I totally didn’t see this coming. I almost didn’t even race. Here’s the story:

The day before my race was a regular one. I didn’t take a rest day – I felt that I shouldn’t need one for a 5k. I had an appointment with my trainer, so I went to the gym and worked hard. After that I came home and ran some errands, ate lunch, did some work, etc.

In the afternoon I was slightly itchy in my chest and arms but I didn’t think anything of it. I went to bed early and dozed off for almost two hours before I started scratching in my sleep. I was so itchy that it woke me up. I lay there for a few minutes half asleep, scratching everywhere before I got up and went to the bathroom to take a look. I was covered in hives – some kind of allergic reaction.

I had a cold shower to try to calm the itchiness and my partner went out in the middle of the night for some medication (medication can alleviate symptoms, but it won’t solve the root cause of the problem, so I’m still trying to figure out what caused the reaction. In the meantime, I just needed some sleep for my race).

I cut all my nails and put on my winter gloves so I wouldn’t scratch, and tried hard to go back to sleep. Eventually I did.

When my alarm went off in the morning, I was so tired that I didn’t even hear it. When I woke up about an hour and a half later, I was late. I had planned to take the subway to High Park and I wasn’t sure I would make it in time. So I lay in bed for about five minutes, trying to decide whether or not I should even go. That’s when my brother-in-law phoned.

He was up early and wanted to know if we needed a ride. I checked my body, and the hives were completely gone, as if nothing had happened. So I said yes and jumped into the shower.

We ended up getting there early so I had plenty of time to register and stretch and prepare myself mentally (I was actually yawning at the Start line). My in-laws came to see me. It was a small race – only about 100 people showed up, probably because it was supposed to rain all morning (it never did).

I sized up my competition at the Start line. I saw a girl that I had been friends with in high school. It turns out that she’s a volunteer instructor at a Running Room and she was there with her “Learn to Run” group. It was their first race. A few other girls looked really fit, with lean runner-type bodies. I imagined at least a couple of girls would be coming in before me.

These were some of girls that I thought would be beating me.

This race does not have any chips, and they don’t close the streets either. So I positioned myself near the beginning of the start line so my time would be accurate and so I wouldn’t get caught trying to pass a mob of people on a very narrow path (we had to limit ourselves to a bike lane for the first bit).

I ran light – the lightest I’ve ever run. No ipod and no water. I was carrying nothing. I didn’t miss my music at all, or my water. I felt light on my feet and I got lost in my thoughts. Nobody passed me so in retrospect I should have had an idea that I was near the front of the pack, but I didn’t clue in.

About halfway through I had passed a few more people and I noticed that the crowd was wearing thin. I couldn’t see anyone behind me, even on long stretches of road, and I could only see one person ahead of me – some guy in a white shirt. I still didn’t clue in to the fact that I must be near the front of the pack. I just thought, “Wow, a lot of people must not have shown up today because of the rain.”

One great thing I noticed about running without an ipod was that I could listen to other people’s breathing. So as I was approaching someone to pass them, I knew if they were spent or if they were likely to chase me. I found this to be a tremendous advantage as far as planning and motivation.

Also, if the person I was passing was wearing headphones, I found it was easier to demotivate THEM. They wouldn’t hear me coming up behind them, so when I would pass they would be surprised. If they had been breathing steady and strong, they would try to overtake me again – but I had already anticipated that, so I was ready to run faster than them until they gave up. If they were wheezing all over the place, I knew I could conserve my energy for the next person and pass them fairly easily. I could also make sure I was keeping MY breathing strong, so if they could hear me they would know that I wasn’t stopping any time soon.

I chose a good steady pace and I stuck to it. I knew the course, so I gave myself the liberty of speeding up only in certain spots. I soon caught up to White Shirt and passed him. That’s when I saw the next competitor – a black guy in a black tank top. He didn’t have a runner’s body but was very fit. He looked tired.

White Shirt

Black Tank Top was still a distance away and he didn’t see or hear me coming. I kept my pace (which was faster than his) and slowly started gaining. I also noticed that he would stop and walk, then start running again. As I started closing in, he looked over his shoulder on one of his walking intervals, saw me, and immediately took off into a sprint.

He did this about three times: start to walk, look over his shoulder, start sprinting, then stop to walk again. It reminded me of the barefoot tribesman running a cheetah to his death by spurring on a series of sprints (and the mistake I made at my last race). I knew this guy was suffering from me being on his ass, and he was so much bigger than me. I was pleased.

Black Tank Top

The very last part of the race consisted of a big hill. I’m not sure what the grade is, but this is a hill where I (and many other runners) come to for hill training. I’ve run it several times, but after already running a hilly 5k this incline feels impossible.

I was prepared for this hill. My goal was to conquer it at my regular steady, unchanging pace without stopping once. Black Tank Top started to walk halfway up. But White Shirt suddenly decided that he didn’t want to get beaten by a girl – the finish line was right at the top of the hill. So he started sprinting the hill. I tried my best to keep up but there was no way I could beat him in a sprint and I didn’t have the time to overcome him gradually the way I had before. So he came in just ahead of me.

My partner was a few meters away from the finish line and when I got to the top of the hill he screamed that I was the first girl. I STILL didn’t get it – I thought maybe he was trying to compliment me, like – “You’re number one!” or something along those lines.

This is me coming up the hill.

There was no one behind me but I still ran like hell to the finish line. Then someone else yelled that I was the first girl and some guy came over to shake my hand. I was so confused, and wondered why this dude was trying to shake my hand. What a weirdo. Then I looked up to see a handful of black guys staring at me.

I was 12th overall, and if I hadn’t been so motivating to Black Tank Top and White Shirt, I’m pretty sure I could have come in top 10. When it finally hit me I was THRILLED. I’ve never been any kind of first place in ANY race before! Time: 27:39.41.

Granted, it was a small race. But I guess you have to start winning somewhere. This was definitely my best race experience to date, and one of the 28 moments I’m glad I was alive for (stay tuned for the rest of the list).

After I got home I looked through some of my old running pictures, because I ran this exact same race and route last year – it was one of my first races. I dug up a picture of myself in 2009, and compared it to a picture of myself this time around. My body seems to have become slightly more runner-friendly:



I’m pleased with my progress in one year. And I’m excited because there is still so much more progress to be made…