Being a First-Time Runner at a Running Event

An Experience 2024/05/28

I participated in a running event for the first time in my life.

After many years, I took up running again in March. After biking, which I started 1.5 years ago, and my irregular habit of swimming at least 1000 m in one go, running was the missing element that I would need to compete in a triathlon.

Being a fat person, it's also the hardest and scariest of the three disciplines for me. It is said that running is especially hard on the joints, and it is said that this is especially dangerous for fat folks. I still started because I knew I could stop if anything went wrong. I also committed to starting slow and remaining as slow as I needed.

I started using Garmin's 0 to 5k program. Three runs every week in different modes, gradually leading to 5k in four months. I usually substituted one of those runs for biking or swimming and added some strength training once a week and plenty of walks.

After about four weeks into the training, some effects became noticeable. I was able to run 20 minutes without walking in between and started to develop visible muscles. I then got curious about running events because there must be more than just marathons and half-marathons. A charity run, Malarathon Berlin that offered a 3k run popped up just after I'd reached that mark in my training plan. The decision to participate was made instantly. I registered and paid the €15 registration fee and continued with my training plan.

About a week and a half before the run, a new mode was added to the training plan: threshold intervals, running three minutes at maximum heart rate. I tried, but I made it only for 30 seconds per interval. Then my knee started hurting. Not badly, but noticeably. Years ago, when I first took up running, this was the end of me doing the sport, per the doctor's advice. "Running isn't for overweight people," he said, and unlike today, I was just a few kilos above what was considered normal. No physical therapy recommendation, no strength training recommendation. Just the message that people like me should basically just swim and first and foremost lose weight. Today I know that this was medical fat-shaming at its finest. And today I also know that pain during exercise is no reason to drop a sport, but all the reason to shift down a gear and look for strength training. Since I already did strength training and other disciplines, I decided to just ditch those threshold runs for now. And surprise: no more knee pain.

I ran my first 3k about a week before the event, pain-free, and took the next few days a bit slower. Also, the temperature dropped immensely during that week. For the event, morning temperatures of about 5ºC and strong winds were expected. Nothing like my training conditions. Luckily, I have experience with biking in winter and own appropriate clothes.

The night before the race day, I prepared the following items:

Things to wear:

Other items:

Things that were provided:

I also took care to eat enough, drink plenty of water, and not go to bed too late.

On race day, I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal with fruit and coffee. I planned to be on location just in time when the registration opened, which was at 9:00, roughly an hour before the run started. It was freezing cold with the sun shining.

On-site, the registration went quickly, and then the waiting started. I was SO glad I took the winter jacket with me. Most of the participants came so late that the race start was postponed by 15 minutes. Then things went quickly. First, the children's race. Then everyone else started to line up. I left the winter jacket with my partner but kept the fleece jacket on. I was in the first row but suddenly thought it might be a good idea to move to the back, as I would probably start much slower compared to most folks. The run started!

Moving to the back proved to be an excellent measure. I knew I was slow, but I had no idea how fast most other people were. I had to force myself not to even try to adapt to their speed while pushing thoughts of inferiority away. At the same time, my body felt stiff and cold and begged me to stop running. My feet were freezing!!

After the first couple of hundred meters, I started to feel a stitch. Something I didn't remember having since school sports. Back then, when pacing wasn't taught. Running was just about being fast in that instance, rarely about building a sustainable pace. Back then, I associated running with pain, not with something that can bring fun even remotely.

I reduced my pace and concentrated on breathing regularly, deeply enough, and relaxing. It took a bit of time, but the pain subsided. I was also finally warm enough to run comfortably. By now, the field of runners was mostly out of view. There were only a handful of runners with whom I stayed until the end.

At around 1500 m, I was warm enough to get rid of the fleece jacket. The sun was awesome, the sky was bright, and I ran. In a very uneventful way. No more stitches, and also my knee felt fine. Sometimes I was overtaken by someone, at other times, I overtook someone else. Always going steady.

Suddenly I noticed that something was off. I was approaching 2500 m, and the finish line seemed way farther away than 500 m. Nevertheless, I kept going, keeping my steady pace. Let myself get surprised by how far the finish line is.

At around 3000 m, still far away from the finish line, I felt so warm that I needed to get rid of my hat. I stowed it in my pocket. (Yay, pockets!) Our little group of four runners was still around. Some sometimes walked without losing much pace. Sometimes one was faster, sometimes another.

Approaching 3500 m (3500?!?!? m), the finish line finally looked like it was actually in reach. And I was still running. I had not walked a single step. I had already exceeded what I thought was my maximum, but I had not even reached the finish line yet. As we got closer to it, more and more people stood by and cheered. Our group was scattered a bit more; I lost sight of one person completely. But I kept my pace and ran steadily.

I saw my partner. She cheered for every runner on the way. It was now only about a hundred meters left. I was cheered on by many people and finally crossed the finish line. Wow. 4200 m. And my body felt like I could have gone the full 5k. Amazing.

I picked up the fruit and drank the drink I brought. I wasn't really hungry, but still ate the banana because it made sense to eat it. My body was okay with it. I picked up my medal and went home pretty much straight away.

Now that a month has passed, what's left?

I am still running! Right after the event, I felt very tired for a couple of days and decided to take things a bit slower for a while. I have ditched the training plan almost completely. The reason was that it was optimizing for speed, and I think I need to go way slower with training. But I do 1-2 runs each week, between 2 and 5 km each, depending on how I feel and the weather conditions. Taking things a bit slower has increased my speed and endurance more than more training could do. I also figured that if I want to go longer than that or in even warmer weather, I need to start bringing water and food. Adding logistics to a sport that - in moderation - can do well without.

In terms of the race: I would totally do it again. Now that I have crossed the 5k mark, there are many more regular options for running events, and you can bet I will do another one. I think I was well-prepared in terms of training and what equipment to bring. The feeling of everyone running away at the start and the urge to keep up was something I didn't consider. In my tracking, this came up as one of the fastest stretches I ever ran, but it was probably the cause of my stitch. I think it's extremely important to focus on yourself and your pace, if only to avoid having to deal with pain.

Thank you, Juliane Röll for being with me through this and for the cool pictures!