But I have to have my tunes, and you can't stop the beat inside my head. So my run Saturday at Millennium Park was set to the music of my mental playlist. And yes, I am more than a little bit crazy.
Mental Playlist: "Superman Theme" - John Williams
Driving to the park, I'm feeling pretty confident. I had a quick breakfast of a Pop-Tart - the breakfast of champions, I know - because I wanted to be light on my feet. Window rolled down and a bottle of water by my side, I pull into the park feeling excited but not without considerable anxiety.
"Once in a Lifetime" - The Talking Heads
Hundreds of shining running shoes. That's what I see before the race, with their Adidas or Nike logos glaring into my eyes. Everyone has solid-looking running shoes on. Even Advocate photographer and Wii Fit enthusiast Clay Jackson is rocking brand new Asics.
I, however, am strapped into my 2-year-old Nike Shox, shoes looking two or three steps away from a trip to the big shoe closet in the sky.
Plus, my shorts are kind of baggy.
As we runners - it's so weird to be included in a group called "runners" - go to the starting line, I'm starting to think I'm standing out in the crowd in the worst possible way.
Things worsen when one of the officials explains the course. I know just about every inch of Millennium Park, but despite his best efforts, the directions hit me like Chinese or German - or some secret running lexicon I'm not savvy to. I shrug and decide to just follow the crowd, because I'll inevitably be trailing most of these nice folks.
"Speed" - Montgomery Gentry
And we're off. "Give me speed/that's what I need," is the mantra banging through my empty cranium. But here's a shocker: I'm doing pretty well. While I'm by no means at the front of the pack, I do pass a couple of people when going at 75 percent of full speed.
Being more than slightly anal retentive, thoughts race through my head. Am I doing something wrong? What's the deal? Eventually the thoughts subside, and I move forward full-speed ahead.
"Slippin'" - DMX
Every hill and turn in the park proceeds to take an appropriate toll on me. It seems like I'm getting a little slower in my steps, and my stomach is griping at me for not eating more before the race.
My ever-racing brain chides itself for signing up for the 5K to begin with. But then I calm down, sure that the race is near it's completion. So naturally, when I see sign marking the 1-mile point, I think I'm the victim of a terribly unfunny practical joke.
After mentally cursing the friendly, waving man next to the marker, things begin to get a little ugly, and not in a sportsmanship type of way. I'm talking about me, personally.
I don't know of running mechanics, as I've never been taught how to "properly" run. I go with my instincts, and right now, my body is telling me to run like a flailing lunatic escaping from an institution.
My fellow racers are too kind to point out my breathing sounds a little bit like heavy sobbing with a dash of a panic attack.
"Gonna Fly Now (The theme from 'Rocky')" - Bill Conti
One last curve stands between me and the finish line. People are already crossing it, and I really have no idea how I'm doing in the grand scheme of the race. Being near the end of my first 5K kind of makes my heart soar a bit. I feel a swell of pride.
And then something really cool happens.
Do you remember the old "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" cartoon? How about when the Grinch's heart multiplies in size?
That's kind of how I feel when I round the last corner. Well-wishers and friends who knew I was running the race yell and cheer for me, and just like that, a 5 1/2-year athletic void in my soul is filled.
"Celebrate Good Times" - Kool and the Gang
After I walk over to the pavilion and wait for the results, I chat up two other would-be new runners. Or so I thought.
"Is this your first race, too?" I ask Evan McMann and Jacob Rankin, both 10 years old. They inform me this is possibly their fifth. They're not sure, and again, I'm a goof.