Alyssa Sander finishes her first 5K with friend, Amber Silva.

My heart was racing and my palms were sweaty as I walked up to the start line. Completely prepared, focused, and driven, I was ready to win: to be the fastest Geist 5K runner! I was going to win it all and set another PR. Except, that’s not really what happened at all. Quite the opposite really! Mostly because I kind of hate running and decided to just “wing it.”

When Tom Britt, whom I work for and who is the Executive Director of the Geist Half Marathon & 5K, would talk about the event, my first thought was, yeah, that will be cool to watch! And then a week before the race, I decided to just sign up. I’ve never run a race before and have really never run over three miles, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to pull it off, but I wanted to. So I started eating healthier, jogging around my neighborhood, and acting like I knew what I was doing: like I ran races all the time.

I also invited one of my closest friends, Amber, to run with me. I knew that if there was anyone out there who would yell at, I mean encourage, me it would be her. She was a tough go-getter who wouldn’t let walking be an option, and that’s exactly who I wanted by my side.

And so we were off. Not like a horse race: more like a turtle race. Slow and steady, which is hard because sprinting I can do; pacing I cannot do. I think having thousands of people around me also running at a steady pace definitely helped! There were kids running through my legs and couples who I swore were training for the Amazing Race, but there were also sweatband-clad older ladies who brought their A-game, which was great. I loved seeing all the families who were running together. You could tell they were at different levels in their running ability, which I found to be one of my favorite things about the 5K: anyone and everyone could do it!

The weather was perfect for a race: overcast and 66 degrees, which was cool but not cold, so I could still dress light. I was also sporting a backpack because I missed the gear check: I will never miss that again! Believe it or not, it really impacted my running; but I got over it.

Something else I got over were the hills. Amber and I charged a big one right before mile two, and I’ll admit I had to catch my breath afterwards. I had heard that the course was a bit challenging, but I didn’t fully realize how hard it was to climb the hills along with fighting the urge to just walk. At one point I even told Amber that I was never running again!

Whether it was high-fiving kids who were cheering us on, admiring the beautiful surroundings, or singing “Manifesto” by City Harmonic with Amber while running, there were so many moments when I forgot I was even running. The encouragement from those around me, who were all running for different reasons but a great cause, made me feel like I was a part of something. Thousands of people came together from the community and beyond, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Sure, I only ran for 33 minutes, a PR (considering I’ve never run before), but in that time I felt challenged, embraced, and inspired! And as Amber and I sprinted through the finish line, arms waving around like Rocky, I realized I had conquered more than just running a 5K.

My heart was racing and my palms were sweaty, but only because I failed to look at the road closures map I designed and had to take multiple detours to get to the race, which I almost missed. I wasn’t ready to win and wasn’t prepared at all, because well, it was my first race. I wore my hiking shoes if that tells you anything. But I will tell you this: I no longer hate running or will laugh at the idea of a marathon. I found it to be invigorating, and am already looking for other races I can run this year. And, I feel closer to this amazing community. I don’t regret my decision one bit. If there’s ever something you don’t think you can do, maybe just “wing it!” You’ll never know until you try.

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