Archived Story

Slow and steady completes the race

Published 3:13pm Thursday, February 28, 2013

According to the stopwatch on my phone, I ran the Russell Forest Run in 41:13.

But my “official” time was 46:55, according to the master list of racers on the run’s website.

According to the list, I placed 181ist overall and 106th in the women’s division – not exactly numbers to brag about.

Let me explain why I did (a little) better than what my recorded time suggests.

This past weekend was my assigned “work” weekend for The Outlook, meaning it was my responsibility to cover the weekend’s events.

That posed a problem for me, as that meant I would have to shoot photos of the race while I was supposed to be running the same race.

With the magnetic strip in my race bib, I was under the impression that my time would kick in when I physically crossed the start line. Perhaps taking photos so close to the start was a poor decision and activated my bib too quickly.

After snapping photos of the scores of runners that passed my way, I walked back to my car, put up my camera and walked back to the start line. The runners were long past – I was alone.

Volunteers had already replaced the movable metal gates in front of the start banner, and I felt a little silly as I clambered over it and started my steady jog that I’d been training for since the new year began.

As I ran, I watched 10K racers and other spectators walking around the grounds of Russell Crossroads. Suddenly, panic struck me – which way was I supposed to go?

I struggled to remember Robert Gunn’s instructions that he announced before the starting cannon fired. Was I supposed to turn left and jog past The Stables?

I took a chance and turned left, making my way down the hill. A few people glanced at me with confused looks on their faces, probably wondering why I was so far behind so early into the race.

I got toward the bottom of the hill and saw my third grade teacher, Ann Goree, and Penny Adamson, whose daughter I grew up with. They were speaking with a large group of people, so I stopped and waited for a chance to ask them in which direction I was supposed to go.

Finally I got Mrs. Penny’s attention and with a smile, she pointed me in the right direction. And so I began my jog again.

About a tenth of a mile later, I turned onto the slightly muddy path – the trail run had officially begun. Many people were walking the opposite way, but I continued my jog, following the footprints of the hundreds of runners who had traveled this trail before me just a few minutes prior.

I slowed again when, confusingly enough, I arrived at the finish line. I started walking, and a huge group was gathered around and talking. Finally I walked up to one person and asked, “Which way am I supposed to go for the 5K?”

He pointed me in the right direction, and I was on track again. Once I made my way into the woods, the path was much clearer – but just as desolate.

I jogged harder. Surely there were still people this far back on the trail. According to the stopwatch on my phone, I was 10 minutes into my run.

Finally I came across a young girl walking with her mother, pulling her arm and urging her mother to run the rest of the race with her. These were the first people I passed.

Then I came upon another couple pushing a stroller, walking at a leisurely pace and enjoying the rustic scenery the Russell Forest has to offer. Passed again.

As I came upon more people who were obviously running the race, I used them as motivators to keep going.

Eventually the 5K path crossed itself and I met people running in the opposite direction.

I was touched by the encouragement I received from my fellow runners.

“Not far until the turn now!” one man said.

“You can do it! Keep going!” another said.

I didn’t know any of these people, but their kind words pushed me forward.

I finally made my way to the turning point and, grabbing a bottle of water from one of the volunteers, started my way back down the trail.

I took a break and walked for a bit, and I overheard the conversation of a couple walking behind me.

“Surely it’s not too far now,” the woman said.

“No, it’s not,” the man said. “And we walked up pretty much this whole way, so it really is all downhill from here.”

He was right, and, unbeknownst to him, he got me started on my jog again. I made my way downward, dodging mud puddles and doing my best to urge my burning legs to keep going.

Finally I got to the Mile 3 marker.

“Only 500 feet!” the volunteer at the station said.

I didn’t think my legs could hold out much longer, but I continued jogging nonetheless.

At such a late time, there wasn’t exactly a cheer as I crossed the finish line.

But I can’t express how proud I was of myself.

I’ve never been a runner, and this was my first 5K. I was so happy not only to show my support of the Alexander City Schools Education Foundation but also to finally fulfill a personal goal by completing a 5K.

Maybe if I can keep training, I can try the 10K next year – or at least beat this year’s time in the 5K.

Maybe the New York City Marathon co-founder Fred Lebow put it best: “In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.”

Spears is general manager and managing editor for The Outlook.

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