After reading about my slow and steady demise during the last 11 miles of the Harrisburg Marathon you may be wondering what got me started in such a difficult activity as propelling ones-self many miles on foot. I’m glad you asked since there is a good story associated with the start of my running career.
I was in college, so the year was either 2002 or 2003. My roommate Dave (same Dave that was in the marathon story, and along for my first long run) and I, along with some friends were sitting in the dining hall finishing up a meal. Dave and I were best friends, training partners and informal rivals.
The details of the evenings conversation are lost to the past, but somehow the discussion turned to a 5 mile footrace called the Ephrata Firecracker. Dave had ran this race multiple times throughout middle school and high school. I had never done such a thing.
Soon, the conversation took on a challenging tone and we were loudly debating who would win in a head to head match up. He touted experience, while I brushed that value aside. Suddenly, the challenge got serious, as a $50 bet was put on the line. For two guys who never really gambled, were helping pay their way through college, and were currently unemployed, $50 was real money.
We shook on it.
As I detailed in my story about my first long run, I had no idea how to train. Two or three times per week I ran an out and back course from my house. The route traversed through some nice level farmland and then ascended the Log Cabin Hill. This hill climbs roughly 155 feet over about 4 tenths of a mile. At the steepest point, the grade exceeded 15%. This hill will make your legs burn, you will lose control of your heart rate, and your breathing becomes deep, labored, and inadequate.
I assaulted this hill.
It beat me like a weak unfortunate soul who picked the wrong guy to bump into down a dark alley. I would arrive back at my house weary both physically and mentally. How did people enjoy running?
At this point, I only knew one pace, which was race pace. Predictably, I soon was missing workouts and deeply regretting my bet. It didn’t help, that Dave had been secretly training, while telling me that he wasn’t really running either. Since he had raced before, he had a much better idea of the requirements. I felt my athletic pedigree and active lifestyle would carry the day.
Close to race day, things got even more interesting when Dave’s younger brother also decided he wanted in on the bet. He was also betting just against me, so I had two separate $50 bets for my first ever race. The race distance was 5 miles, not 5k, and I was barely training.
In absence of good training, I attempted to develop some sort of race plan. Since it was well known that I was a faster sprinter then Dave, I planned to just hang with him, and then out sprint him at the end. His brother had a history of walking during the race along with running wildly divergent paces from one mile to the next. I trusted he would simply take care of his own self implosion.
Dave didn’t like my plan, but there really was nothing he could do about it, short of running away from me early in the race. I stuck to him like a shadow. I also kept talking to him, partly to try to judge his effort level and partly to annoy him.
As we cruised through 3 miles I felt fine and fresh. The younger brother had already been left behind, and was last seen walking up a hill. I decided to abandon my plan and go for the win now. Two miles seemed a short distance considering I’d already done 3. I made my move and Dave didn’t follow.
Quickly my mood changed from comfort to stress, as I was in uncharted territory in regards to distance. I’d never run this far. Plus, I now had the lead. What if I went to hard, and fell apart only to watch him pass me in the end? I tried to hold things together mentally, and the finish couldn’t come soon enough. I looked over my shoulder frequently. I saw my parents and quickly asked, “can you see him?” He was no longer there, and the finish was in site.
I crossed the line in 34:10 and earned $100. I don’t know my finish place or age group result, as I can’t find the results online, and I never wrote those things down.
The $100 cash winnings would be my most lucrative payday until I won a local Trifecta Series in 2016 with a $250 payday.
Beating my friends felt great, but I payed a steep price. I was exhausted. The remainder or the day was spent on the couch with feelings that resembled a strong cold. Achy muscles, cramping, mild headaches and general malaise.
I learned that day that proper training not only allows you to run faster, but you also recover faster. I’m happy to state that this race didn’t scar me, ending my running career just as it was starting, but rather opened the door to a completely new aspect of my life.
Amazingly, that original time is something I could do on an afternoon jog at this point. I have continued to run the Ephrata Firecracker nearly every year since that first race. My times have steadily dropped into territory that I would have considered unimaginable back then. My best time on the course was set in 2015, and my time was 28:07. I’ve won my age group, or finished in the top 10 overall multiple times. If someone would have bet me that day, that I’d ever run that fast, or finish that highly I’d have laughed them away as those results were preposterous.
I should have believed.
I still think I can go faster.
What was your first race?
What motivated you to get started?
How much have you improved from your humble start?