Best prize ever! Anna Paden, 16, shows off her hard-earned concrete foot.
My kids’ high school cross country coach requires them to run in an organized race every summer, so last year I signed them up for the Fab 5K. Pretty soon my husband, a veteran marathoner, wanted in, then so did our youngest, age 11. Then everyone looked at me.
They started the debate, in front of me, about the feasibility of me joining the race. On the plus side, it would be something we could all do together, which could be a lot of fun. On the minus side, I heard a host of none-too-flattering concerns, culminating in: “If she’s slow, it’ll be embarrassing, and if she’s fast…it’ll be embarrassing.” And the kicker: “If Mom runs, who’ll hold our stuff?” Wow. Obviously, I signed up immediately.
More than 400 people race in the Fab 5K every year, some as young as five years old, and knowing that getting smoked by a five-year-old would guarantee me Sherpa duties in perpetuity, I decided that I needed to train. And by train, I mean run the dog instead of walk the dog a time or two before the race. But our dog is an uncooperative running partner – Squirrel! Shiny object! Cat! Squirrel! – and on my very first training run she crossed in front of me and I fell flat on my face. On a Saturday morning. On the busiest street in our neighborhood. I appreciated all the honks of “support,” I really did, but with a banged-up knee and only a few days ‘til race day, I knew I had to sit this one out.
Because I was stationary for the first time at any of my kids’ sporting events, I really got to sit back and enjoy the race – and stow their stuff under my chair – and I finally figured out why people are willing to pay big bucks to spend full Saturday mornings running in organized races with hundreds of people they don’t know. It’s because organized races are FABULOUS! There are prizes and medals, bananas and bagels. Official race T-shirts and official race music. Everybody’s cheering, and everyone wants everyone else to succeed. People trip and fall and knock each other down and pull each other up. Some run so fast they collapse at the finish line and others walk so slowly they carry on conversations while they’re racing. Every runner is applauded, and every runner feels the pride of achievement, whether it’s an 11-year-old’s first 5K or a 48-year-old’s zillionth.
Just as we were all starting to gather for the awards ceremony, I heard thunderous applause and turned to see a little girl and her mother (and their dog) crossing the finish line, pigtails flying. The child still had baby fat and couldn’t have been more than five or six years old, and she looked positively euphoric. Someone won a sofa – a sofa! – in the drawing, and my daughter earned a giant concrete foot for winning her age group. That’s the kind of motivation I need, and my family and I have already signed up for this year’s race. I’m guessing I’ll come in somewhere near the back, but for the record, I’m pretty sure I could have smoked that little girl at last year’s race. Or at least her poodle.
Be fabulous this summer! The 16th Annual Fab 5K is a flat cross country course at Green Hill Park in Salem; 8am, Saturday, August 18th, $20, MountainJunkies.net. For a listing of other race options: runningintheusa.com.