My first run ever with a Charm City Run (CCR) 5K training group was in Summer 2017 with Coach Stephanie. A friend at work suggested CCR training to me when I mentioned I would like to start running. My beginner route that first day was a mile starting from the Timonium store. My son joined me for that first run and I ran the whole way thanks to his encouragement. It was a 14 minute mile and it was tough. That image of him on that first run smiling at me while enduring his own discomfort to run as slowly as I needed is a touchstone I return to regularly during my training for the Charles Street 12 (CS12).
My last weeks of training before the race are from a distance in Upstate New York. It is a beautiful place to run along a lake. It also has lots of hills. I follow the running group’s progress through the training calendar, social media posts and pictures, and put in my own workouts from hundreds of miles away. Watching the crescendo of the training as it gets closer to race day from afar is harder than I thought it would be. I am loving vacation, but miss training with the group.
On my last run of vacation, which is supposed to be a long run of 6 miles, I feel a tweak on the outside of my left knee. At first, I shake it off, but on a downhill a few minutes later, the tweak starts to stab and won’t stop until I start walking. It’s a little more than halfway through my run so I stop and make up the miles later with a dog walk. This pain is new. My thoughts are slightly panicky and go quickly to “knee replacement.” Mind you this has never been even alluded to in any physician’s or physical therapist’s office.
Returning home after a long car ride home, I only walk the dog on our first day back. But the next morning, the air is so crisp that I feel like a puppy on a fall morning and want to go for an easy run. I feel great for about 2 miles and then the sharp knee pain again. I slow to a walk feeling a bit more panic that the race is less than a week away.
I email Coach Dawn. Maybe it’s my shoes? I have a physical therapy appointment later that week already scheduled. Dawn tells me “no more running” for the week until the race. I gasp when I read her email. I pause realizing that I want to run. It’s now part of what I do… who I am. Dawn also tells me that I will be okay on race day. I do get new shoes (the exact same model and brand) and new inserts. My physical therapist also works on my left quad which he says is compensating for imbalances and causing tightening in my IT band which is pulling on my knee. We are already working on the imbalances so it’s a matter of getting stronger over time. No knee replacement needed, just more core stability and strength work. I calm down. If I have to, I can walk 5 miles for my portion of the relay.
My sister arrives the day before the race after making the trip from Buffalo, New York. We go to packet pick-up together, and I have the chance to introduce her to Coach Dawn at the Timonium CCR store. The buzz of activity and excitement before race day is fun to share with her.
We wake on race morning before the sun. We drive to the finish line to take our respective buses back to our starting points. My son gets on the relay transfer bus, and my sister and I get on the starting line bus. It strikes me how much I trust the running community. I know my son will be fine on his bus although I see him step off the bus for a moment and wait for him to safely return before getting on my bus. Waving to him, we pull slowly away as the sun starts to rise.
The dark, cool morning tricks me into thinking the race will be cooler than it is. It’s not nearly as hot as most of our training runs, but the warm air surprises me early after the starting gun. Still, I run and don’t walk at all on race day. Coach Dawn calls out to me from behind about 2 miles into the race. She asks how I am doing and I reply confidently and honestly that I am doing well. She snaps a selfie and moves on to check on another member of the training group just ahead of me. My knee pain makes itself known a bit here and there, but nothing serious. I picture my son for inspiration to keep running even as others walk around me especially on the hills. I have run all these hills before so I know I can do it. Thanks for the hill work, Coach Dawn!
My son’s wide smile at my finish line is glorious. Another bonus, CCR Coach Michele enthusiastically calls out my name as I cross the timing mats. I can see in my son’s face that he is both proud of me and excited to start his own run. He knows I beat my goal of making it to him before the cut-off. My time is 1:04:11. More than 10 minutes faster than the 1:15 cut-off.
Joining other relay finishers, I get on a bus that will take us to the finish line. The first thing I do is text my daughter who has been so supportive. She is excited for my time and asks me to let her know how her brother does. It occurs to me that there is a strong possibility that he will get to the finish before I do. Race day traffic getting back to the highway for the bus is slow, but we pass the time talking about the course and enjoying each other’s company. We pass the end of the race and the last sole runner just in front of a final bus and patrol car. She looks awesome, proud, and strong. At first, the runners on the bus cheer for her, but she can’t hear or see us. Then, someone thinks to pound on the windows which we all start doing and she rewards us with a wave and smile.
Sure enough when the bus pulls into the parking lot at the finish, my son and I text and I learn that he has finished. This is not a criticism of the bus driver and organizers at all who are amazing. My son has smoked the second half of the course finishing in 54:58 with an average pace of 7:45. We rank 38 out of 139 in the first year of the CS12 relay. Our overall time is just under 2 hours. We find each other, I congratulate him, and then we wait for my sister at the finish line.
My sister’s goal was to finish in under 3 hours which she does handily with a time of 2:48:06. Her race included a medical tent stop for a Band-Aid and a bathroom stop so she is even more thrilled with the time. We walk around the awesome post-race celebration, say hello to friends, and enjoy some lunch and music. I see my friend from work in the crowd who first suggested CCR training to me and we warmly greet each other. My sister even gets a “see you in Syracuse” for a half marathon she is planning to run from someone we met in a pre-race bathroom line.
Feeling quite accomplished, my sister, the kids and I decide to celebrate and relax at the movies the afternoon. It is one of the theaters with the loungers which is close enough to the post-run recovery ritual of “legs up the wall” for us. And because it is cool in the theater, we can wear our new CS12 comfy sweatshirts that are part of the race swag. And lo and behold, we see a neighbor who asks if we ran the race. My sister and I laugh as we walk into the theater thrilled that we are asked about the race. We also extend the celebration at a pool party the next day hosted by a member of the training group. My sister and her son stay an extra day and join my son and daughter and me for the party. I am struck by the interest in both my daughter’s health as people ask about her ankle from the earlier blog posts and my son’s race that day. Plus, it is super fun to keep hearing about other people’s races and talking about running in general.
At the end of the long weekend, I stop my son on our front lawn and hug him tightly. I whisper in his ear, “Thank you for being my relay partner.” He lets me hug him a bit longer than usual. Running has once again brought our family together and created memories to last a lifetime.
Thank you for reading. I hope your fall training and races are wonderful, and trust that you are building your own running memories with family and friends.