Stars & Stripes 5k 2015

On the 4th of July, I did something I never imagined I would do.

I ran a race under someone else’s bib.

It began on the night of the 3rd. I texted my friend Theresa because I knew she had signed up for the Stars & Stripes 5k on the 4th of July. I also knew that her schedule had changed at the last minute, and that attending the race would not be easy. At this point, to be honest, I was scheming. I was encouraging her attend the race, partly because I was planning to surprise her by standing along the race route with a poster and cow bell to cheer her on.

Theresa wasn’t feeling it. She was stressed with all the other things in her life at that moment, and she just didn’t know how she would be able to run that weekend, much less run a race. I encouraged her to at least pick up her packet (get your free t-shirt!), and to try finishing the race with a different goal – for example, see how fast you can finish 5k if you are walking the entire distance. And then she blew my mind…

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I really can’t express this moment. The idea of running in her spot had never even crossed my mind. The gift of running in her spot was just HUGE to me. I didn’t even know how to respond. What do you do when someone offers you a gift like this?

The next morning, I rose early for the race. Since I hadn’t planned for this race ahead of time, I wasn’t fighting any pre-race nerves or jitters. I’d slept like a baby. I was relaxed and ready to run.

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I went to the packet pickup line and requested the packet for Theresa. This was the moment of truth – this was when they could’ve refused to give me the packet. They were rushing to hand out packets, though, and no one blinked at my request. I took the packet, bib, chip timer, and t-shirt.

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My mom was my support crew. She helped me pin the bib onto my shirt. We had never before explored the shopping center hosting this race, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover a lovely pedestrian area.

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The race was pretty big… a couple thousand runners, I guess? I’m not very good at estimating race size. It wasn’t long before we sang the national anthem and lined up to run.

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The race was advertised as “flat and fast”, and it was. I started the race strong, running about a 12:30 pace. The first mile was uneventful. I spent a lot of that mile getting my legs loose and getting my mind into the right place to run.

The weather was BEAUTIFUL. It was maybe 70 degrees, slightly overcast, with a light breeze – very cool for July, and perfect for running!

During the second mile, I purposely slowed my pace down to around 13:00. We were running behind a business park, and it was during this mile that I saw an adorable wild rabbit. It was really quite comical. The rabbit was running back and forth on one side of the road, clearly wanting to cross the road, but unable to cross the road due to the mass of runners.

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The third mile was, by far, the most fun. At the beginning of that mile, I overheard a nearby cluster of women discussing their ability (or lack thereof) to do a cartwheel. One woman dared another to do a cartwheel right there in the middle of the race, and she declined. I chimed in, “But wouldn’t that be the BEST road rash story?”

My new running friends laughed and agreed. They began to tell the fictitious story: “I thought I was ahead during the race so I decided to showboat by doing a cartwheel. That’s why I have this great scar on my leg, and no front teeth.” I don’t remember the rest of the story, but I know it got pretty silly!

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We pushed each other during that mile. We were close to the end, and we knew it. One of the women compared us to turtles – slow and steady but always finishing. Finally, with perhaps a half mile left, I let it all out and threw everything I had into the race. I’d already picked up my pace (to about 12:30) during the third mile, but I just threw it down and ran as fast as my legs would carry me to the finish line.

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My mom found me in the finishing corral. I’d gone straight for a water bottle (no surprise). I didn’t know my chip time, but when I crossed the finish line the clock read something like 39:30, so I knew my time would be good. I felt amazing.

The line for the official times was LONG, and I knew the times would be posted on the website later, so I focused on the rest of the post-race celebration. One booth was offering free face-painting for kids. A local band was playing. Since it was the 4th of July, there were several patriotic events. Panera Bread was giving away free bagels to the runners. But my favorite booth, by far, was sponsored by Belfonte and giving away free ice cream!

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And that was the race. That was my amazing 4th of July race.

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I got a message from Theresa later in the day with my official time: 38:43.6. For all intents and purposes, that is a PR – the only race that might have been faster was in 2013, when I had a broken chip timer and thus got no official time. But even that, I suspect, was not this fast.

I’m really pretty overwhelmed by it all. This race was a smashing success, and it was all an unexpected gift from my running friend. I can’t express how thankful I am. Theresa, you are the best friend I’ve ever known. Running this race was an experience I’ll never forget. May God bless you the way you’ve blessed me.