An update from Jordan, a junior communication studies major:

Read more from Communication Studies students at SMU-in-Taos.

I am not a runner.  I do not do cardio. Period.  I have never participated in a race, and the farthest I have ever run, for “fun,” is a mere 1.5 miles.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a lazy bum, either.  I rock climb and enjoy somewhat leisurely activities like walking, hiking and biking.  I generally stay active, but I am not well acquainted with aerobic exercise, and I certainly do not run.

So, when I find out that my wellness class will run in the PPC Solar 5k Sun Run, I have mixed feelings. The prospect of running double my longest previous running distance, 3.1 miles (a figure I had to look up), at 6,952 feet (another figure I had to look up), is quite a daunting challenge. The adventurous side of me is all like, “Sweet, something new!  I’ve always wanted to try a race; this is gonna be awesome!”  While the side of me that is more fully aware of the fact that I am not a runner is thinking more along the lines of, “Uh oh…  I am going to die!”  Despite my reservations, I approach race day with eager anticipation and minimal anxiety.

So, I wake up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, 2011 – D-Day is here.  I put on my carefully selected “race attire,” scarf half a bagel and hop in the car with my friend Alex.

Now, unlike me, Alex is a runner.  He ran cross-country in high school and routinely runs distances I would never attempt.  In fact, my one 1.5 mile run (well, jog…) only occurred because he convinced me to go running with him.  All this to explain that he actually has a chance of running competitively in this race.  Whereas my only goals are to finish and hopefully not embarrass myself along the way …

After getting a little lost and freaking out a bit about the time, we finally arrive at KTAO, the race start and finish, at 8:20 a.m.  With 10 minutes to spare before day-of registration ends, Alex hurries off to get registered while I’m thinking, “First hurdle of the day… cleared – Score!”

As Alex waits in the registration line, I pin on my race number, good ‘ol 138, and wander off to find the other SMU students.  The group is excitable, and probably a bit nervous, as we wait for 9 o’clock to roll around.  As 9 a.m. draws closer, the race officials have us gather at the starting line.

I find myself surrounded by people of every kind.  Parents push strollers into position, dogs bark, youngsters goof around, and experienced-looking runners calmly stretch out and sip on specially designed water bottles.  Newbie runners like me stand around awkwardly re-adjusting our race numbers and try not to be intimidated by the über-muscular men wearing 2-inch-long shorts and shiny new Nikes.

Before we start, the race officials read out the runners’ hometowns.  Most are from New Mexico, but some travelled from as far away as California.  The SMU crowd gets excited when Dallas is called out (yes, I whooped).  In the ensuing silence, people begin putting in headphones and doing last-minute stretches.  Realizing that it is almost race time, my nerves finally kick in.  But before I have time to think much more than, “Why am I up front with all the fast people?!” the countdown has started. The announcer calls out, “THREE…” the whole crowd sinks a few inches as everyone assumes an athletic position, knees bending.  “TWO…” we all tense up, fists clench.  “ONE!!!” the whole pack bursts off the starting line like a small explosion – and we’re off!

Trying to keep up, I’m somehow surprised to find myself running down the road, as if I hadn’t previously comprehended that a 5k Sun Run would involve actual running.  I rush down the road, trailing the serious runners I’d been nervously eyeing earlier and feel the adrenaline rush of being surrounded by 130 pairs of feet pounding down the pavement.

I quickly notice a burning in my lungs, which I promptly ignore, telling myself, “Just keep up with that girl in front of you!”  About a quarter of the way into the race, the burning is getting worse and worse, growing to a veritable fire in my airways.

I reluctantly let my focus transition from maintaining my place in the race to acquiring oxygen.

Disappointed by my lack of athleticism, I gradually slow to a trot … and when the screaming in my lungs fails to let up, I downshift to a walk.  I have a stitch developing in my side now and am still feeling like I might die.  So, I’m not too bothered as 10, then 20, and finally 30 runners pass by me.

I am impressed, if not a bit discouraged, to see the race leader on the other side of the road heading back toward the finish line — over halfway finished and he’s still going strong.  I see several other serious competitors heading toward the finish, including Alex.  As a lady pushing a stroller passes me, I begin to pick up my pace a bit (we’re talking about an increase from walking to speed-walking).  I don’t really mind watching so many people pass me, because I realize I am not racing any of these people.  This is a race against myself — a chance to challenge my limits.

Finally, I reach the halfway point.  Water-bearing volunteers hand each of us cups as we pass by.  I gulp down the water and toss my cup into the pile of discarded cups on the side of the road.  As I pass the midpoint and head back toward the finish line, Cindy, another SMU student, catches up with me.  She too is struggling to overcome the thin air, so we walk together and help each other keep a decent pace.

About half a mile from the finish, I feel my lungs revive a bit.  So, knowing that I can do better, I start jogging.

I see a runner a little ways in front of me and decided to try to pass her, telling myself, “C’mon, just a little farther — you can do this!”  Once I passed her though, the next runner didn’t look too far off, so I push myself a bit more and pass him as well.  I keep pushing myself, “Just a little bit farther!” and I keep passing other runners.

I pass them, not because I want to do better than each of the runners I pass, but because I know I am not yet doing my best.  I know I can run a little bit faster — a little bit farther. So, I keep pushing myself a bit more.

I continue to pass the runners that I can, ignoring the pain in my chest, until finally I am in the home stretch.  So glad to nearly be done, I smile as the announcer calls out my number, “Here comes 138!”  Finally, I cross the finish line!

After 35 grueling minutes, I am done!  I make a beeline for the water cooler, grab a drink and stumble over to where the faster SMU students who already finished are lounging around.  I breathe a shaky sigh of relief and high-five my friends.  Collapsing, spread-eagle in the middle of the rock-covered parking lot, I close my eyes, smile up at the sun and think, “I did it … my first 5k.”