Our Favorite Race: The Chocolate 5k Run

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When Todd and I first started running, I wanted to find a race that was timed and competitive but also fun, with good prizes. As fate would have it, my Google search led me to the Chocolate 5k Run. It offers a challenging course (with an off-road element), a spirit of community, and both a race shirt and breakfast (eggs, sausage, pancakes, chocolate fountains!) included in the price. This year, as the race marked its fifth anniversary, Todd and I received honorary jars of chocolate for being two of only fifteen people who have participated in the run every year since its inception!

Clockwise from top right: at the starting line;
standing among the five-year participants;
getting coffee in nearby Cornwall, NY.

The race organizers, members of the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in New Windsor, have no idea how important that jar of chocolate was to me this year: For the past six months, I’ve been dealing with a scary head pain that started a couple of weeks before Todd and I ran the New York City Marathon in November. Tests have, thankfully, come back negative for anything sinister, but I’ve still been really anxious for it to go away. Plus it’s completely affected my exercise regimen and my training, so I knew that I wasn’t going to run the 26-minute Chocolate 5k I did last year, placing in the top three runners of my age group to earn a jar of chocolate.

I’m proud to say that, on race day, I did the best I could, given the circumstances. I made sure to stretch and do the neck exercises my physical therapist has assigned to me, and despite the rain, I started the race in good spirits. I kept a slow pace for two miles, running first beside Mom, then Dad, who encouraged me with his antics (racing past me while singing, zooming ahead only to wait for me and wave me on at the top of a huge hill). I took the time to look around and be grateful, for the pretty trees and blooming leaves, the handmade signs of encouragement around the course, and the community members who stood outside in the rain to cheer us on. And I even finished the race with a spurt of speed, thanks to one very competitive runner who tried to beat me to the finish line in the final stretch.

I might not have placed this year, but my honorary jar of chocolate is an award enough, because it means I didn’t let pain or fear stop me from running my favorite race or living my life to the fullest.

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My Running Journey

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In 2012, my 5″1′ frame clocked in at about 130 pounds, and my doctor told me I needed to lose at least 10 of them. Before that, I hadn’t really thought much about my weight or about the foods (read: Taco Bell) I put into my body. I didn’t care about organic or sustainable or exercise. But I had noticed that it was harder to play ddr (that’s Dance Dance Revolution, for anyone who didn’t spend high school in arcades dancing in sync with colorful arrows scrolling on the TV screen), and I figured that my doctor might be on to something. So, challenge accepted.

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At right, in 2010, about a year and a half before my doctor suggested I lose weight. At left, me now: not my lightest weight, but at my healthiest.

I started with food: I downloaded the MyFitnessPal calorie-counting app and painstakingly plugged in my meals. It got easier over time and pretty much became a habit; I still do it, mostly to check myself when I want to eat too many chocolate-covered mangoes or coffee-nut M&Ms. Bit by bit, I gave things up: soda, fast food, mindless snacking. I still eat burgers and ice cream and candy, only I do so now in moderation instead of all the time. That philosophy became, and still is, my mantra: Everything is fine, in moderation.

Then I added in some exercise. At first I only did the warm-up to Shuan T’s Insanity workout videos, because I couldn’t complete any more than that. By 2014, I felt ready to attempt my first race, mostly because you could score a cuddly stuffed elephant if you raised a certain amount of money. Todd and I finished in 34 minutes. Afterward I wrote: “I wouldn’t call myself a ‘runner’ by any stretch of the word. I don’t pace faster than eleven and a half minutes per mile. I don’t jog more than file miles per week, most weeks.” So I started doing practice jogs; I added weight training to my routine. I struggled my way to push ups and chin ups (well, I’m still working on that; I can only do one) and burpees.

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A family photo at the hotel gym the night before the third annual Chocolate 5k Race in April.

Now I can do speed runs and intervals and long runs and half marathons. Sometimes I run alone, or with Todd, and sometimes we do races as a family. I weigh 110 pounds, give or take a few depending on the day, and I can see muscles (baby ones) in places I didn’t have any before. My best 5k pace is now about 26 minutes, and Todd’s is even faster. We’ve come a long way.

But I still want to keep improving. This past weekend, Todd and I ran a 10k in Queens, our first in Flushing-Meadows Park. It was drizzly, and the course was muddy, but we completed the 6.2 miles in 58 and a half minutes. We crossed the finish line holding hands. For me it was a win, even though I placed 1,878 out of 5,101 women and 5,963 out of 10,884 total racers, even though the fastest female finished the course in 34 minutes, a full 24 minutes ahead of me. I can’t even wrap my mind around that kind of strength and speed, but I’m going to keep reaching for it.

And I won’t stop trying to reach new milestones—like next year, when Todd and I attempt the NYC Marathon. I’m scared, but determined. After all, I am a runner.

Jogging and Exploring at Walt Disney World’s Art of Animation Resort

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Todd and I have been having a great couple of days at Disney World so far, even though we haven’t actually gone to any of the theme parks yet. On our first day, we had a really fresh dinner at Artist’s Point, and yesterday we spent some time strolling along the boardwalk, renting surrey bikes, and playing miniature golf. We also ate a couple of snacks, including a delicious (but slightly overwhelming in the Florida heat) peanut butter, bacon, and banana brownie bar.

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