The Daily Sweat: The Derby Debacle….From Mud to Glory (sort of)

My sister suggested yesterday we write about our very first race experiences as when she is not casted up, she is a runner like me (although a lot faster than me). 

The story of my very first race is quite comical.  It was 2007, and my friend and I had been training all summer.  I had never been a runner – childhood asthma, blah, blah, blah, but I was determined to try it as an adult (see prior post on Freeing Sisyphus – my need to conquer tasks).  My friend convinced me to sign up for this race called The Derby Days 5K Turf Run (  The race is held on a horse track in MN called Canterbury Park.  “Race like a thoroughbred!” it said.  I run like a baby elephant, but I thought after all that training I could make it around a racetrack a few times…..Never really been to a racetrack before but I imagined it was track-like (i.e. packed down, smooth, etc.).

Ummmm, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.  On race day it was drizzling, but I wasn’t going to let that get me down.   My goal for this race was to finish the 5K and to hopefully not be the very last person to finish.  It would be the first time I had run a full 3.2 miles. We all corralled into the starting horse gates and then took off onto the 6 inch high grassy turf.  Have you ever run through 6 inch wet grass?  That wasn’t even the best part, you ran around the track once and then did most of the race on a cross-country track.  I had been running on a paved trail through all my training.  Apparently people come from all over to run this course.  I thought I was signing up for some silly 5K. 

By the first five minutes I was dying, but determined (see Masochistic madness post).  My friend was much faster than me and left me right away.  At the time, my best pace was a horse hair or two under 12 minutes, but you can imagine the scene – raining, running through mud, panting like a wild dog.  I was literally at the very back of all the runners.  I think there were maybe 12 walkers behind me.  The guy officiating the race got on the loudspeaker and told us stragglers to hurry up (I’m not kidding – he actually yelled at us to hurry up – nothing like that has ever happened to me since).  If I had been a horse, they would have taken me straight from the track to the glue factory.  Nonetheless, as much as I wanted to walk, I didn’t – even though I had been chosen by a run/walker as their “flag” (you know, they run ahead of  you, start walking and when you catch up to them, they start running again). But, I plodded along in the tall grass despite the humiliation I was feeling.  By the time I made it to the horsetrack that thing was full on mud.  By sheer will and stubbornness I made it to the finish line with the run/walker finishing ahead of me of course.

My average time was a thrilling 12:13, but I was drenched and proud.  I had finished and I hadn’t been last.  And, even though some guy called me a straggler on a megaphone in front of a crowd of hundreds I had refused to give up.  Fast forward four years and I have finished a half marathon, and my new average time for longer distances is slowly but surely getting to 10:30 (as I’ve said before I’m not fast, but I’m determined).  I was never able to wear those running shoes again as they were completely destroyed by the mud and grass, but I wear my ridiculous T-shirt (featured above) all the time when working out. 

My story is truly a story for new runners….I never thought I would be able to run, but I can and I love it.  Yes, there are some humbling experiences along the way, but in the end it is your journey and no one else’s.  I’ve gotten used to being passed because in the end there is nothing more satisfying for me than making a running goal and attaining it.  And, those endorphins are addictive and literally keep me from wallowing in the self-pity mud when I’m feeling down.

Tell us about your very first race….Any good stories of humiliation, triumph or surprises on race day?  What keeps you running?  One other crucial lesson I learned from this experience was to always check out the course online -thoroughly – before race day :).

I’m off for my morning run, but as always, feel free to email this baby elephant at

    • Melody
    • July 20th, 2011

    Wow – Thanks Caitlin. Karin and I will definitely oblige!

  1. First of all, thanks for posting this review of Derby Days 5K – I live in Minnesota and have considered doing this 5K before. I’m not a huge fan of off-road running, so… tragedy avoided. Shirt is cool, but I really don’t like getting dirty and wrecking shoes, it’s just not in my nature.

    Second, I know how you feel about coming in toward the back of the pack. I haven’t written much about it, but I have a blog post waiting to be written about the time that I came in last in a marathon (my first marathon). I came around a corner and my boyfriend was yelling at me to “Hurry Up!” because I was in danger of not finishing within official time. Last.Official.Finisher. It was humbling, but I also know that there were people behind me that DNFd the race. Since then I have opted for larger races, because a field of 300 will definitely have me feeling lonely in the back.

    I’m glad I stumbled along your blog!

  2. Thanks Ashley…Karin and I are so glad you found us as well. Yes….that was one interesting experience. Good for you on doing a marathon. I haven’t attempted a marathon yet, just a half. I agree that larger races are better for the self confidence. In my half, I was running next to a guy in his 90s, and we were neck and neck for awhile. I hit over-ride on that negative feedback loop and just kept thinking I hope I’m trucking along when I’m 90. Thanks again and can’t wait to read your “first marathon” blog! – Melody

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