Had a great morning today. Woke up and got ready to hit my first 5k in almost a year. And I’m still in that “I’m-the-greatest-runner-ever” high mode, even though the seven hundred folks who finished before me could argue with that. Since there were no neighbors to have long-winded conversations with post-run, I’m writing a true full-on motormouth long post. Editing-scmediting, I’m too amped to worry about readability.
Today I ran in the first annual Vicki Soto 5k, a race in honor of a Sandy Hook teacher and hero who perished in last year’s horrific shooting.
The words “first annual” had me fearing a well-intended but disorganized mess. So, we got the kids up and dressed for a 7 am departure and arrived at the event at 8 am. (Mad props to my husband for driving me and managing two small kids while I ran the race. Yup, I actually said mad props, honey. And I mean it.)
I was pleasantly surprised. Volunteers and flamingo-sunglasses-wearing police officers made parking a breeze. We walked up and got my bib and awesome flamingo T-shirt in seconds. Since it was so early, we had plenty of time for a stroll up to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. Then we came back and let the kids color, craft and watch a magic show in the Kids Tent.
That’s when it hit me that I had to go potty. I had about five minutes before I thought we’d have to line up. I strolled over to find about 100 people waiting for portapotties. Catastrophe! Am I the first mother runner to consider grabbing one of her toddler’s diapers at a race? But no, I was wearing my super tight running pants! It would be obvious.
I decided to just hold it. Luckily, my daughter decided she had to go so my husband took her and the boy to stand in line. When they still hadn’t lined up to start as she got close to the potties, I was able to step up into her spot in the front of the line under the guise of letting my husband avoid the 3-year-old/18-month-old/double jogging stroller/porta potty-juggling madness. Score!
Right after that, the race did finally get started. Just walking up to the starting line was powerful. I got a little choked up thinking about how on this day last year, Vicki Soto was probably just having a normal day.
Two thousand people marched under a huge American flag suspended between two fire truck’s raised ladders to a starting line marked with a huge flamingo made from balloons.
There were 300 flamingoes lining the course, not counting those put out by residents. Flamingos were a favorite of Vicki’s and many participants even wore flamingo costumes. In fact, I am grateful for the woman in the shiny flamingo hat and pink and silver sparkly tutu who ran a few feet in front of me the whole time. More on her in a second.
After a moment of silence and a brief prayer, the race started with Donna Soto, Vicki’s mom, saying, “Ready, set, go!”
And we were off. I felt a little lump in my throat and a tear fall down my cheek again first thinking about how good people really are sometimes as I looked at the people around me.
Then I thought of the Sandy Hook kids. And I thought about my team at the Race for Hope in Oklahoma City and how much my dear friend must miss her father. And I sobbed out loud a second.
Then I thought, “hey, it’s really hard to run while I’m crying. Can’t imagine Rebecca (my friend) or Brad (her father) would be very interested in me being sad right now. And by the way Vicki’s family, friends and everybody here is all over flamingoes and “live, laugh, love,” I’m guessing Vicki Soto would think it’s pretty dumb, too.” So I stopped and had a great time instead.
We ran past a small airport, complete with small planes coming and going. We ran up a slight hill and there was the first of a few actual cheering squads with uniforms and Pom poms and everything. I have a new appreciation for the value of cheerleaders as I think this was the first time any had ever cheered for me.
Then we ran into the first neighborhood. There were flamingoes in trees, in the ground, on flags and on race-observers clothes in the yards of residents. Many people had stereos with music blaring. I especially appreciated hearing, “Eye of the Tiger.” These folks offered us water, candy, and even fresh-baked cookies along the way. They yelled, “Thank you for running for our hero!”
This was Vicki Soto’s neighborhood, and it was obvious she was loved by many.
When we turned the first corner I was almost blinded. The sunshine was exploding off of Long Island sound. Truly an incredible view. I wanted to take pics but I willed myself not to take out my phone. I had a feeling I was running pretty fast and I didn’t want the MapMyRun lady to tell me any different.
All along the course, there wore more official and unofficial cheerleaders and everyone was shouting encouragement and waving. As for the shiny flamingo lady in front of me, I stuck by her partly because I figured it wasn’t easy running with a flamingo on your head so I should be able to keep up. More importantly, though, I stayed by her because she kept the crowd all fired up. So, even when my quads started to burn and my lungs got all fiery, I kept my eye on that tutu.
I meant to stop after the race and thank her for letting me stare at her pink tutu for 3.1 miles and for keeping everybody motivated.
But, I turned the corner towards the finish line became distracted by something amazing.
I’d been training in my hilly neighborhood behind about 70 lbs of double jogging stroller, so according to Map My Run, my times had been from 38-44 minutes for 3.13 miles. I knew the race environment would make me faster and I knew that I had done a 5k last year in around 34 minutes. This course had been pretty flat and the last mile had been downhill and I was stroller-free, so I was hoping to do that 34ish thing again.
But, when I turned down the last stretch, I saw the finish line time clock only said 32:something. I waved to my cheering family and quickened my pace and burst over the finish line as the clock said 33:02. An awesome feeling!
My daughter asked, “Did you win mommy?” She’d told me she thought I was fast before the race started. The fact that she’d watched about 700 other people cross the finish line before me leads me to believe that she doesn’t understand racing or that she gets what winning a race REALLY means.
My husband rolled his eyes as I told her, “yes, I won against myself! I believe I’m a winner!”
Alas, my excitement about speed made me forget all about thanking shiny-flamingo-tutu-lady for keeping everybody all pumped up. Maybe she will read this.
A quick check online this afternoon shows me that today was a 5k personal record. 32:11, beating my previous PR by 3 seconds.
My previous PR was during a time before children and when I was working out with a personal trainer a couple times per week. Plus, during that race, I’d been trying to catch up to run with my brother so we could chat as we ran. I was sure he would be around every next corner because he said he was around the same pace as me. I found him at the finish line, where he’d been waiting for eight minutes for me. Sand bagger.
So, thanks Soto family, race organizers, Stratford residents, the Brad Haskell Rascals at the Race For Hope in Oklahoma City and especially shiny-flamingo-pink-tutu lady. You all got me a PR today and taught me a lot about how far an exuberant, live-laugh-love spirit can get you. I think I’ll keep that spirit up.