I don't know what possessed me to pick up a strange man* --- literally pick him up off the ground, not pick him up in any salacious sense. (Get your minds out of the gutter)! It must have been the post-race adrenaline rush, which no one warned me about. In my defense, he was part of Team IKEA and they were wearing Viking hats and Jen and I were imitating Valkyries, singing ho-jo-to-ho, and he did sort of jump into my arms and then I just sort of took it one step further. In retrospect, it probably wasn't the greatest idea for someone barely recovered from a back injury. But I'd just finished my first 5K and was filled with love for the universe.
And here's part of the reason why: Philly Jen.
A little history : Jen is the captain of Team Fatty Philadelphia and the culprit who got me to sign up for the Livestrong Challenge. Team Fatty is the fundraising team headed up by Elden, aka the Fat Cyclist, aka Fatty. His cycling blog has quite a readership, and it grew exponentially when his wife, Susan, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fatty began to blog about her courageous battle, and his followers formed a team to raise money for cancer research via the Livestrong Challenge. Susan passed away in August, but her fans fight on for her, and for all our loved ones.
Jen heard about this blog through the New York Times Well Blog article about my weight loss, and when she learned that I had started running, she challenged me to join Team Fatty and train for the Livestrong 5K here in Austin. This turned out to be a great thing for me on so many levels. For one thing, having a training goal is extremely motivating. Several runner friends told me about the fabulous Couch to 5K plan, which I highly recommend. It's so easy and fun. Jen gave me lots of advice and encouragement, and turned me on to Robert Ullerys' free podcasts, which are pretty much one of the coolest things ever, and helped me immensely with my training.
Jen came to Austin primarily for the Livestrong bike race, but she also volunteered to be my running partner, and it was so much fun! First of all, since I am a total noob and wasn't really sure where to be or what exactly to do, it was great to have an experienced runner to guide me. Secondly, Jen is probably the most charmingly enthusiastic person you will ever meet. She is a natural-born cheerleader. No wonder Team Philly was the top Team Fatty fundraiser.
But I've gotten ahead of myself. So, Thursday was my last and longest training run, and it was glorious. After a night of rain the sky was clear, the sun was shining, a cold front had moved in, and it was perfect weather for a run. The first half was kind of tough, but then I fell into an odd sort of daydream and was in the last minute before I knew it. Of course, the last minute was ALL UPHILL, which is really kinda mean when you think about it, but you can do anything for 60 seconds.
On Friday morning, I picked Jen up bright and early and we had a fabulous breakfast at the original Kerbey Lane Cafe, got to know each other a little, and made arrangements for me to pick her up the following morning. Sometime during the day I realized that my plan for a post-race, pre-plane flight shower at school was destined for failure, due to the fact that the gym doesn't open until noon. The distress call went out on FaceBook, and was swiftly answered by Jennifer, who kindly allowed me to clean up at her place, thus rescuing all the other plane passengers from having to endure my extreme stinkiness.
This morning, I picked Jen up before sunrise, and she gave me a SPI Belt --- yaaaay! --- in hot pink, no less! And we were off. Parking around the Capitol was not as bad as I'd feared. We quickly parked, put on our racing numbers, and walked across the Capitol grounds (stopping at the purple port-a-potties --- purple! Potties!) and joined the throngs of people getting ready to race. There was so much excitement! All the different teams and individuals there, many sporting team shirts or signs in honor or memory of loved ones. Apparently Lance Armstrong and Mia Hamm were there, but I didn't see them. There was Team Scotty, complete with Dachshund mascot (the Dachsie had a totally tricked-out red wagon, in which to ride in style). You know I loved that one. There was a team with a shirt featuring a giant peanut and the legend, "Run 'til you lose a nut". Something tells me they were there to fight testicular cancer. There was a fleet of Pedicabs, ferrying kids from the Dell's Children's Hospital. And of course, there was Team IKEA in their Viking hats (complete with racing stripes). We did not see any other Team Fatty shirts, and sadly mine didn't arrive in time for the race, but I did sport a hot pink bandana in order to show team colors!
Jen was recognized by several of the volunteers, and we spotted a fellow singer who was wearing an "In Honor of Papageno" tag for her baritone friend who has just been diagnosed with something horrible. She recognized me from the David Small birthday concert a couple of weeks ago --- small world!
I'll admit to getting surprisingly teary right from the start. Even though I was raising money for cancer research --- $400, thanks to all of you! --- and even though I was running in honor of my father and two very good friends, up until the moment I joined the crowd, this was really more about a fitness milestone than a cause. But the minute I saw all those people, many of whom were survivors, many of whom were fighting alongside loved ones or perhaps even fighting their own battles, or there to honor loved ones who had lost the battle --- at that minute, my eyes filled with tears and I realized how huge this is. We all know someone who has been affected by cancer. This is an important fight.
I was surprised at how anticlimactic the start of the run was ... there was a starting "chute" rather than a starting line, and it took a what seemed like a really long time to get into a clear enough space to actually run. Walkers, people with strollers and dogs and kids and so on, were supposed to be on the right, runners on the left, but in reality everybody was all over the place. This being Austin, I was surprised not to see anybody running dressed as a giant Lone Star Beer can or an armadillo or something. It's been done.
Pretty soon Jen and I carved a way through the crowd and were well and truly on our way. The run started (and ended) on Congress Avenue, directly in front of the Capitol building, and wended its way through downtown Austin. After training on gravel trails, running on asphalt was SO much easier, and even the hills weren't so bad --- certainly not anything worse than the trail I run close to home. Frankly, it's also SO much easier running with a partner, especially when you're not all that serious and you're chatting the whole time ... which we were. We were just enjoying the day, the event, moving our bodies, with no other goal than to keep going to the end. At one point, Jen pointed out to me that we were not, in fact, being passed right and left (of course, we were at the back of the pack to begin with) and later that most of the folks we were now passing were runners who had turned into walkers. I think we crossed the finish line at 34'44, or something like that.
In the future, I'll have to time myself.
Upon crossing the finish line, we were given water and towels (lots of swag for this gig --- I got t-shirts, water bottles, I don't know what all) and we sort of wandered out of the way of those still coming. It was at this point that we encountered Team IKEA, and Jen just had to try on one of the hats (complete with beard), and then I did, and then I picked up a strange man ... well. Anyway. Perhaps the less said about that, the better. We wandered over to the food booth and got some fruit, grabbed some chalk, and signed a square of sidewalk for Team Fatty.
Other teams had done this all over the parking lots and streets. Jen took some chalk to write encouragements along Sunday's bike race route. Oh, and while we were drawing our masterpiece, this little girl decided to add her own embellishments. She thought she was in hog heaven, getting to write in chalk all over the street! And grown-ups doing it too!
Finally, it was time to go. I needed to clean up and get on a plane, and so I did. I am now in New York, sitting up waaaaay past my bedtime to deliver the tale to you. It was a great experience and I can't wait to do it again. Certainly I want to do Livestrong in the future (maybe we'll have a Team 100 Pounds!) but there are a couple of fun run-type 5Ks coming up in November and December, and I plan to do those.
Then we'll see about maybe training for a 10K. Yeah, guess I'm hooked.* Photographic evidence of this incident does exist, and is currently in Jen's possession. When I get it, you'll get it!