The Adventures of a First-Time 5K Runner (She Did It for the Kids)

“Sometimes it isn’t about doing it well, it is simply about doing it.” — Jennifer Kellner-Muscar

Two years ago, at the age of 39, I ran my first 5K. I came in dead last.

Here’s how it happened.

Jennifer Kellner-Muscar

As you may have seen on various television news stories, or at bright and screechy lemonade stands throughout Wheeling, or as you sit in traffic on 88 to see the lights at Oglebay, Woodsdale Elementary School has been raising funds and building a playground for the last few years.

I am a member of the fundraising committee. In the first year of our fundraising efforts, we decided that one of our main fundraisers would be a 5K open to both children and adults. This was a way to promote wellness and get the greater Wheeling community involved. Once the playground was built, this annual 5K could be used to raise funds to maintain the playground.

I was hesitant. On my fundraising committee are several college athletes, an All-American basketball player, a member of the West Virginia Athletic Hall of Fame. Me? I’m an overweight, out-of-shape, theater person who loves her book club more than life. I sat sweating in the meeting as they said, “anyone can do 3.1 miles!” — and I thought, “just keep your mouth shut and do it for the kids,” right?

My daughter, a first-grader at the time, decided she wanted to run the race. I signed us both up, got some advice from friends who are actual runners on how best to run with a child, and my daughter and I did some very basic “training” runs. We were set.

The day of the race arrived, and it was cold and rainy. I didn’t know how to dress myself or my daughter. We layered up and headed out to pick up our race packets. I sheepishly pick up my XL T-shirt and felt like a fraud. I am anxious — what if she couldn’t make it through the course? What if I couldn’t?

(Photos courtesy of Thompson Video Productions)

The race departs and ends from Woodsdale Elementary School. The playground is abuzz with kids, teachers, parents and community members, the atmosphere electric. I look around and see families with strollers, kindergarteners holding their teacher’s hand and at least a few septuagenarians. My nerves suddenly turn to excitement when the starting gun goes off. We begin jogging the race with a buddy of my daughter’s and her mom. We keep it slow and steady. A truly lovely man, who I found out later was a former coach and the husband of the school secretary, keeps pace with us, though it’s clear he’s a lifelong athlete and could totally leave us in the dust. He gives the girls various running tips and encouragement — he checks their heart rates and tells us when to walk. It’s beautiful, he puts me at ease, and I think this race is going to going to be a breeze.

And then my daughter slows to a stiff walk and utters the words every parent hates to hear: “Mama, I really have to go to the bathroom.” I feel the panic in her eyes reflected in my own. I quickly run through a mental checklist of the people I know well in Woodsdale, who I might feel comfortable asking to use their bathroom. I realize we are past any houses of the families I know on Maple or Edgewood. We are getting close to Edgington Lane. I wrack my brain for any businesses in that neighborhood that might be open so early on a Saturday morning. Finding none, I decide to bang on the door to the Alpha. Charlie answers the door. I hurriedly explain the situation. He graciously allows us in. I hang out watching the servers roll silverware and prepare for the day. I contemplate if it would be taking it too far to beg them to make me a Bloody Mary.

After what feels like at least 10 minutes, my daughter emerges, and we exit the building.

Jennifer with “Tiny Usain Bolt” (Levi Dunkin) running for the finish line.

“Are we still in the race, mama?” I look out to the road and see my own mother, who had signed up as a walker, two blocks ahead. “Of course we are, baby. Let’s go.” As we trot along, I feel relief. We are more than halfway through the course and on our way back to the school now. Smooth sailing, right?

Subscribe to Weelunk

And then we round a corner to see my friend Nikki holding the hands of five or six kindergarteners and attempting to drag them along while shouting at HER 3-year-old daughter to stop running ahead. We catch up with her, and she tells us that the kindergarten teacher, who had been walking with her and the group of kids, had dropped her cell phone somewhere along the course and had to double back. Nikki is now struggling to walk with the kindergarten class because her super spunky sprite of a daughter has other intentions. She wants to RUN. I tell Nikki we can go ahead with her little girl so she can focus on her kindergarten charges. Nikki looks both concerned and grateful, and my daughter and I take off after our 3-year-old rabbit.

Tiny Usain Bolt, as we will refer to her for the remainder of this article, is running at a dead sprint. My daughter and I are struggling to keep up with her tiny blur of a frame. Tiny Usain runs full tilt for two or three blocks. And then she stops. She sits down. She starts poking at rocks and flowers. She is done. We try to cajole her into moving along. We are only a few blocks away. Tiny Usain gets up, sprints half a block to a large tree and sits down again. We beg and plead. She is unmoved. She has worn herself out.

So, I scoop her up, put her on my shoulders, and we head down the street. Every half block she wants down to run and then wants to resume her perch on my shoulders. We proceed in this fashion until, finally, the finish line is in sight. When Tiny Usain spots the finish line and her dad waiting there, she practically dives off my shoulders and takes a run. My daughter and I follow, and we all cross within seconds of each other.

We eat Popsicles and drink water and retell our tale to the family and friends who have been wondering what in the world happened to us. The race officials post the results for the runners on the wall, and I sheepishly go up to peek. I see my name is at the very bottom. I came in dead last. And you know what? I don’t care. I had a BLAST. I got some exercise. I spent time with family and friends. I laughed A LOT.

And the best part, I got to see the look of accomplishment on my daughter’s face as she crossed the finish line. She was proud of herself, despite our terrible showing. And why shouldn’t she be? We showed up. We raised money for her playground for school, and we did something neither one of us had ever done before. Sometimes it isn’t about doing it well, it is simply about doing it.

Flannery Muscar, right, is just about to cross the finish line as race organizer Meagan Kirchner points the way.

The next Let’s Play 5K is coming up on April 27th. The run/walk/stroll 5K will take place at Woodsdale Elementary where the race will begin at 9 a.m. The course will be 3.1 miles of flat road surface going through beautiful Woodsdale. If you’ve never done a 5K and are nervous like I was, this is the race for you. It is a supportive, non-judgmental atmosphere and inclusive of all levels of fitness.

There will be awards for top three participants for ages 6 and under, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13 -18, both male and female. Top walkers and runners, male and female, 19-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69, 70-79, and 80 and up.

Each participant will receive a race T-shirt (quantities limited, however) even if you come in last like I did, as well as free food following the race.

Online registration available.

• Jennifer Kellner-Muscar is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Ohio University and has worked in higher education for 20 years. She’s from Ohio, currently lives in Wheeling and will one day retire to a city. She likes Victorian, Modernist and post-apocalyptic fiction, ’90s indie rock, Asian food, fighting the patriarchy, and her daughter, son, husband and dog in no particular order.