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Column - Ten lessons learned from running a 5K

I ran in a 5K race in Fargo last weekend.

Notice I said "ran" instead of "competed" because that's a more accurate description of what took place.

Actually "ran" isn't quite the right word either. "Jogged" is more fitting.

But even though my time - just over 37 minutes to complete 3.2 miles - wasn't the speediest, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I'm not a seasoned runner. This was only the second 5K I've participated in. But I do like to jog every now and then to burn off some stress, enjoy the outdoors and to take a break from sitting on the couch. I also enjoy going out for a run with my wife. It's one of those shared activities that gives you a good sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. We both participated in the 5K, running each step practically side by side, except when the maddening crowd - more than 5,100 runners and walkers - made it impossible to do.

Along the way, I learned some lessons about competing in a 5K:

1. Get in line early. We arrived at the race registration headquarters, the FargoDome, hours ahead of time but we didn't know when or where runners would start lining up until we discovered several thousand people were already ahead of us in the staging area. When the starting gun started, we were way back in the pack.

2. Be prepared for chaos. When we finally crossed the starting line eight minutes after the race had started, there were thick clusters of runners, walkers, baby strollers and little kids all over the place. We tried our best to zig-zag around them and followed other runners' strategy by veering off into people's yards and sidewalks. It was crazy and hectic - but kind of fun.

3. Runners come in all shapes and sizes. There is no definitive description of a 5K runner. We saw people in their 70s and children barely out of diapers. There were runners short and tall, those skinny-as-a-rail to those who looked like permanent couch potatoes. Their experience, varied too - from seasoned pros (they had enough "gear" to open a sports store) to greenhorns in their first race. The fact that we were all bonding together toward a common goal - the finish line - made all those differences irrelevant.

4. Running doesn't take months of training or mountains of work. You just have to want to do it and make the effort.

5. Runners are generally pretty cool people. Despite the huge field of runners, there was no pushing, yelling or rude behavior. People were friendly, smiling and encouraging.

6. People like runners. Along the route, dozens of people sat outside in their lawn chairs, cheering the runners on. They held signs. They clapped. Some sprayed water on the over-heated runners who wanted cooling off. They shouted, "You can do it! Keep going! Almost there!" Exactly why they did all this was a mystery to me. All we were doing was moving our feet. But the support was a great boost.

7. A welcoming touch really does matter. The whole town of Fargo got behind this racing event, which also included a 10K, a half-marathon and a marathon. Signs were everywhere welcoming the runners. The media coverage was extensive. It was all they were talking about on TV, radio and in the newspaper. The buzz and excitement helped. It was like an added level of support and an extra shot of adrenaline.

8. Don't be ashamed to say "it was just a 5K." At first, when people in Fargo asked which race I was competing in, I felt a little sheepish telling them it was the 5K. But everyone I told it to was still impressed. After awhile, I accepted the fact that although my race was nowhere near a 26.2-mile marathon, it was still a personal challenge worth completing.

9. Set your sights high. The 5K was fun, memorable and rewarding. So much so that I want to take it to another level. Next year, I'm going to run in the 10K. Well, maybe not "run" but you get the idea.

10. A "fast" time isn't as important as finishing. It was humbling to see the 5K top runner finish the race in less than half the time it took me. But then I realized how much training, time and dedication that runner must have put into his regimen. He and the other top runners deserved their fast times. My main goal was just to finish the race. In the end, we were all winners.

"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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