When the announcer says, “Runners take your marks… get set…” you’ll start to feel that gel kick in.  Your heart will be pumping and you’ll be ready to take off like the roadrunner as soon as you hear the “GO!”  Trust me when I say to you, start off slowly.  You will want to start off at a jog.  You are going to feel like everyone in the race has passed you.  You may begin to panic.  However, keep a smile on your face.  Pretend to take in the lovely scenery around you.  If there are trees around, crane your neck as though you are listening to the birds as you jog by at a leisurely pace.  Onlookers will say, “Look at how relaxed and peaceful she is!  That is the kind of runner I want to be!”  Even though your lungs may be screaming, you will appear to be completely at ease.

Ryan and Me Just Before the Reindeer Run in Rock Hill, SC
Sisters, fairly soon into your run, you can be sure there will be some kind of hill.  Try as I might, I have been unable to locate a 5K that is run on a completely downhill incline.  And trust me, I have looked.  Do not panic when you come to this first hill, even if it is like the one in my first 5K and seems to be a cliff that rises straight from the ground into majestic proportions.  You may be wondering, how in the world will I ever run up this hill?  If you have been listening at all to what I have told you about appearances, you will have already figured out the answer to this.  You don’t RUN up giant hills.  You will find that you are running at about the same pace as a snail, which just looks silly.  (If you don’t believe me, watch others try to run up this hill and you will see.)  The trick to big hills is to slow yourself down to a walk and take short, quick steps.  I like to call this “Doing the Tim Conway.”  The short steps will always win, and you won’t be gasping like a waterless fish when you reach the top.
Now, if you’re like me, you will find that you simply cannot keep up the runner’s pace for the entire race, especially if you were a true running virgin just six to eight weeks ago. But you do want to appear as though you are a true runner.  You’re going to notice that every so often, there are probably going to be volunteers cheering you on and pointing you in the right direction, especially if you have fallen back from the herd.  You will want these people to admire your feeling of ease and your running stamina.  As soon as you pass these cheering stations, this is the time that you can slow down to a brisk walk and catch your breath.  I have found in my experience that these people are almost always positioned to greet the incoming runners, and they almost never turn around to watch you once you have passed by.  So they will not notice if you slow down for a few minutes.  Just be ready to run when the next cheering station comes into view.
Somewhere along the route of your race, there will most likely be a water station.  Often, these stations are sponsored by local restaurants and are manned by young guys with thick, dark hair, rippled arms and chests, and dazzling smiles.  Sisters, you must resist the urge to stop and flirt, and possibly even ask for a ride to the finish line.  You will want to appear to be a superior runner who is having the time of her life.  So, quickly wipe away your sweat moustache as you approach.  I recommend that you muster up the strength to flash your own pearly whites and grab a cup of water.  This is the only time that it is appropriate to slow to a quick walk while volunteers are watching, mainly because I have found that it is never a good idea to run and drink anything at the same time.  My friend Kelly once did this during a run and accidentally poured the water all over her shirt, turning her 5K run into something of a wet tee-shirt contest.  Many men did cheer her on as she crossed the finish line, although it wasn’t because of her super finish time.
The Reindeer Run 5K-- in the first mile
So, you have almost reached the finish.  This is it—you have almost completed your first 5K and managed to look like a real runner in the process!  The main thing you want as you finish up is to appear as if you have run the entire race, even if you have cheated just a little.  Remember, almost no one saw you cheat, so you are completely free to pretend that it didn’t happen.  As much as it hurts, you’ve got to pick up the pace there at the end.  As my girlfriend Carolyn and I trained our first 5K, we decided to scope out the route ahead of time.  We actually made sure to figure out exactly how far we could run, and figured out that if we began our last running interval at the third telephone pole beside the fire hydrant, we would have just the right amount of steam to be able to cross the finish line at a runner’s pace, thus creating the illusion that we had run the entire distance.  It’s also a good idea to smile and wave to the crowd as you finish, showing that you even have energy to spare.
Can you believe that this is all it takes to complete your first 5K?  And you have done something even more amazing than just complete the race… you’ve managed to keep up appearances while doing it.  I assure you, it is highly likely that others even admired you as you ran.  When I completed my first 5K, my husband and friends were there to greet me at the finish and their first comments were, “I love your skirt!” and “Wow—you look amazing—you are glowing!”  Ok, maybe I exaggerated that last comment, but there were compliments.  I felt amazing, and it didn’t take me long to decide to do it again soon.  In fact, I signed up for another 5K run a month later.  And surprisingly, the whole experience has made me wonder that else I might have been missing out on in my prior life as a couch potato.   You know, there are an awful lots of cute yoga clothes…


  1. I LOVED this! Sooooooooooooo funny!

  2. This was great, Liz! I think (of course, and obviously) my favorite "funny part" was about pooping before you run...but it made it sound so easy to do a 5K! With spring just around the corner, maybe it'd be something great to do with my hubby! :)

  3. I was laughing so hard I was crying and Lee had to come in and see what was so funny. I love it!! Mostly because I could identify with most of it...even though I've been a runner most of my life!! Thanks for this. And, keep it up...laughter is such a blessing!

  4. This is perfect for me! I have had a goal to run a 5k for at least 8 years now and I have yet to do it. You have inspired me though. Thanks for the cheats. :) And you made it seem possible. Thank you and I will share this with my friends.

  5. Hey Liz...Nicole Ayers here.  I've signed up for my first 5K in March, Get Your Rear in Gear.  Now I can be sure my Rear is in Gear in Style.  :)  Thanks for the laughs!


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