Greek Fest Recap – A Sad Time

I’ve never broken 18 minutes in the 5K. Part of the reason why I haven’t reached this milestone is because I’ve only raced a couple of 5Ks in the past five years. The other part is because 5Ks are really freakin’ – no, not awesome, Lauren Fleshman – but hard. 5Ks ARE REALLY FREAKIN’ HARD.

I certainly respect the 5K, and I knew when I stood on the starting line of this year’s annual Greek Fest 5K, I was about to get my you-know-what handed to me. The fact that I was already pouring down sweat from the 5-minute jog over from my house did nothing to boost my confidence in my fitness.

This race was probably another one of those examples when I probably shouldn’t have been racing, but I decided Eff it – If I wait until I’m fit, I’ll probably get injured first. I had planned on being in shape for the race, but a little injury required some time off and set training WAY back…way back to about non-existent. Here’s my weekly mileage leading up to the race…

Week Before Race: 29.6 Miles

Two Weeks Before Race: 8.1 Miles

Three Weeks Before Race: 4.9 Miles

Four Weeks Before Race: 13.8 Miles

Yeah. I wasn’t in the best of shape, but I still set a goal of breaking 18:00 minutes in the Greek fest 5K. I believed a fit Paula could break 18:00 and perhaps an unfit Paula could pull something out on a good day. Delusionally Optimistic – This is my motto that I race by.

The supposedly-fast course starts out on a downhill. I knew the fate of many runners who have gone out too fast in years past so I was not overly concerned to see most of the racers who I started with fly past me in the first quarter of a mile. I wanted the first mile to be quick – but not that speedy. I finished the first mile in 5:43, which is about exactly what I planned. What I wasn’t planning on was already feeling tired after that first mile.

The second mile started out with an uphill climb. I thought this would be the hardest mile of the course and where I would rein back in some of the racers who sprinted off the starting line. I was wrong. I held on to a nice pace but so did everyone else. Around the halfway point of the race, we crossed over East Blvd and started heading towards Worthington Ave, where we would catch a break on some downhill. I may have not slowed much at this point, but mentally I was unraveling. Already, I had begun thinking about how my goal was really to just put in a hard effort – The race was really a training run I told myself. There was some truth to this statement, but I also went to the starting line to race and not just run hard.

Over the next half of a mile, I went from contemplating pulling back on my pace to contemplating pulling out of the 5K. I had a sick feeling of being trapped in a race that I was not prepared for. I had made a mistake in signing up. The devil on my right shoulder was telling me to jump off the course and hide while the cheerleader on my left was reminding me that I was not a quitter.

By the time I hit mile three, my pace was reflecting my deflated spirits. I could see my pace slipping in to the six-minute range at times as I ran not so speedily around the Dilworth Speed Loop, the part of the course that connects Dilworth Road East and Dilworth Road West. I was in third place and having a bad race. I didn’t expect to win – Even if I had been in shape, I probably wouldn’t have come close to the three-time Olympic Trails qualifier that won that women’s race in a blazin’ 17:00-minute time. But I thought I could place second.

Halfway around the speed loop and a little over half a mile to go in the race, I closed on the second place female. She was slowing and part of me wanted to just continue to slow right behind her. The other part of me just wanted the damn race over regardless of my placing and time. So, I swung wide around the loop and pushed past her knowing that once I made that move, I had to try to pull myself together. There was a bit of open space between me and the next pack of runners and I started pushing a bit in an effort to close the gap. I did my best to run the tangents as I headed back towards East Blvd, which would take me to the finish line. I saw my boyfriend up ahead glance back at me. I assumed he was checking to make sure I was OK since I was struggling so hard. Only later, did I realize that he may have had other motives. Remember that 4-miler on the Fourth of July where I beat him by a second?

As I made the turn on East Blvd and started the uphill grind to the finish line, I was no longer looking at my watch for fear that a slow time would break my spirits even more. I was pushing and trying to talk myself through the climb. Just make it to the next intersection and then you’ll see the finish line. I thought about the women who finished the Olympic 5K and then collapsed to the ground. Knowing the pain those women went through made me feel more comfortable in my distress.

When I finally saw the clock, I was surprised that it was still in the 17:40s. I thought as bad as I was feeling, I couldn’t be close to reaching my goal but I was wrong. As the seconds ticked by and I got closer to the finish, I started grunting as loudly as Serena and Venus Williams combined. I heaved my body as quickly as I could over the finish line and cried out several “Oh my gods!” as I struggled to catch my breath and regain composure. I wouldn’t say I sprinted because the word “sprint” sounds too peppy and light. I was more like a heavy freight train screaming loudly down its track.

