I started running on my own. I did it for me (well, I started a little bit for Megan, who talked me into my first 5k), but I made myself a promise that I wouldn't care about other runners. I'd always be slow - I would never concentrate on winning...if I finish an event, it means I "won". I wanted to enjoy running, not get caught up in my time, somebody else's time, or where I rank among my peers. I wanted to concentrate on my distance and how I felt at the end of the run. Sure, time would play into things (most marathons stop providing runner support after a certain time, so if you can't finish in 6, 7, 8 hours, they need you to register specially, and nobody would want to do that), but it's a curiosity. It's much like my weight - I have a time when I complete a run, and I have a weight as I go about during the day. If I find out either, fine, but I don't care. However, if you post it, I might just take a look.
My friend Michael drove in on Saturday night to run the "Fall Down on the Trail" 5k with me (as an aside, I've driven nearly 200 miles to run a 3 mile run . . . he just drive over 100 to do the same . . . clearly, there is something logically wrong with runners), and we got up early to run. We managed to get to the Newville trailhead of the Cumberland-Valley Rail Trail with a good 45 minutes to go before the run. After registering, we talked at length with a very excitable man about the Carlisle extension (the current trail runs 11 miles between Newville and Shippensburg - the extension will be another 11 miles and will put the trail basically to my front yard) and then it was time to run.
There were "only" 93 runners, and the congestion at the beginning of the event simply wasn't there, so my "asshole approach to running" wasn't called for. On a very chilly morning, I ran my pace. At about the first mile, I started to see some separation between myself and many of the other "non-serious" runners (it should be stated that the entire Shippensburg University cross-country team came out to this event, so there were some very fast runners). With no timing on the course, though, I never knew how I was doing - just that I was feeling pretty good.
Well, one of the runners that I passed around the mile mark passed me soon after the turnaround but then stayed directly in front of me (almost like he took it as an insult that I passed him). Well, when we hit the 2.75 mile marker (and things changed from packed gravel to pavement), I had a little left in my tank, so I picked up the pace. Soon after I started my kick, I was able to see the clock at the finish line. I thought I saw 28:00, and I was quite happy with that time. As I got closer, though, I saw it was 24:00 clicking through. Hmmm, maybe my eyesight isn't as good as I once thought it was (I'll blame the cold - it was less than 50°F at race time with a little bit of a breeze, so my eyes were watering). I picked up the pace as much as I could and finished with a time of 25:27.
I hung around the finish line for my friend, who came crossing just a little bit later. We both commented that it's really difficult to hold back your pace at the end of an event whenever people are cheering you on at the finish. In fact, it's easy to over-exert yourself.
Well, we hung around talking to people, and I answered a bunch of questions about my silly shoes when somebody mentioned that they listed the times.
I knew I had finished somewhere between 25:00 and 26:00, but a neighbor of mine ran and I could not remember his first name - so I looked through the list to see if I could determine it (his last name happens to match the name of his business, and he drives a van with that on it, so it was just a matter of hoping that there weren't too many people who shared that name . . . there weren't). Well, I found his name as Dennis and I asked him what he thought about his time - he mentioned that this was his personal record and that he finished first in his age group (40-49). Then, he asked how I did, so we looked up my name - and there was a red "2" next to it. Turns out that I finished second in my age group (30-39). This was quite unexpected.
Before anybody makes a big deal about me finishing where I did, I would have finished 7th in the 40-49 bracket and well into the teens of the 20-29 bracket (because of all of the Shippensburg runners, none of whom finished with a time more than 20:00), but it still felt really cool to be handed a medal.
As for my goals or approach, they haven't changed in the least. I'm going to continue running when I can, pushing myself to go further and further whenever possible. I'm going to continue to treat my time as a curiosity and nothing more. If future runs have me winning more stuff to take home, great. If I never get another medal for finishing, great. I'm going to run for the love of running.