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Overdressed, underslept and panicked: My worst 5K race

Web editor Amberly McAteer crosses the 5K finish line at the Achilles Canada race, March 13, 2011. There's a grimace under that smile.

noah vardon The Globe and Mail

After five weeks of 10-kilometre training, I was ready - excited, even - for a 5K race.

With little preparation, I'd completed two 5K races in the past - even if I was completely drained, barely vertical and slightly nauseated.

The first was arguably the worst 41 minutes of my life: a friendly pink-laden event to benefit breast cancer research in downtown Toronto. I was eager to impress my then boyfriend, a regular runner, and I'd done the treadmill thing before, so how hard could this be?

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How do you recover from a bad run? Share your stories and your advice here

After about six minutes, I was quickly approaching cardiac arrest and needed to walk. He was less than pleased. Rolling his eyes, he left me to heave while he scampered to catch up with his friends. Inevitably, my relationship with running has outlasted that one, and has proven much more rewarding.

So this time, decidedly running solo and having trained legitimately for weeks, I had high hopes.

One reader's advice - if you hit the pavement five times a week, you won't have to reinvent the fitness wheel each time you run - has been immeasurably helpful.

I'm finding my pace, enjoying the outdoors, and actually having a good time on my longer 45-minute jaunts.

The 5K didn't seem so daunting, and I thought it might even be fun.

It was "spring forward" day, so before I went to bed, I set both clocks - on my iPhone and iPad - one hour ahead, and set my alarm for 8 a.m., more than two hours before the race.

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Anxious about my finishing time, and filled with a carbo-licious dinner, I was awake for most of the night.

When I awoke at 9:07 a.m. - my alarm having mysteriously failed to sound, and the race starting in just over an hour - I panicked. I sprinted into my kitchen for a quick banana, and glanced at the microwave (which hadn't been set). It read 7:07 a.m. My "smart" devices had sprung forward all on their own, in addition to my manual change.

I'd be early, but jumpy, fatigued and thrown off my game, I darted out the door.

I stepped outside into a damp, dreary morning, windy and 1 C, and instantly ran back upstairs for more clothes. I searched my running superstar roommate's closet and piled on the layers: long johns, yoga pants, a T-shirt, a sweat-wicking long sleeve, a windbreaker jacket and mittens.

With 40 minutes to kill at the starting line, I was chilled to the bone. Unfazed by the other runners in much less clothing, I was proud of my wardrobe when the race started. But 10 minutes and 2K later, I was burning up.

I wanted to tear off my jacket and at least two other layers. But I couldn't - my race bib was attached with four safety pins, going through all layers of my roommate's clothes, on either side of the jacket's zipper. I was trapped, and poached.

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As we ran past The Globe and Mail building, I had a mental picture of the headline that might accompany this column: Reluctant runner bails again, Web editor fired.

I stopped, unfastened the bib and tore everything off at the 4.5-kilometre point and sprinted for the finish line. Carrying a giant lump of clothes in one hand, my bib in the other, I crossed the finish line at 36 minutes, 48 seconds. Close to dead last in my category.

I didn't feel good about it. I had beaten my personal best- but the unpleasant experience put me in a funk. The 10K seems scarier than ever.

Share your tips for getting over a bad run here, follow my training progress here, and pick your training program here.

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About the Author
Editor in the Opinion section

Amberly McAteer is an editor in the Opinion section at The Globe and Mail. She has been a homepage editor, online editor and community editor in Features - including Life, Travel, Style, Arts and Books. She's written columns about her quest to run a 10K and find the perfect dog. More

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