Race: Foam Glow 5K
Place: Birmingham, Alabama
Date: August 8, 2015
Everyone remembers their first 5K…or their first race for that matter. It’s special. You go in with your own goals and expectations, not exactly sure what to expect, and not exactly sure how you’ll do when all is said and done. The first race is an important one, I believe – no matter what distance it is.
Just before I got my go-ahead to return to running, I found out via a phone call that my sister had taken up running. She goes out a couple times a week with her Couch25K program and her group of ladies…and runs. She will tell you she’s not fast…and she struggles…but she loves the company and the way she feels (despite some knee issues, which I helped clear up with KT Tape and getting her into proper shoes!) after she runs. She was training for a 5K with her friends. YAY! The only thing that was difficult for her was that she’d be pretty much running it on her own. Her pace is a little more deliberate than the girls she runs with, so she is often left to run on her own on training runs, and the race night would be the same.
When I got cleared to run, it also turned out the race coincided with a weekend where I had nothing else planned. And so…I talked it over with her, signed up for the race, and made arrangements to be in Birmingham to run WITH her at the race. I gave her the rules…her race, her pace. I’d stick by her side the entire time. She was more than okay with this. And, just to be cutesy, we started working on matching running outfits so we could be twinsies too! She ordered the shirt and I picked up matching shorts, knee-high socks, and said she had to have pigtails in, as that is the hairstyle I am best known for when I run. HA!
So, in the weeks leading up to the 5K, I was slowly adding on the minutes, then the miles to my runs. I had topped out at 7 miles in my friend’s very flat neighborhood the weekend before, and was a little sore afterwards, but nothing that really slowed me down. After work on Friday, I grabbed dinner (gluten-free peanut butter & jelly with grapes and a piece of dark chocolate) to eat on the road, and the roomie and I piled into the car (which was stuffed with my mountain bike that was just sitting on my balcony and that my sister could get some use out of) and made the trek down to Birmingham, Alabama…arriving a little later than planned (it took the roomie 30 minutes to use the bathroom at a gas station, I kid you not!), but getting in. Of course, I was up late just getting caught up with my parents (my mom had just recently broken her hand), but we were all winding down regardless. I climbed into bed around 11 p.m. CST (that’s midnight my time!) and set an alarm on my phone to wake me up at 5 a.m. so that I could get dressed, stretch, eat a little something and then get outside as it was getting light out to fit in the 8 miles ahead of the 5K that my coach had me scheduled to run.
I did just that…and it wasn’t easy. My parents’ neighborhood is just…HILLS!! So, I ran the first two miles easy and got warmed up, then wound my way through their neighborhood up to the walking trail. And there was where a majority of the run took place. Just as I was cresting the top of the start point, I heard a rumble, which, I thought might be thunder, but I was so close to the road, it could have been a car too. I figured it was a car…and I was off.
I was also wrong. It was thunder. And rain soon followed. And I was, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere, on this paved path that ran through Helena, Alabama. There is something about me running at my parents house and having it rain on me. It happens…all the time. Must be the Frankfort (Kentucky) affect. And if you don’t get that reference, you haven’t been reading my blog long enough (it storms/rains/precipitates every time I run in Frankfort, KY). So, I kept going, made it back to the start, and was greeted with a gorgeous rainbow flying high over a church. It was awesome. And I took a picture before winding my way back to their house for the last mile of my run. I ducked inside, took a shower, ate some breakfast, stretched…and then my sister came over with her kiddliewinks.
And it all got chaotic and fun. Karla (that’s my sis, btw) and her boys all tried the gluten-free strawberry breakfast cake I brought with me (my parents devoured it too!)…then we made a run to the grocery store for some necessities for the race and for lunch. Back home, where we got everyone ready to go and eat lunch at my roommate’s favorite spot, The Depot, in Pelham, Alabama. My mom and I had veggie burgers we prepared at home with some gluten-free pretzels. It was the big meal of the day as the race was at night and I didn’t want to run on a full belly. After lunch, my dad, Cathy and I hit up 2nd & Charles (bookstore), then made our way back to the house so that Karla and I could start getting dressed.
