This sounds oh-so-metaphorical, like I'm going to inspire you with a tale of how I've found the right path in life, but it's not. It's actually literally about running backwards. Not a superfluous use of the word "literally" right there, by the way.
With all of the running talk of recent weeks, I had forgotten one of my most memorable 5ks. It was, in fact, the only 5k that I ran an entire 3.1 miles. The ironic part was I just didn't run the particular 3.1 miles that the race dictated.
Back in the spring of 2007, I was living in Dallas, dating a boy, and about to graduate law school. I was also in what was close to the best shape of my life and physically able to run almost 3.1 miles. I don't know what kept me going, but every couple of days I would go run on the Katy Trail, a paved trail through urban Dallas that followed the old rail line. At the time, there were only 3.5ish miles of the trail that had been completed, so generally I'd run 1.5, turn around and run the same distance home. If you see where I'm going with this, the Katy Trail is not a loop, it is a straight ass line that has a beginning and an end.
When I saw that there was going to be a Katy Trail 5k, I was excited because I knew I could do that mileage and that specific track, so I signed up. I was by no means a race expert, having run probably one 5k before this one, and I didn't pay as close attention as I should have to the instructions. I just looked up where the start was and got ready.
Since my boyfriend was going to be at work during the race and couldn't pick me up, I asked him to do me a favor. I would go park my car at the end of the Katy Trail, he'd follow me, then drop me off at the starting line. I'd have my key in my hand so I could get into my car where all my stuff was and be able to drive myself home. It was a grand plan.
On race day, we did just as planned. I left my phone (since this was pre-music phones, I probably had a Moto Razr or something) and my house keys in my glove box, taking only my car key. My boyfriend dropped me off at the start, I put on my race number and timing chip, and we took off.
The first thing that sparked some alarm was that while the race was next to the Katy Trail, it was not actually ON it. I guessed this was because of the number of runners, and they needed a street-width path to contain everyone. So I start running through the streets of Uptown with my fellow runners, and everything seemed A-ok. Then, about a mile in, we turned right. Um...we're going to turn back north, right? I mean the trail is north/south, so this east/west thing we've got going on is temporary, right?
I was semi right. As we ran east, we went under a bridge that was the actual Katy trail, and just as I noticed that up ahead we did in fact turn back north, I saw some people running on the bridge above me, going the opposite way. Wearing numbers. I was still a few bricks short of actually understanding my situation, but I'd run right into that wall in about a half mile.
It was as we ran north on a parallel street that I became completely aware of what was going on - at some point in the near future, the race path turned around and we ran back to the START on the actual Katy Trail. I tried to deny it until I saw way too many people running the opposite way on the trail a few hundred yards away. When I reached this point in the story, a friend of mine stopped me - "Don't you know that races ALWAYS go in a circle? I mean there'd be huge logistical problems otherwise." No, no I was not aware that races always went in circles. The first race I ran started and ended in different places, although we did make a near circle and finish close to the start. This NEVER OCCURRED TO ME.
I realized I had about two minutes before I had to make a huge decision - do I run the race on the prescribed track, ending up 3.1 miles away from my car with nothing but a car key, or do I just keep running straight until I get to my car? I had no way of getting ahold of anyone, no money for a cab, no house keys to walk home - I decided that in this state of emergency, I would just run to my car. It was a 6pm race, and I didn't need to be walking 3 miles in the dark alone, especially after running an entire 5k. I wasn't up for running a 10k.
So as I saw the turnaround approaching, I made the executive decision - nonchalantly take off my race number, continue going straight through the barricade, and pretend I was just "out running" and in no way a part of a race as I continued to run to my car. A Dallas police officer was standing at the barricade making sure no cars came through, and with my number now folded in my hand, I ignored all the other runners and ran straight past the cop onto the sidewalk of a busy street.
"Ma'am! You're going the wrong way! Ma'am!!" the cop screamed after me. I pretended like I didn't hear him and continued through the neighborhood as though I were just out for a leisurely evening run and not involved in whatever running activity may have been going on south of me. Of course I was completely alone this time, because all the people who DO take leisurely runs were running the race. So I stuck out a little bit. At least I'd had the sense to take off my race number.
When I finally reached my car, having run the whole way with only short stops for stoplights, I felt semi-accomplished. I did, in fact, run a 5k that evening, it just wasn't the 5k that the planners of the race specifically outlined. I got in the car and drove home, glad I decided to take this choice versus walking for probably another 45 minutes to get back to my car.
I timed myself at a rough 33 minutes, but I'll never know my actual time. I bet the race organizers are somewhat confused as to why it's taking someone over 7 years to complete a 5k. According to official records, I will be forever running the Katy Trail 5k.