It’s funny, I thought to myself last night as I was pinning my bib to my shirt, that after all this time focusing more seriously on running, I haven’t actually … raced.

It’s true. Like I said the other day, this was not technically my first race, but it was definitely my first race in spirit. (I have been running more seriously for 2 years, and in that time I have had miscarriages and a pregnancy during which I didn’t run, so racing hasn’t been part of my running routine until now.) I knew I was prepared for an automatic PR, since I’d never finished the race in under 40 minutes before, and my four-mile training runs have all been well under 40 minutes for a while now. But beyond that, I didn’t really know what my time would be. The weather was forecasted to be sticky and hot, and the race director (via facebook) advised all us runners to run a smart race and to understand that a PR might not be possible. When I heard this I was REALLY disappointed (I have been working on my speed all summer!) but I tried to remember that no one really cares about my time but me, and that even if I didn’t finish as fast as I had prepared, I could still run a smart, successful race. I just didn’t want it to be miserable.

Steve and I spent a lot of time yesterday going back and forth about whether or not he and Will would come with me, and we eventually decided that, barring bad weather or disaster, they would come. I was really looking forward to having Will there! Everything went pretty smoothly this morning (albeit a bit behind schedule) … and it didn’t start raining until after we arrived. Ah, perfect. We draped a raincoat over Will’s stroller and stood there for a while waiting for the race to start, just getting wetter and wetter. In principle I hate being wet, but obviously being about to run a race, I didn’t really care; I felt more bad for Steve having to stand there getting wet! I also thought it was funny to see runners huddled under raincoats or umbrellas as though that was going to prevent them from getting wet out on the course in ten minutes’ time.

Being a race that benefits the UVA Breast Care Center, I was prepared for a lot of pink and a lot of earnestness about “survivors”. However I did notice many people wearing shirts that said “in memory of” and things like that, and I really wanted to wink at them to let them know that I was running “in memory of” too. I did my best to ignore a couple of signs — “Save The Ta-Tas” was one of them, and “Running Our Butts Off To Save Boobies” was another. (Boobies? Seriously? Boobies?) I also saw a few women wearing shirts that said “Running With Hair: Overrated” which in my opinion is pretty inappropriate, but I ignored them too. I found Leah and and our friend Martha during staging, but made my way to the 9:00 pace group before the race started. My BFF and running advisor Mary-Kate wasn’t able to run this year, so I was on my own! Truthfully I wasn’t feeling very chipper or cheerful before the start; between the rain and the “boobies” sign, and all the pink flamingoes and feather boas (….) I couldn’t help but feel for my fellow “in memory of” runners, and I resented the women there who were just having a good time, without giving much thought to the cause they were supporting or the cutesy slogans on their shirts. Just start, I thought irritably several times. Just START.

And finally we did. At last I had an opportunity to put my hard work into practice and I started out at a good, comfortable pace — not wanting to go out too fast but also wanting to push it just the right amount. The four-miler is a pretty crowded race and I spent a lot of the first mile or so weaving around slower runners, but it wasn’t too big a deal. I spotted a woman ahead of me in a gray t-shirt and running hat, and I decided early on to keep her in my sight for the entire race. I spent all four miles staying pretty focused — taking advantage of the downhills, not burning out on the uphills, passing people when I thought I could and every so often looking for the woman in gray. Sometimes we were running almost side by side, but for the most part she stayed about 4-5 people ahead of me.

I felt really good for all four miles, and my splits for each of the first three miles were almost exactly 9:00. I had gone in not quite sure what my pace was going to be (but assuming it would be closer to 9:30 for at least the first half) and this was kind of surprising. I didn’t feel at all like I was running too fast, either; it was a manageable pace and I felt great both mentally and physically. I wanted to reserve enough energy to speed up a bit during the last mile while also not going any slower than I needed to. This was actually the part of racing I was most nervous about — I do most of my runs on the treadmill, which keeps me on pace whether I want it to or not, so I don’t have much experience pacing myself. However it turns out I had very little to worry about!

I picked up the pace during the last mile, checking my watch every so often to check my time. My “A” goal was to finish in under 37:00 — so imagine how excited I was to finish in 35:24! (edit: my chip time was 35:17. Yay!) My average pace was 8:51, and to me that is pretty fast! Considering the last time I did this race in 2010 I finished in something like 46:00, and that I have only been running again since May, I am quite pleased with how far I’ve come — not just in my postpartum running, but in my running in general over the last few years. In the last three months I have been running faster than I ever have, and it’s been really empowering to see all that I can accomplish.

Leah and Martha also finished with PRs (32:00 or thereabouts) and we met up afterwards with our families, including our dad and other sister Karen. (My dad has also attended every race since 2005!) Will, it turned out, was a model baby during the race and only cried once when people started cheering for the first-place runner.

I am not the type of girl who showers and applies a full face of makeup before running, so here I am in all my post-race glory.

Happy finishers!

With this year’s banner

My dad was getting Will to laugh. Usually he is very stoic in family pictures.

Condensation on the camera lens makes it look like this was taken in soft lighting.

After spending 35 minutes trying to get out of the parking area (seriously) (it took us just as long to leave as it did for me to run the race) we made it home and it’s life as usual again — I’m just a bit more tired. I also think I have eaten nothing but carbs and sugar all day. Oh well …

My next race plans are (I think) a 10k in two weeks. So on Monday it’s back into training mode!