Hell on heels or heaven on turf?

A few years ago, I never would have considered participating in a running event. As a matter of fact, I used to be a fairly lethargic individual. Yet, I found myself on Bayshore Boulevard among a seemingly endless sea of people Saturday, awaiting the official start of the 2008 Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K.

Since this was my first attempt at something like this, I had no clue what to expect. I had only gone jogging a handful of times the previous month and felt ill-prepared for what lay ahead. Despite my trepidation, I awoke that fateful morning and immediately shuffled over to my iPod, blaring “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky in an effort to charge myself up. Guzzling a homemade fruit smoothie, I shot out the door.

I arrived at the starting point just in time. Upon my arrival, I gazed at the swarm of runners taking off in the distance. Trudging forward, I mentally prepared myself for one of the most grueling experiences of my life. However, once I got going, the adrenaline rush kicked in, and the 5K transformed from an arduous task into an exhilarating adventure.

As my group of runners started off, onlookers cheered us on from the sidelines, offering words of encouragement. Up-tempo music kept us all motivated, and I smiled at the sight of thousands of people coming together for something so positive.

Making my way to the finish line, I began to weave in and out of the crowd, scanning the congested street for an opening. With everyone trying to navigate through the blur of people, the whole thing reminded me of a massive game of Tetris. I would have continued zooming past my compatriots, but I paid the inevitable price for my lack of foresight.

Because I hadn’t prepared adequately, my legs soon began to ache in protest of the pressure they were being forced to endure. So, to combat the soreness, I started taking brief but frequent walking breaks to recuperate my legs before speeding up again. This strategy prevented me from tiring myself out and helped me maintain a decent pace throughout the 3.1-mile stretch.

Before I knew it, I had reached the halfway point and began heading back. At this point, I was still feeling great, and the realization that I was already 50 percent done only enhanced my excitement, which carryed me right to the finish line. I thought I would be beyond exhausted when I finally reached the finish line, but much to my surprise, I emerged from the race feeling charged.

Although I was initially anxious about running the 5K, it turned out to be a rewarding experience. Some people may brush this endeavor off as mere exercise, but it was much more than that. To me, the event represented a unifying of the community in support of fellow citizens and the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.

I finished the 5K in less than 35 minutes, but in that time, I achieved a true sense of accomplishment. I’m glad I decided to participate, and I eagerly await my next opportunity to get involved in an event as memorable as this one.