Sack Race-Rookie-Triathlete-Marathoner: Run Your Race Like a Winner

Shawna, Pam, & Shelley after Thoroughbred Classic on Thanksgiving DayAre races only for athletes? Who is the REAL winner in an, Ironman Triathlon, Marathon, a 10K or   5K run? Is the lone athlete who crosses the finish line first and takes home the trophy the only winner or do those who endure the miles and complete the race against the obstacles also win?  What a change in perspective I have experienced over the years!  Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NASB) says:  “I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.”

Until the late 1990’s, I had never worn racing numbers on my shirt.  Entering a race wasn’t even in my frame of reference.   I was not gifted with athletic ability, in fact just the opposite.  However, I was blessed with determination, endurance, and a great deal of just plain stubbornness in vowing not be let my temporarily setbacks turn into failures.  I was inspired by Oprah Winfrey’s story about training and running her first Marathon, but this blog is not about me achieving a 26.2 (which I actually fantasized about after I read Oprah’s story.)  Rather what I write was inspired by what I learned about myself during the pursuit of fitness and the camaraderie of veteran athletes.

After nearly 10 months of working with a personal trainer who stressed the importance of diet, good choices and sound nutrition, my body slowly started to respond after years of neglect.  I learned from my trainer that a great work ethic of consistent, intense cardio and weight training had a critical impact on peak performance at any level of fitness.   As I began to look for fitness challenges outside of the gym environment, the posters began showing up for registration for Lexington’s annual July 4th Bluegrass 10,000  race.   While I knew I wasn’t physically in shape to actually run, I had made such wonderful friends at the gym who were running that I decided to enter the race as a walker.  My daughter (& gym buddy) and I entered, along with many of our gym friends.   I mentioned that I was considering the race only casually to my trainer, who probably never imagined I was serious.  Who on Earth does a 10K before they ever do a 5K?  My daughter and I!  We began asking for the advice of a seasoned Boston Marathon runner (our spinning class instructor) regarding what we should eat and drink the day and evening before the “race.”

 So here we were on the dawn of race morning with our brand new anti-blister socks (a rookie mistake).   As the crowds gathered in, the excitement escalated and the adrenaline kicked in, I couldn’t believe that I was actually going to do this!  The runners gathered in; the fastest and most competitive were at the front of the pack.   They pressed in all around me and I could feel my heart racing before the real race even started.   Here I was, an asthmatic carrying 80 extra pounds at the age of 48 and running on knees that were 23 degrees out of proper alignment (valgus deformity), but nonetheless determined that I was going to finish this race no matter what.

 The loud bang signaling the opening of the race exploded over the bustle of the crowd and the real runners—like thoroughbred horses out of the starting gate–charged out ahead of the pack.  Runners waved to crews of our local TV stations as they filmed the opening of the race from an overpass on Main Street.  As long as I live I will never forget what that felt like!  I can feel the emotion surge even as I write about that memory of my very first race.

In the beginning, I was hindered by the crowd, yet walking at a very brisk pace, weaving in and out to pass those moving slower, while the faster runners were weaving around me.   Runners pushing children in strollers were passing me up.  I remember feeling both annoyed and insulted.  As the initial wave of runners had gone, the crowds thinned and there was a little more room to breathe.   Spectators were lined up on either side of the streets cheering and clapping as we passed by.  I was caught up in the momentum of those who were actually running, which in turn caused me to move at a pace faster than this body was trained to move.  My heart was pounding, I became short of breath, almost gasping as I began to perspire profusely.  We hadn’t even made our first turn off Main Street!

 At that moment, my mind scrolled back to the memory of Field Day on the last day of school when I was in 4th grade.  It was the very first race I ever ran.  I was always the chubby kid who was chosen last when teams were being chosen.    On that day, kids were teaming up in pairs to do a sack race on the playground.  I was the next one up to run.  I had no desire to face the defeat I expected was sure to occur.

After much coaching by the Nuns at the Catholic School where I attended, I relented and stepped into that big burlap sack.  The bell sounded and the race started.  I was easily left behind until my worthy opponent, trying to jump faster than the sack would allow, stumbled and fell.  I caught up.  The crowds yelled louder.  The Nuns cheered and called out my name “Come on, Pam!  Keep going!”  I pushed harder.  My heart raced and pounded harder.  I could feel my face getting hotter and hotter.  My opponent passed me again….and oops!  Down he fell again!  This time I wasn’t very far from the finish line.   The crowd got even louder!  This time it was more than the Nuns yelling, it was also my classmates cheering “Come on, Pam!  You’re almost there!”   I was still jumping, but this time my heart was beating so fast, it felt like it was going to explode in my chest.  I was feeling faint and for the first time in my life, I actually listened to my body. I think I would probably have collapsed if I had continued at that pace trying to run ahead of my own physical ability.