And that’s when the rain returned. Big monsoon as she and I climbed upstairs to my room to get into our matching running outfits. We checked the weather and it looked like it was going to pass…so that was good. After we got dressed, I put her hair in these tiny little pigtails, then did my own, strapped my Garmin onto my wrist, and we went downstairs so that Cathy could work some KT Tape magic on Karla’s troublesome knee. This was where I got to play with the cutest baby girl…as my sister’s youngest isn’t quite 1 yet.
With everything in order, and Karla’s hubby (that’s Bryan…who once ran a 5K with me) told me he approved of the tight running pants I selected for his wife to wear, we were climbing into their car (as in Bryan, Karla, Cathy, the two boys, and me) to make the over an hour drive to Talladega Speedway, which is where the race was actually being held. Well, we were dropping off vehicles at Cracker Barrel and then carpooling to Talladega. The boys needed some dinner, so it was Happy Meals at McDonalds (Cathy got one too!), and then…to the parking area of the race.
Parking was super-easy, but expensive. A whole $10. Really?! Cathy footed the bill and Bryan got us parked right on the end of one of the rows. It would make finding the car in the dark a whole lot easier, for sure. We were some of the first ones here, as in of the group of ladies running, all of whom my sister trains with at some point. Two others were there before us, and Karla got us to where they were and introduced me to them. So, now I knew Margie and Lauren…(and yes, we were asked if we were twins!) and the rest were all a blur as they all began to arrive prior to the start. My sister and I decided to eat our protein bars early (that was our dinner), and split one if we got hungry between then and race time. After I devoured my bar, I actually got to meet up with a friend of mine (who I used to work with), Julie Hayes, who was walking the 5K with a friend of hers.
As the rest of the group arrived, along with the ring leader, Jenn, we departed for group shots and then…the most important part…hitting up the big foam pit.
Yep…after all…this was the Foam Glow 5K. And you can’t have a Foam Glow 5K without foam and blacklights. The sun was only just beginning to set, so the blacklights weren’t on yet…but the foam was being shot out these giant cannons. It was a lot of fun, stepping inside the staging area and just getting blasted with this soapy, foamy mess. The kids (most of the ladies brought their families!) absolutely LOVED it. I loved it. What a blast. After getting foamed up pretty good, it was back out to the group to get any last minute touches to our outfits. Jenn gave each of us the little bright yellow stripes under our eyes. We were now ready…for the race.
Until my sister’s 8 year old son went missing. YIKES!! He separated from the rest of the kids, who had all come running back to where we were from the foam. Karla was, naturally, in a panic so I went to the foam pit to find him. And I did, relatively quickly, getting him back over to his parents and saving the day! With that bit of hysteria out of the way, Karla was now in a good place to enjoy her first 5K and her first race. Whew.
And that was that…the sun had gone down…the wind had gone away, and the ladies in the crazy bright tank tops with the words, “We Don’t Sweat, We Glow!” on them all started toward the start area. The race was going off in waves, it it felt like only 20 people were going at a time. Once we got closer, we realized that wasn’t the case, but at least 10 waves went off ahead of us, and we were relatively close to the front. Karla, myself and Margie were actually corralled ahead of the rest of our group, so we ducked under the rope and rejoined our group. The group ahead of us was off…and we moved forward.
Karla looked so calm. She was smiling. She was joking around. She was relaxed. That was awesome. And, then, with a small countdown…the emcees at the race sent off our wave. And Karla was leading us off. She fell right into the pace, getting a little sucked into a first start with all the excitement, but that’s fine. That’s okay. We hit the dark course and she looked like a pro, already dodging and weaving through any more deliberate runners or the walkers that went ahead of us. I even told her she was already running like a pro. And, to take her mind off of the task at hand, I would frequently bother her with inane questions about how she felt, how her pace felt, how her knee felt…
At one point, I thought that the race people were sending us up the stairs to the speedway itself, but it was just people doing photo-ops. Karla kept us on course and we headed into what was going to be the first (of three) Foam Zones. This was a bit refreshing as the night had grown humid and the wind had died. So, the first one, we bounded through together and kept on trekking. Karla asked about distance and my 1 mile beep went off on my watch. I let her know that the beeps meant we hit a mile, so she had 2 more of them. She didn’t look amused.
