When I was in high school, I had to run two miles for basketball tryouts. I want to say that we were supposed to do it in under 20 minutes, and let me tell you, it was not easy for me. I was not a runner — I was scrappy, and I was strong, and I was tough and a little mean, but I was not much for running. I worked at it and made it, although I sometimes wonder if the coach would’ve actually cut me my senior year if I hadn’t.

The first race I ever ran (7 years ago or so, I think), was a half marathon. I trained hard, but not properly, really — I mean, I just kind of went running and kept adding miles on, you know? I finished with just over an 11-minute pace and was proud … and determined to never do any sort of long distance again.

Since then, I’ve done lots of short distances — 5ks, 4-milers, and sprint tris (which include a 5k). But the triathlon in May has a 10k run, so I’ve been building my mileage. And, when I got the notice for a 10k right down the road from me, I signed up in a flash with a goal to finish in under 60 minutes, which would put me at just under a 10 minute mile pace.

What I didn’t realize until a couple of nights before was that just over half the race was through the woods. On sort of a trail. You know, in the woods. And hell, I hadn’t even been running on uneven sidewalks or streets with potholes, so, I was nervous to say the least.

The first mile and change felt amazing. It was a beautiful day, my legs were fresh, and I had to really work to keep myself from starting out too fast, and even so, I caught myself running at a 8:45 and 9:00 pace. That adrenaline will really get you, you know? Once I got in the woods, though, it was a different story. Although they did a great job of clearing debris, it was still tough.

There were basically three types of terrain — soft, sandy ground, like running on the beach; layers of slippery leaves, leaving me with no traction; and gopher holes, both seen and unseen. And since this wasn’t my big race — I really saw it as a training run — I decided to really slow it down and be cautious to avoid injury. Don’t get me wrong, I was still pushing myself, just keeping it where I felt comfortable. And I still almost fell about five times.

By the time I got out of the woods, I was feeling pretty beat but have never been happier to see a level stretch of asphalt. I gave it all I had, and finished in 1:01:30 — just 90 seconds over my real goal. And you know what? I’m totally okay with that. It’s a huge improvement over what I could’ve done a few months ago, and my confidence was lifted enormously. I mean, if I was able to come that close to my goal with over three miles of trail running thrown in there, I honestly think that I could knock that goal out on a regular 10k. And the next 5k is going to be great — it’s a PR or nothing, baby.

I still really don’t know if I’ll be able to hold that kind of pace in the tri, because, well, my legs certainly won’t feel so fresh coming off a 40k bike ride. But I’m glad I did it, am really glad I didn’t get hurt, and am excited for my next race (a sprint tri in Jacksonville next month, unless I sign up for a 5k in the meantime).