I haven't run a 5K for a long time--one, because I've been concentrating on longer distances, and two, because they are painful. They are painful if you run them as quickly as you can, attempting to better your time each time. My fastest 5K time is 25:23; my slowest is 28:52. Today I ran this particular 5K at 26:56, not bad--good enough for second in the 41-45 age group at this small local race. But the most important thing I took away from today's race is to respect all distances, because you never know how your body will react.
First some background: this race was a fundraiser for Unite for Sight, an organization that helps prevent blindness in countries where eye surgery, for example, is not affordable for the general population. (More info at http://www.uniteforsight.org/). There are college chapters all over the country sponsoring races to raise money for the elimination of preventable blindness. The students who put together this race are to be commended--it's not an easy thing to put on a race, especially on Homecoming Weekend, a time where people would rather tailgate and party.
It was a cold morning and I tried various means to warm up: drinking hot chocolate, jumping up and down and dancing to the pop tunes coming out of the PA, etc. I noticed a young couple as I was prancing around: he was brown-haired, lean and handsome, she was blond, perky, slim and cute. I assumed they were a romantic pair, since they looked good together. They were doing drills and high kicks to warm up. I thought, surely those two are fast!
The race was over pretty quickly and I kept a good pace throughout--not too fast, but fast enough to pass some people. Why does the third mile of a 5K always feel like it's going on forever? I made it through the finish chute in under 27 minutes, which was what I really wanted today. After a bit of a cooldown, I noticed the blond girl from the couple. She was not breathing right after finishing the race, and then, she slowly melted down to the ground--not a full faint, but definitely a case of the jelly legs. I went over to her and asked if she needed some water, and she kept on breathing raggedly. I don't usually touch complete strangers, but I patted her back and tried to soothe her as it was apparent that she wasn't recovering right. A burly bald gentleman came to her aid quickly too--fortunately, he was a personal trainer and knew what to do. He had her lie down to try to recover her breathing and asked her friend (turned out they were not boyfriend and girlfriend) questions about her health. She slowly got her breath back, but kept on shivering. By now a crowd had gathered with all sorts of people offering help: the onsite massage person checked her pulse, and a group of women runners (from Chix in Training http://chixintraining.com/meet/) kept a watchful eye over the young woman. The young woman kept saying that her chest was aching, so the group got her into the young man's car and they went to the emergency room, just to be safe. I hope that she's all right, and that it was just a case of the unexpectedly cold October air getting to her. It was scary seeing someone that young becoming that vulnerable after a race.
After the couple departed, I realized that your finish time doesn't matter--what matters is running and racing safely. I tend to take for granted my new fondness for and ability to run (I was never a runner until two years ago this fall; tomorrow is my "runnerversary.") I often feel like I don't run fast enough, but that's not the point. This young woman's situation brought home to me how vital it is to stay aware of your body's needs before, during and after each run--whether it's a training run or a race. Take good care of yourself, and never take your abilities and health for granted.