I haven’t told you many stories from my college cross-country days. Did you know I ran for four years during my undergrad days? It was during those four years that I really became a runner, but man oh man, did I have a less-than-dazzling debut into running.
Actually, my unofficial running debut occurred years earlier. I grew up in a neighborhood filled with kids around my age, and we used to race and chase each other around. In particular, we would race down and up the hill in the backyard, running down the hill to the fence, turning around, and racing back up to the “finish line.” I was a speedy little runner back then and could usually beat my brother in those foot races.
In high school, I wanted to run track, but my parents said no because they thought I was too busy with other activities to add a sport to my schedule. I always feel a twinge of regret about not running track because I think I would have really enjoyed it. But c’est la vie—I couldn’t run in high school, so I did the next best thing: I took it up in college.
I went to a teeny-tiny college where anyone could join the cross-country team. And so I did. But I shouldn’t have, because I hadn’t been running on my own. I had been biking a lot that summer, but I basically walked on the team completely unprepared for a cross-country season. And I paid for it dearly, in the form of shin splints and extreme soreness. I’m really a lesson in what not to do if you want to run.
Our first race was in Holland, Michigan, hosted by Hope College, one of my school’s rivals. The race was held in a somewhat twisty, dusty, wooded area. I’m not sure what to call it because it wasn’t wooded enough to be a forest. At any rate, I suited up for my first race, my very first 5K ever, the gun went off, and we were flying.
Of course I quickly fell to the back of the pack, non-runner that I really was at that time. But I gave it my best shot. I ran as fast as I could, even when nobody could see me because I’d lost all the other runners as they stampeded past me. I ran along those twisty, dusty paths, breathing heavy. I kept running, and running, and running…until I must have run into someone who deduced that I was no longer on the course. I had taken a wrong turn and started creating my own race rather than following the 5K that someone else had laid out. I honestly have no idea how it happened, because I don’t remember ever thinking to myself, I must be lost, until someone told me I was. It was supremely embarrassing, as you might imagine. It’s one thing to be a slow runner, even an inexperienced runner. But it takes a special kind of idiot to get lost during a race.
My coaches and teammates, bless their hearts, didn’t make a big deal of it. If they had, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to keep running that season. I felt shy around all those fast runners, people who were obviously well-trained for cross-country running. If they had added anything to my first-race mortification, I think I would have died. And never run again. But they didn’t say anything, and I went on to run more races that season. I suffered through that season (oh shin splints, how I do not miss you at all!), but I got faster and I was determined to return the next season with a summer of running under my sneakers. And I did—I never got lost again during a race.
Do you have a race story to rival my I-got-lost-during-my-first-5K-race story? If so, do spill! I’m all ears.