 At that moment, I did something that had haunted me throughout my life.  I stopped.  I took myself out of the race.  I threw in the grade school version of the proverbial towel.  No one defeated me that day, I simply quit and allowed my opponent to win.   I listened to my own body with great remorse and feelings of guilt.  Still I learned some valuable lessons from that experience:  Don’t try to race ahead of your own ability and never, ever just quit.   This applies to all areas of life.   My opponent likewise taught me a lesson.  Keep getting back up when you get knocked off your feet in life.  Eventually you will reap a reward if you simply do not quit.

 After mentally returning to the present moment, I began to I listen to my body.   I continued to keep up my own steady pace and learned to control my breathing.  I was focused on not exceeding my own limitations so as not to trigger an asthma attack.  By the time I passed the first mile marker of the race, I was aware of blisters forming on my feet.  I could feel them enlarging with every passing step.   My pace slowed even more.  My daughter, who had been ahead of me all along the course began to slow and even began talking to me over her shoulder.   Sure enough, she also had developed blisters.  At some point in that 6.2 mile race, it became apparent to me that I just needed to overcome the memory of that sack race of long ago and F-I-N-I-S-H my own race at my own pace.

 I passed a wave of applauding spectators.  What wonderful encouragement!  I was grateful to those volunteers who stepped out along the race route and offered runners cups of water.  I was conflicted as those runners in front of me drank, then threw those cups on the asphalt as they ran on in total disregard of the mess they were leaving for someone else to clean up.  Litterers!  I thought as I approached the debris of all those carelessly tossed empty cups.  Then I too momentarily relinquished my opposition to littering and became one of them (at least for race day).  J

 The route looped around and I met those inbound runners on the opposite site of the route who were already on the return leg of the race course.  We cheered and applauded and encouraged each other as we passed.  You have to actually be part of something to experience that feeling.  You have to be a participator.  No spectator could ever know how it feels to be running a race together, even though each runner ultimately runs his/her own race.

 I continued to feel those blisters getting larger and larger as the miles passed.  I remembered the day I took myself out of that sack race, but I was not going to allow a few blisters to defeat me this time!  I was determined to cross that finish line if I had to crawl across.  By the 5th mile, my daughter and I had arrived at the same conclusion.  Our goals were to simply finish what we’d started and we were going to do it together.

 Our friends who were the experienced Marathon runners had, by this time long since crossed the finish line, rested briefly and stood there watching and waiting on us to come into view.   Something amazing happened that day that I never knew happened with runners.  Two of our Marathon-running “angels” ran out to meet us; one ran on either side as our “Wing Men.”  At that last exhausting home stretch to the finish line, they appeared.  They had literally run their race but then came to run alongside my daughter and I to encourage us as we struggled through the very half mile of our race.   In my exhaustion, I choked up with emotion but I didn’t have the breath to spare for conversation.

 FINALLY I could see the finish line in sight!  People were cheering louder and louder as the route bottlenecked down to a single lane and each runner’s number was recorded with their official finish time.  There were a multitude of high 5’s and sweaty hugs that followed.  I didn’t need a trophy.  I had overcome a childhood defeat in exchange for a victory that day.  My “trophies” were two large blood-filled blisters the size of half dollars on the balls of both feet and I showed them off with pride.  No Marathon runner at that race could ever remember seeing or having blisters that large.  There was some degree of satisfaction in that odd superlative as I observed their grimacing faces.  Lucky me!  I was both starter and  F-I-N-I-S-H-E-R that day.   What an Independence Day to remember!


Energy is key to peak performance at any age or level of fitness.  Striving and achieving one major fitness goal inspires us to reach still higher.  None of this can be achieved without proper nutrition.  REAL NUTRITION.   I remember my own recovery time after that first big race.  Remember there’s a good deal of tearing down after an athletic event.  Sometimes there are minor injuries with ensuing inflammation that limit mobility and the resumption of training. How would it help you meet your training goals if you could shorten your recovery time after an intense workout, decrease inflammation and have the energy to begin rebuilding toward your next fitness goals sooner?  Many well known athletes have learned they can achieve that competitive fitness edge through plant-based, 100% absorbable and bio-available nutrition. Getting the right nutrition on a consistent basis can be life changing.  It was for me.  To learn more, visit my website link below.

 Pam Baker, RN



 The same year at the Thoroughbred 5K on Thanksgiving Day.  I am #242; our friend Shelley is #473 and my daughter is #241.  We RAN all the way! 🙂

 Shawna, Pam, & Shelley after Thoroughbred Classic on Thanksgiving Day
If you enjoyed this story, you might also like to read:  
The Spirit That Never Quits

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