On going the (5k) distance

On going the (5k) distance

In 2007, New Line Cinema released Mr. Woodcock, a film featuring Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite fame returning home only to find his mother (Susan Sarandon) now dating his nightmarish high school gym teacher appropriately named, you guessed it, Mr. Woodcock (played by Billy Bob Thornton).

I don’t remember much about this movie, admittedly, except the deep resonance it set in me at age 14 when I was taking my own high school gym class with a dead ringer or Thornton’s portrayal. My teacher favored the athletes in the class, openly mocked my inability to run a 5k (of which we were graded on our time completion), and consequently instilled a deep hatred in me of all physical exertion. Particularly running.

My classmates and I stood lined up against the painted cinder-block wall mere minutes after I turned in my bib and completed 5k time. My gym teacher evaluated us as we stretched before yelling, “Friel! Did you walk this?” waving the bib up and around his head. I flushed pink.

The teacher’s distrust in my athletic ability filtered down into the student population. I frequently overheard my peers say dishearteningly that they finished behind me that day in the exercises, as if that was a measure of a poor workout. People stared at me when I made excuses the first few times to get out of the class, but soon it just seemed to be a relief for everyone involved.

I had not run one step from spring of 2009 until January 2019 — almost a full decade later.


Flash forward to last Saturday morning when I stood under a canopy to shelter from the light rain with an iced coffee in hand, mentally preparing myself for something I hadn’t even achieved when I was graded on it: running a 5k race. I had no dreams of winning; the goal was to finish without vomiting.

I stopped to walk four times, each for approximately thirty seconds or less, just enough to catch my breath and gear up for the next leg of the journey. I had my headphones on the highest volume — literally I could hear nothing else than the playlist above.

I ended up finishing with a final time of 35:12, which was shorter than I had anticipated by nearly 5 minutes. My split paces were 11:04, 1:54, 11:26, and 9:18, proving that I really wanted that finish line.

I’m incredibly proud of my perseverance. I pushed myself to something I begrudgingly did in 2009, this time with full self-motivation. And the reward, for that reason alone, was so much greater.

I will absolutely be doing another race. I’ll train to beat my 35:12 time. I don’t need to win first or even twentieth, but I want to prove to myself that against all disbelief that has been given to me for years and years, I am entirely capable of anything I put my mind to. Even if that “anything” is running.

  1. “If I Can’t Have You,” Sara Bareilles
  2. “Bones,” Galantis feat. OneRepublic
  3. “Waiting,” Only Yours
  4. “Please,” Samantha Harvey feat. Matt Terry
  5. “Joan of Arc,” Little Mix
  6. “Solo,” Clean Bandit feat. Demi Lovato
  7. “Someone To You,” BANNERS
  8. “My Love Goes On,” James Morrison feat. Joss Stone
  9. “Pink Lemonade,” James Bay
  10. “New,” Ben Platt
  11. “If I Go,” Ella Eyre
  12. “Make It Happen,” John Splithoff