I "ran" my very first 5k when I was 40. It was 1999. Warren, who was just my boyfriend at the time, had done a 5k on Father's Day that year. I went to the race to cheer him on. I was so proud of him when he crossed the finish line. I thought he had done the coolest thing ever by running that race.
When we were driving home, I casually mentioned to him that I would love to run a 5k one day, but that I really wasn't a "runner". Wasn't built like one; couldn't imagine running to catch a bus, much less run 3.1 miles. "One day", I said.
Well, Warren took it upon himself to sign me up for 5k later that summer -- The Wayside Run, which was sponsored by The Wayside House.
I trained for that race by running Lake Calhoun. I could only do sections at a time. I remember feeling so accomplished when I ran the section from 36th Street to William Berry Parkway without stopping. This was a VERY BIG DEAL.
Race day came, and I was so nervous....I still didn't feel like a "real runner". I was heavier than I am today; I knew I was slow, and I thought I was going to get left in the dust once the race started.
We got to the race site and it was buzzing with other racers. Mostly women racers. I was absolutely gob-smacked by the number of older women runners that were there.
Remember, I was 40. Some might say that THAT is old (trust me, it isn't). But at the race there were a lot, and I mean A LOT, of women in their 50s, 60s and above.
One woman really caught my attention. She had a bit of a bird-body (roundish middle supported by thin-ish legs), silver hair and a wide-genuine smile. She seemed to know everyone at that race, and everyone seemed know her.
BOOM. The race started and, although I didn't get totally dusted, I sure did end up at the very back of the pack pretty quickly. Still and all, I was doing it. There were lots of spectators cheering us on with the usual cheers ("Looking Good!" (I wasn't.) "Way to go, Runner" (said to me, even when I was walking.) And, my favorite: "You're almost there. (A total lie.))
At some point, that popular lady with the silver hair passed me. She said "Nice Job." to me as she blazed past me.
I finished the race and my love affair with running started. Even though I sucked, even though I didn't look like those "real runners", I loved it. I fell hard and fast and never looked back.
After that race was done, I found out her name: Mary Lou Carlson.
I (obviously) signed up for (lots) of other races. For many years after that first race, I'd see Mary Lou racing too. I gathered up some courage one day at a race and actually introduced myself to her. I told her that she was an inspiration to me and that I loved seeing her out on race courses. She was gracious and kind and then she just trotted off.
Then, in 2001, when I was lining up to start at the Twin Cities Marathon, the announcer called out that Mary Lou Carlson, then age 74, would be allowed to start the race a little earlier than the rest of us. It was her 20th -- and last -- Twin Cities Marathon. She was running fine, but the race cut off time loomed large now. So, the officials bent the rules a bit for her, let her start before everyone else and enabled her to have her last marathon swan song.
So why do I bring this up?
Well, my hip continues to be my arthritic hip and, although I am continuing to train for Ironmans Wisconsin and Arizona, I am not entirely certain that I'm going to make it to either of those start lines.
I find I have some good days, where I think I'll be fine and will be able to finish (at least one of them). I also have some really, really bad days, where I am not sure I can get down the stairs to the basement to put a load of laundry in.
Swimming and biking are fine -- no pain. It's running that's betraying me. I plod and shuffle. It sometimes produces some shin/knee pain that is no fun. It is clunky and un-glamorous and painfully, painfully slow.
And, the thing is, with Ironman, the cutoffs loom large. The 2:20 cut off for the swim will not be a problem. I should also be able come in off the bike well before the 5:30 pm cutoff. The run cutoffs are the ones that scare me.
I have the heart to finish; If I had the luxury of no time limits, I know that I have the endurance to go 140.6.
The question is can I do it, one more time, in less than 17 hours?
Well, I'm willing to keep moving forward toward the goal and I also have to be realistic along the way. Because, as much as I love the sport, as much as I want to have my swan song this year, Mike Reilly, is not going to announce that I will be allowed to start the race early (or have help from a scooter during the run).
Why? Because I am not Mary Lou Carlson.