Kicking Through the Finish – The 2013 UC Aruna 5K

If you know me well enough, you understand how much running means to me. I need it like I need food. Something good happens? Celebratory run time! Something bad happens? Go run it out.

So I get really excited when something that has been such a positive force in my life can be used to help others. I felt this way about the 2012 LA Cancer Challenge, and finding another race where money raised helps a group who is very much in need of it was exciting; even if I didn’t have time to fund-raise.

To be honest, at first I was just looking for a race to gauge my 5k pace before beginning my most difficult marathon training round yet. I searched for nearby 5k races and was excited to find one that took place only a few days later, right on campus. Only after finding it did I start reading about the Aruna project and what they do, which made me even more excited for this race.

The University of Cincinnati Aruna 5k is part of an annual race series supporting the Aruna project, which frees and empowers women who are exploited by the gender bias, poverty, corruption, limits to education and violence created & supported by the brothel system. While this is very much a global issue, the Aruna project focuses on helping the estimated 15,000 women who suffer under this system in Southeast Asia.

When signing up for the race, runners are given the name of a woman who has been identified by the project. Money and awareness is then raised in support of this woman. Unfortunately since I had signed up for the race only a couple days before I didn’t receive a name, but my registration money still went toward the general mission of the Aruna project. All money raised is used to support these women as they are rescued from the brothel system, recover, and begin new lives. Through business partners with the Aruna project, they are able to find jobs and work towards becoming independent.

Even though I ran this race in 2013, the Aruna project still continues raising money and helping these women. If you are interested in supporting the project or signing up for a race near you, check out their website!

On to the race!

The wait for race day was short, but it finally arrived and I went to the campus recreation center to pick up my race number and goodies. We all got glow-in-the-dark wrist bands which was really fun since the race took place in the late evening, and the sun was quickly setting.

It was only about 49 degrees, which is the borderline for me to run in shorts and a t-shirt, so that’s what I decided to wear. However when I got dressed, I had not considered (a) the sun was setting and (b) there was quite a bit of time before the race would start where I’d be standing around. So I found myself quite cold waiting at the starting line because I have absolutely no cold tolerance.

Seriously. Anytime the weather dares drop below 50 and I am not properly dressed I freeze. Life is hard.

With 20 minutes to go until the race started, I decided to do a little pre-race warm-up jog. It worked well and I was pleased noticing that my muscles all felt fresh and limber and my new Kinvara 4 shoes felt nice and comfy.

I lined up at starting line with other people I found who were planning on running in the 7:30 min/mi range. My goal was to go at about 75% for the first mile, cruise for the second mile, and then push increasingly harder for the last 1.1 miles of the race. Considering the course went over the hilly University of Cincinnati campus, I wasn’t expecting to be able to go much faster than an 8 min/mi pace but I was feeling optimistic and thought I might as well try.

The fun part about doing a race on campus was that I (for once) knew a bunch of people in the race! A fellow aerospace engineering student, Jarred, who runs 5ks a lot (and is a pretty sweet rapper! Check him out) was lined up to try for a 22:30, and another aerospace friend of mine, Kyle, lined up with me. He had just come off running the Air Force half marathon and wanted to see how well he could pace with me. After a little more complaining about the cold between Kyle and I, it was time for the final countdown for the race.

After the start I was happy to find myself warming up quickly, and fell into a tough-but-not-too-grueling pace with those around me. I’ve never been great at running hills, so a major challenge for me was holding pace while running around the hilly UC campus. Since I was considering this a speed challenge, my strategy was just to push, and push, and push, and see what kind of time I could get out of myself.

It was really fun to run through campus! Even though the race took place in the evening when most would be eating or studying, there were a few people cheering us on here and there. As the sky darkened we made our way up main street and then downhill in front of McMicken Hall and turned right onto Clifton Ave. I thought it was fun to run in the street, and we all waved at the houses across the street as we trotted along.

For those of you unfamiliar with UC’s campus, this is what our main street looks like! It’s gorgeous!

We ran around the perimeter of campus which I’m used to from my usual runs,  and it was nice to be familiar with the area. Since I wasn’t thinking as much about where the course was going I could better focus on recharging on downhills and not pushing too hard uphill.

The second mile marker showed its face and around that time I started passing people here and there, which made me a bit worried. I hadn’t been paying much attention to my pace, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard. I slowed down a tad but continued on.

So I have a tendency to run short distances in the same way a space shuttle launches: incredibly fast and exciting with lots of speed for the first few minutes, then I burn along for a while until my fuel runs out and finally my engine suddenly cuts off. Therefore my main concern at this point was whether I had another 1.2 miles of fuel left before my engine shut off.

We wiggled back through campus while I gained more confidence in this cruising speed that just kept going. I slowly passed a couple more runners as we ran downhill, and turned one of the final corners into the green space of campus where the finish line was. Not anticipating that the race would squiggle around in this commons, I started my final kick only to realize the race still wasn’t over, and my abs were now pissed at me.

I relaxed and took a small rest to cruise in the stretch before the final turn, taking a quick peek to find Kyle chugging along just behind me. I was starting to feel nauseous and my abs were on fire, but the finish line was right there! So I made the last turn and picked up the pace.

I got a glimpse of the clock as I passed the finish and couldn’t believe what I saw:

22:34

I bent over and dry heaved a couple times to the amusement of my abs, running that time over and over in my head trying to figure out some math. Then it hit me. That’s a 7:17 average pace per mile. The speedy time was confirmed in my head when I looked up and found there really weren’t that many people in the finisher’s area, though I had a hard time believing it. I didn’t realize I was going that fast! Kyle came in a few seconds behind me, also panting, and we laughed a bit not expecting to have finished in that sort of time. He told me he was impressed with that final kick, but I was more impressed that he kept that pace so soon after racing a half marathon!

We high-fived a few of the other runners and cheered a few more runners across the finish line. I took a minute to get some warmer clothes from my dorm room before returning to the race for the awards ceremony. I figured with a time like that I might have done pretty well, and wanted to see the other women who crossed the finish before me.

It turns out only one other woman did!

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BOOYAH!

You read it right! I got second place overall for the women!!

Knowing I could go that fast in a 5k, my next stop is to find a 10k, race it, and see how my pace reacts to the distance. Through understanding my abilities and with some careful training we’ll see if I can BQ in my next marathon, the 2014 KY Derby Festival Marathon.

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