Can eight weeks of training turn a fat, lazy smoker into an elite level athlete? Obviously not. How about an average athlete? That may be pushing it, too. But gains can be made, and I proved that this weekend.
On Saturday, I joined more than 600 other people in the Credit Union Atlantic Lung Run. It's five kilometres through the waterfront area of south-end Halifax, from Pier 21, down through the port lands, up to Salter St. and back on the boardwalk to the seaport.
The weather was beautiful: sunny, cool, with a little bit of wind. The course was nice and flat. I got a decent night's sleep and had some lunch. After two months of three-times-a-week training, I knew that I was in as good a position to finish strong as I could be.
Of course, I'd be stronger if I'd quit smoking. Yeah, that's the part I keep putting off.
Anyway, the Bad Ashes team from the Learn To Run program gathered outside Pier 21 an hour before race time. We got our shirts! Beautiful orange running shirts with a Bad Ashes logo on the front. We walked over to get our strap-on timing chips, and back for our now-familiar warm-up routine.
It came time to get to the start line, and we piled into the pulsing mass of athletes, organized according to forecast finish time. I put myself near the back.
My goal for this run was 40 minutes. Team leader Jayne Norrie suggested that 40 minutes was a little fast, but I'd done two 5k runs before -- a few years ago -- and came in under 40 each time. Granted, I'm heavier and older now, but 40 minutes didn't seem obscenely far-fetched for a goal.
The race began and the pack stretched out as the runners ran and the walkers walked. I jogged. I jogged as far as the first corner and started to get winded. About five minutes in, I had to walk. No big deal, I figured, since that was my plan anyway. Run until I can't run, then walk, then run when I can run, then walk some more.
The lessons learned from the weeks of training started to pay off. I didn't over-run the running. My muscles responded better than I expected. My shins, which had been the most cursed part of my body through this entire program, did cramp up, but not nearly as badly as they had in the earlier weeks. Maybe the stretching and conditioning and new shoes actually helped.
I got a little intimidated when I saw some runners coming back toward me. There was a turnaround point ahead. These people were way ahead of me. I wasn't expecting to be at their pace, but I wasn't expecting them to be coming back this fast, either. There, among the first batch of runners, was Rick Howe Show producer Jennifer Casey! Good for her!
Past the turnaround and back down the street, over some railway tracks, a water station appeared. I asked how far along we were. When the water-bearers told me this was the half-way mark, I realized I was going to make it through the race in one piece.
The second half was tough. The running became less frequent as my body ran out of energy and my legs continued to tighten up. But I knew I was going to finish, and I wanted to finish by my set time.
The music in my earbuds kept pumping. Good choice of tunes, as the beat of the songs let me pop back into running at just the right point.
Finally, after running around the boardwalk with a beautiful view of the harbour, it was time for the home stretch. I wanted to finish strong. One of my teammates who'd already finished emerged from the sidelines to run with me.
I hit the gas and bolted forward. That didn't last long. The finish was farther away than I thought. Okay, fine, so I'll walk a bit more and THEN finish strong. Good plan.
I walked a bit more and then hit the gas one more time with a rush toward the inflatable finish gate. The race announcer saw the orange shirt and called out the Bad Ashes name, urging me along. I passed over the timing mats and heard a satisfying chirp as my ankle bracelet registered the conclusion of my race.
It was over.
My finishing time was 42:51. I didn't make 40 minutes, but my per-kilometre pace was only seconds over. That is, if I'd finished each kilometre a little faster, I would've hit 40.
No excuses. I trained hard, I stretched, I sweated and I worked. I didn't quit smoking, though, and I really think that if I had, 40 minutes would've been realistic.
So, where do I go from here? Tune in next week to find out. I'll be doing a wrap-up with observations and conclusions about my experience in the program. If you have any questions you'd like answered, send them in or write in the comments, and I'll try to make them part of the episode.
Five kilometres, over and done. A lifetime left to go.
Scott's 5k Running Playlist:
- Cake, "The Distance"
- Ramones, "I Wanna Be Sedated"
- Rush, "Marathon"
- Queen, "Don't Stop Me Now"
- Dexy's Midnight Runners, "Come On Eileen"
- The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
- The Refreshments, "Banditos"
- OutKast, "Hey Ya!"
- They Might Be Giants, "Till My Head Falls Off"
- Eminem, "Lose Yourself"
- Journey "Don't Stop Believin'"