I’m thrilled to have met my goal, and I highly recommend a self-challenge of any sort to mark a milestone birthday.
Once I signed up for a race and paid the fee, I knew I would follow through. I used runningintheusa.com to find local 5K events on weekends and to sign up online for them. Races cost about $40 each, which includes a race bib and timing device, a T-shirt and sometimes a banana or bagel at the finish.
I’m not much of a runner, and I run slowly — some might call it a jog. This didn’t stop me. I started with a race in Baltimore, Md. where I didn’t check the terrain in advance, so the hills were an unexpected challenge. The live Dixieland jazz band at the peak of one hill made the climb easier, though.
After my first few runs, I realized that I could turn my self-centered challenge outward by raising money for a teen journalism program doing great work in Atlanta, Ga. I started posting my upcoming races on Facebook and Twitter and asking friends to support me by donating to VOX Teen Communications. VOX, in turn, shared my challenge with its Facebook followers, who may be inspired to try something similar.
As of last week, I helped raise more than $1,500 in donations and pledges for VOX. This was in addition to the charities we supported through the race fees.
I owe my husband (an accomplished athlete who completed a half-Iron Man this summer) hugely for trotting slowly alongside me during all those races as people yelled “You can do it!” to him. Yes, he can do it. He could have finished 20 minutes sooner with the guys in the fancy shoes if he’d wanted to.
The quest did have its share of humiliation. I was left in the dust by people dressed as turkeys, bananas and Woodrow Wilson (who knew he was a runner?). Women pushing double strollers trucked past me up steep hills. I only reliably passed the start-to-finish walkers and small children who had run out of steam after an impressive start.
I created a Twitter hashtag for my races #50Kfor50Y to let people know what I was doing; I really hope that others will use it for a challenge of their own. I also posted updates on Facebook and sent emails to family and friends who aren't on social media. It was a great way to feel supported by those who "liked" my posts and to ask for their support in a general, low-pressure way.
(MORE: Why 60 Is Not the New 50)
So what should I do to mark 51? Maybe a biking challenge with three, 17-mile bike rides or a 51-mile walk over several days. Maybe I'll go to 51 weekly Zumba classes. Whatever I decide, I know that it will be the start of something and not the end. And that's the best way to greet a birthday.