Matthias Kern - Bongarts/Getty Images
I've never run a 5K before. In fact, I couldn't even run for five minutes at a time as recently as January.
So when I signed up for Kasey Kahne's annual "5Kahne" charity race – which takes place on Oct. 14, the morning after the Charlotte NASCAR race – I got a bit nervous.
Can I make it through a full 3.1 miles without stopping? Will I get too tired from trying to keep up with the other runners and have to walk while spectators shake their heads with disappointment?
In some ways, my strategy is to be like Danica Patrick: I don't care what place I get, I just want to finish.
Running isn't really fun or enjoyable, but it's necessary for me. At the start of the year, a visit to the doctor revealed sky-high cholesterol levels. How high? Let's just say it's way more than the qualifying speeds at Michigan.
On my last visit, the doctor even said he wanted to put me on cholesterol medication. What? Already? I just turned 32! As it turns out, though, eating racetrack food for three days out of every week isn't exactly healthy.
If I agreed to start eating better and working out, the doctor said, he'd agree to hold off on the medication for now.
So I completely changed my diet, cutting out the burgers and hot dogs (even at Martinsville), the fried chicken and buffalo wings. I've trained myself not to touch any of it, almost as if it's poison.
But that was the easy part. The hard part was finding the motivation to go on a torturous run two or three times a week.
When I used to cover high school sports for local newspapers, I'd occasionally be assigned to attend cross country running events. Teenagers would labor across the finish line at the end of a 3.1-mile run, their faces creased with agony – and then puke all over the place.
It didn't exactly make me want to become a runner. In fact, I thought running was pretty stupid. Why would anyone want to do that to themselves?
The doctor made it seem like a matter of life and death, though, so I guess a painful run beats the alternative. In January, I started with one of those "Couch to 5K" apps available for smart phones. If you haven't tried one, the app trains you to build up your endurance over time.
The app I used (called "Get Running") started with eight one-minute runs with minute-long walks in between each jog. Over time, the runs increased to two minutes, five minutes, eight minutes and so on. Within a few months, I was running for 30 minutes at a time (albeit rather slowly) without stopping.
Running has become a habit now, so it's less difficult to find motivation. Seeing other people tweet about their workouts helps, too. Mark Martin posts Twitter updates about his daily routine and drivers like Josh Wise, Michael McDowell and Scott Speed record their activity via an app called Strava (which uses GPS to track workout distances).
When I read about other people trying to get in shape or stay in shape, it makes me want to do the same (so I don't feel like a lazy ass).
So bring on the 5Kahne. I think I can do it.
There's just one problem: I read somewhere that Kahne recently completed a 5K in about 19 minutes, which is half the time it takes me (not exaggerating). It sounds like there will be some serious runners in the field.
Uh oh. Is there a chance I could finish last, even if I run the whole way?
Yes, there is. But since this is a NASCAR-related race, I just hope a few start-and-parkers show up to bail me out.
Have you run a 5K before? Are you a long-distance runner? Please leave any tips in the comments section below.