This course was not easy. You pretty much get sent up a hill near the start, which is fine, but when it’s dark and you’re not expecting it…yeah. Well, I was there with Karla to give her some hints about how to properly run hills (Lord knows I’ve run my share of them!), such as push off on your toes, power up them with your arms, and take shorter steps. She listened and did really well. And when we got to the top, I congratulated her on a job well done. As we headed toward Mile 2, I hear “GO KAREN AND KARLA!” and it’s Julie! We threw our hands up in the same way (not planned…twinsies, you know!)…and continued on. At the halfway point, they were handing out water bottles. I asked Karla if she wanted water and she shook her head and said she just wanted to keep going. I snagged one just in case and we were back to bobbing and weaving and avoiding treacherous pavement on the dark path (seriously…some lights on the course would have been nice!). We hit the second Foam Zone and Karla, putting safety above all, decided to walk through the soapy sludge. Good call. The instant she was through, she picked her pace back up and we continued on. We were coming around the back part of the speedway, I think, and she slowed a little just to catch her breath. I handed her the bottle of water and she took a sip. Then, she passed it back, took a few breaths and picked her walk back up into a run. She was really making me proud. The second mile beeped on my watch.
One more mile. I told her as much. And the path seemed to be getting more treacherous. Karla twisted her ankle twice, but kept on going. I tripped on uneven pavement…but somehow, we were managing to stay on our feet. We were hitting up the final Foam Zone, which we walked through again, and when she picked back up to her run, I knew we had to be getting close. I checked my watch…and I figured from the pace she had been running that she had about six minutes left of the race.
“Six minutes,” I told her. “You can do anything for six minutes, right?”
“YES!” she said.
Jenn caught up to us as we were nearing the Mile 3 mark, giving Karla a firm smack on the ass. We were so close. I would give Karla minute increments on how much longer she had…and I heard some walkers repeat it. They’d be out there a bit longer since they were walking (hehe). I told Karla that when we saw the finish line, we were going to sprint for it and cross it together. Well, I could hear the music at the finish, so we were definitely getting close. With encouragement, Karla lifted her head and put on her game face, focusing on her form and getting to that finish line. The blacklights were in view. The music was pumping…and I reached out and took her hand. For the last .1 miles, we ran together, holding hands, until we crossed that finish line. I paused my Garmin and there it was…Karla’s first 5K race…her pace…DONE…in a fantastic 39:15.
I gave her a huge hug and told her how proud I was of her. Those of us who were done stood around and took some fun pictures, drank lukewarm water, and just had a jolly good time. We were waiting on the remainder of the group, and once they crossed…it was after party time.
The husbands and kids were already living it up at the after party. Bryan was covered in foam when I saw him next. And that was exactly where the rest of us were heading. It was humid and hot and sticky, and the foam pit was cooling, a bit messy, a lot wet, and a whole lot of fun. I have never been so soapy in my life…and I love a good lather as much as the next girl. I hurt from smiling and laughing so much. I’d get all this foam sprayed all over me…manage to shake it off and wipe it away, only to get plastered from another canon on the other side of the staging area.
Honestly…it was a blast.
And afterwards, as things were wrapping up, the ladies returned to the cooler where I had packed Pink Salad for everyone to enjoy as a treat post-race. We were messy, soapy, and happy. We enjoyed our refreshing treat, which Karla graciously scooped up for everyone, and then…we all departed to head home. I had so much fun meeting these wonderful ladies who have drawn my sister into my world of running.
And I felt incredibly special to have been able to run her very first 5K with her.
Karla’s eldest son was spent, and he fell asleep on the way home, just after our gas station stop for some cold water. Her youngest was playing his Nintendo DS, but he was fading. As we pulled into Cracker Barrel, we said our goodbyes…and I once again told Karla how proud I was of her and how much fun I had. I was leaving early Sunday morning to head back to Louisville…so this was our goodbye.
I have to say…despite the path not being lit, the crush of walkers with the runners, and the uneven pavement…despite all of that, I had such a great time. Being able to run with my sister in her first race meant the world to me. She told me, “I’m slow.” And I told her…it didn’t matter. All-in-all, she had a great pace, and looked like a natural out there. I was truly blessed with the opportunity to see her through this run, meet the ladies who she goes out and runs with, and just have a fun experience that didn’t have me freaking out or tense prior to the start. There is something to be said about doing things with people you love.
Karla…Thank you for letting me take part in the Foam Glow 5K with you and allowing me to accompany you on your very first 3.1 mile run. Keep on running. I am so proud of you and can’t wait to see how you improve and where this road takes you!!