After I crossed the finish line, I was immediately congratulated by the first place female for breaking 18 minutes. At that time, I did not care. I was only glad to be done with the race. I think I said “That was horrible” and “I’m never doing another 5K again in my life” multiple times. I didn’t care about breaking 18 minutes until the race folks who handed me my award for 2nd Place Female told me that my official time was 18:00 and some change, which rounded up to 18:01. WHAT?!!!

I knew the time clock had not reached 18 minutes when I crossed the line. Fortunately, Greenapple Sports & Wellness videotaped the finish, and I took this screenshot…


If only my loss of an official sub-18 5K was the saddest part of the day…

After the awards ceremony, I returned home. When I opened the door, only the two dogs that I was dog sitting for that weekend greeted me at the door. Even after I called out her name, Sugar was nowhere to be seen. I found her upstairs in my shower. I could tell that she had just recently had a seizure.

A few weeks before, Sugar had her first seizure. Subsequently, she had several more, and the vet and I put Sugar on thyroid medicine in hopes that low thyroid was the cause of her seizures and not a brain tumor, which was far more likely for a dog of her age. I guess racing is not the only aspect of my life when I have chosen to be delusionally optimistic.

Only a few minutes after I finished cleaning Sugar up, she had another seizure. I knew when a dog starts having multiple seizures within 24 hours (cluster seizures), she needs to be taken to the vet immediately.

Sugar, still wet from the shower I gave her, looked beautiful sitting upright with her paws hanging off the cart as we wheeled her in to the local vet’s office. Unfortunately, after many more seizures and multiple doses of all-kinds of medicine, she didn’t even lift her head when she was wheeled into the consultation room two days later when I returned to the animal hospital.

I knew we were at the end, but I wanted to take her back home even if only for a few days. But when I looked at the dying dog in front of me, I realized a homecoming probably wasn’t happening. Sugar was already halfway gone. In her mental state, she didn’t care whether she went to the bathroom on herself. And she didn’t care if she was lying in her water bowl. The night before, one vet told me Sugar could no longer walk and gave her only a 5% chance of improving. The morning that she died, Sugar did indeed walk, but it was a drunken man’s stumble according to another vet.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get Sugar to walk when I arrived at the vet. It wasn’t that she was too weak – She had lost the function as the tumor expanded in to the part of her brain that controlled her motor skills. So, I made the call.

I read in countless blog posts and dog forums online that people say putting down a pet is one of the hardest choices they’ve ever made. I didn’t find the choice especially difficult at the moment – It was certainly the recommendation of the vet. But, afterwards, living with the decision is what was and still sometimes is hard. I struggle knowing that Sugar trusted me whole-heartedly and that I was the one who gave the OK to end her life.

Dogs, unlike people, cannot tell you when they are ready to go. Perhaps if they could, Sugar would have told me that she had a good life and was ready for the suffering to be over. Or perhaps she would have preferred to continue to lie and be petted and fed treats for another day or two. I don’t know if the euthanasia of a pet is moral. It’s not something I’ve ever thought about a lot until recently. And I don’t know if the choice I made was only the right choice contingent on the belief that Sugar is now in a better place, which I cannot convince myself is true.

The Friday after Sugar passed away I went for a run at lunch. It was raining and the greenway was quiet. The cooler temperatures that day reminded me the seasons were changing. It would be fall soon. It was during that run that I started to feel some peace with Sugar’s passing and with the choices I made. I know Sugar had a wonderful life since I, a failed foster mom, adopted her at age two. She was well loved, and she lived to be 11 years-old.  It was time.

My mom, the real writer in the family, recently wrote a tribute to Sugar in her weekly newspaper column. She remarks on all the photos I took of Sugar over the years. (There was no question that Sugar was well accustomed to having her picture taken and knew exactly how to pose.)

“Decked out in a holiday hat or scarf, Sugar was on every annual Christmas card my daughter sent. There are other photos as well: Sugar at the beach, Sugar in the mountains, Sugar at the farm, Sugar lying on the floor while Paula’s toddler nephew climbed all over her.”

These memories remind me that Sugar indeed had a very full and happy life.


Decked out in a holiday hat…


Sugar at the beach…


Sugar in the mountains…

Sugar in Mountains


Sugar at the farm…


Sugar lying on the floor while Paula’s toddler nephew climbed all over her…


4 Comments on “Greek Fest Recap – A Sad Time”

  1. Love you, Paula! You gave Sugar such an amazing life and you did the kindest thing you could for her at the end. you don’t ever need to question that. ❤️


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