By MARK MAYNARD / The Independent

ASHLAND — On Friday night, at the stroke of midnight, the adventure began.

It would be a short one — only 3.2 miles — but memorable just the same. It was my debut in the world of 5K running or, uh, walking.

It took me nearly 48 minutes to lap the parking lot at the Kyova Mall three times. It seemed so easy in my mind prior to the race.

Now that it’s over well, uh, not so much.

We arrived about an hour before race time to register and collect our goody bags. It was “we” as in my wife, Beth, who was there for moral support (and to call 911 if necessary) and my workout partner, Alan Stringer.

We have been huffing and puffing five days a week at the American Health Center across from the Paramount since November. Both of us vowed we would eventually do a 5K. It sounded like bravado as we were working out, but I went with it.

Several times early last week, the Midnight Madness 5K was mentioned in casual conversation. I took that as a sign I was supposed to run.

I somehow talked Alan into running it with me, and I’m sure glad I did as it turned out.

As we paid our $25 and got our first bib, the bravado was still a part of the mission. Runners are some of the most encouraging people you’ll ever meet and they were encouraging to us before the race. We felt pretty good about ourselves.

At about 10 minutes before midnight, we gathered outside on a cold evening — the temperature was about 38 degrees — for some instruction from racing guru Alan Osuch. This guy is amazing and he’s somebody our area should thank every day for his work with road racing. He’s doing his part to get people moving every week.

The realization of what I had done starting hitting me as the countdown to Sen. Robin Webb’s shotgun start reached 10 seconds.

She aimed it high and fired and off we went. We started in a slow jog and it was about then that I thought: “What have I done?”

It didn’t take long for me to realize my first mistake. My shoes were not running shoes and they were worn out. I could feel every gravel on the mall parking lot. My second mistake was I was freezing in my too tightly fitting 2X dri-fit Amy For Africa T-shirt. We were still in the pack of runners for the first couple of minutes, but then people started separating.

After running probably less than three minutes, the pain started coming.

“What have I done?”

It wasn’t long before I was telling Alan, “OK, I need to slow down and start walking.”

The cold air was almost burning my lungs (at least that’s what my brain was saying). It was becoming increasingly difficult to breathe properly.

You find out where you stand in these races rather quickly. That pack of runners we started with was long gone. We were among the stragglers. Our goal was simple enough: Don’t be last. We tried to make sure we stayed ahead of the pack behind us.

We took short bursts of “running” along the backside of the mall. We’d run from this lightpost to that lightpost. Alan was good to “pace me” during the race. He could have easily shaved 7 to 10 minutes off his time if not for his anchor of a friend.

“What have I done?”

Three times around the mall is a lot farther than you think. We hit that long stretch on the backside knowing nobody was watching. It’s harder when they’re not watching. Whenever we came upon my wife, who had my camera, we went into sprinting mode … well, fast-jogging mode … OK, jogging mode … we walked fast.

“What have I done?”

I remember thinking about getting about halfway around the second time, “This is really hurting. Maybe I should have trained outside before taking this on. You think?” Note to self: “Run outside more if you’re going to keep doing these 5Ks.”

The pounding was taking a toll on me. The force of 265 pounds on the pavement, with worn-out shoes, is not a pretty picture. My shins were splitting and my calves were knotting up.

Alan tried to get me to run a little longer, but I kept asking to walk. He stayed right with me as many others passed us — and many actually lapped us. There were people with dogs who zoomed past us, older women, younger women. But we made sure not to be last.

“What have I done?”

Finally, the last lap came. Beth shouted out we’d run the first two laps in 31 1/2 minutes. Believe it or not, that was actually encouraging. I was hoping for a finish of around 45 minutes. I didn’t want to set my first goal too high. Jim Moore was handing out rubber arm bands after each lap. Did they really think I was going to forget how many I’d run?

“What have I done?”

Moore gave me my second arm band and yelled at me to finish the last lap in 10 minutes. Let me do an easy math lesson for you, Jimbo: If I haven’t done any lap in under 15 minutes, do you really think I can do the last one in 10? The answer is “no” I was in survival mode by then.

Meanwhile, Alan was doing fine and not complaining about being held back.

On the last lap, when I saw the Burger King sign (mmmm, Whopper), I started feeling better. It was going to happen. I was going to finish. My legs were numb from the knees down. But I was going to finish.

We got our last arm bands and headed for the finish line. I didn’t go across in a blur, although it kind of seemed like it. I was wobbly for sure.

But I’d done it. I finished the race.

Then came the best part: all the bananas, water and pizza you wanted! I knew there was going to be a reward.

True to our goal, though, we didn’t finish last — although we were close.

Webb, who was there because the race proceeds went to Camp Robert Webb in Grayson, presented me with two medals — one for competing in my first 5K and the other for being second in my age group. It’s true; I was second in the 56-59 age category.

The rest of the story? There were only two of us running.

“What have I done?”

Survived to run another day, that’s what.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at or (606) 326-2648.