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My First and Last 5K

I liked to visualize the alcoholic toxins leaving my body in beads of sweat.

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By Kristen Rybandt

06/08/14

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The night before my first 5K, I remember mentioning – no, bragging – to the stranger sitting next to me at a beer bar that I was running in a race the next morning. I remember his gentle jab about carb loading and thinking that I probably shouldn’t be drinking at all as I drained my glass and ordered another.

I don’t remember being particularly hungover the next morning, so my slow finish time had little to do with drinking and more to do with not training. I wasn’t a runner. I’d signed up for that 5K because my oldest daughter was part of a regional running program that culminated in a county-wide race. Every girl had to have a responsible, if reluctant, adult run with them.

I was cocky going into the race because in those days, I worked out almost daily. I liked to visualize the alcoholic toxins leaving my body in beads of sweat. In fact, I did feel better after a little time on the elliptical or a brisk walk. Endorphins are powerful stuff. Unfortunately, nothing prepared me for my first 3.1 mile run. My daughter and I both finished through a mix of running and walking, but I could barely climb stairs for several days afterwards from the pain in my quads. When I came home, the first thing I did was crack open a beer that felt more medicinal than celebratory. It was also my 36th birthday and I felt old and more than a little broken.

I never was a natural runner. In elementary school, I was fast for short distances and rode my bike and walked everywhere. But I barely completed the President’s one-mile challenge in high school and joked that the only reason I’d run in real life is if someone were chasing me.

In a way, that’s just what happened when I stopped drinking and couldn’t run anymore from all the things I’d avoided thinking about or dealing with. The seed got planted by sober bloggers I followed who touted the miracles of running. I thought about it during long walks that just weren’t cutting it anymore. Just over two years ago, I downloaded Couch to 5K on my phone and set out on my first of many humbling “runs.”

For the first couple of months, I walked more than I ran the mostly flat streets near my house. I returned home beet-faced and panting, covered in sweat in early winter. I started to feel really good after a run and hot shower long before I could run a full mile.

Hills were the next step. I literally ran out of flat places to run, so chugged up a particularly big one just to get to more flat ground. It didn’t kill me after all, and even improved my time a little.

Here’s where I need to confess that I am not really a runner. I even stopped timing myself in the last couple of months. My regular pace is more like a jog. Last spring, I joined a weekly running group to help improve my speed. One of the first times I went, the track we normally ran on was icy and we were forced into the quiet, dark streets of our small town. I was so slow, I literally lost the group until they doubled back around. Running with other people was even more humbling than running on my own.

Last summer, I focused on solo runs and increasing how far I ran. I went from three miles at the beginning of summer to five miles by the end. Yes, I know for serious runners this is nothing. To me, it’s plenty. I can fit a 5-mile run into Saturday morning before grocery shopping. I head out my front door when most everyone else is still asleep and the roads are quiet. The sun finishes its leisurely rise while I jog past bunnies so unthreatened by my speed, they don’t even hop away. Just this past week, I’ve seen bunnies, baby geese, and bison on runs. Sometimes I stop and take pictures with my phone, but I never quite capture how religious early morning runs feel to me. They save me time and again.

Last weekend, I ran another 5K with a sober blog buddy and my two daughters. My oldest daughter set her own pace and beat her last finish time by an impressive amount. Because my youngest daughter is so little, I stayed with her and let her set the pace. She got to the finish line through a mix of running, walking and skipping through the garden hose spray of friendly neighbors giving us a place to cool off. We didn’t finish anywhere near the beginning, but there were still a few people behind us. Running is hard work! Seeing all those red but satisfied faces after the race was a reminder.

This summer I plan to keep getting out for regular runs. Eventually I’ll start timing myself again because I have a 10K coming up in November that I want to be ready for. I doubt I’ll ever do anything more than a half-marathon and even that doesn’t appeal right now. When my youngest gets old enough to participate in the school-based running program, I’d like to volunteer my time as a co-coach. For now, these goals are plenty.

For now, I’ll get out as regularly as I can in the mornings to run or jog or commune with bunnies, or whatever you want to call it. In between all the huffing and puffing, I’ll find a quiet space in my head where jumbled thoughts find release. I’ll listen to music and do something for myself, uninterrupted. I’ll come home feeling better because of endorphins or just knowing I’m taking better care of myself. Running is my recovery, my church, my place where I find challenge and peace.

Kristen is a sober mom and wife who lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She blogs at http://byebyebeer.com and will celebrate 3 years sober later this month.

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