The night before the race I had a hard time going to sleep. I laid in bed with my headphones on, just listening to music and trying to clear my mind from that day’s events and the events of the day that was approaching more quickly than I would have liked. Visions of me cramping up and vomiting on the side of the road filled my head. I imagined the event volunteers and other participants sitting at the finish line yawning and twiddling their thumbs waiting for me to get there. I hoped that the people who I would be walking with weren’t disappointed that I would slow them down. At one point, quite subconsciously, I realized that I had been lying there stretching my calves, as if I was preparing to get going already. At some point I must have fallen asleep though because when the baby started crying at around 4 am, I was so startled that I got out of bed really fast, stubbed my toe, and actually ripped off the toenail…Not off to a great start.
Once morning came and I heard the alarm go off, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach and a pretty sore left toe. I got up, got myself and the kids dressed and prepared a substantial-but-not-too-heavy-for-a-5k-breakfast followed up with plenty of water (but not so much that I’d have to pee the whole race). I made sure I wore loose fitting and comfortable clothes so I would be comfortable and hopefully avoid that terrible ailment that sometimes plagues us big guys and girls - chub rub. (If you don’t know what that is, just find a plus sized friend and ask). I laced up my tennis shoes, put my hair in a pony tail, threw on some extra deodorant and headed to the starting point.
I couldn’t have asked for better weather. It was sunny and somewhere between 60 and 65 degrees outside with a slight breeze. That was one plus for me…had it been hot, I may have “accidentally” overslept. I got the to registration table where my two sisters were working. They took my money and had me fill out a form saying that should I get injured or die during the race, I wouldn’t hold the organizers accountable. Until then, I hadn’t even considered death as an option. I was about to find out.
We all gathered at the starting point where the beneficiaries of the race led us all in a quick prayer and even a song before we started. When the whistle blew, all of the people who were actually running took off first. They were followed shortly thereafter by the power walkers, then the regular old casual walkers, the kids, then moms with strollers, old ladies, then me, my pregnant friend, her 80 year old grandma, and an injured nurse who hadn’t had a day off in 60 days. And so it began.
Our motley crew started off at a pretty normal pace. We talked about this and that for a little while as we tried to figure out the map that was supposed to guide us through the neighborhood. The yellow line marked the way there, the pink one was the way back. As we walked for a little while, grandma got tired and got a ride back to the starting point. I won’t lie…a part of me was glad that it wasn’t me dropping out first. We kept walking. A little less than half way through there was a pit stop for water and for rereading the map (the yellow and pink lines were starting to intersect periodically, throwing us off track a time or two). It was about that time that the first of the runners passed us - already on his way back to the finish line. Shortly thereafter, we were passed by a few more. I’m pretty convinced those people were cyborgs.
I was starting to feel a little winded and my shin splints were threatening to make themselves known - but so far had been pretty insignificant. My toe was surprisingly not sore from the previous night’s injury, so I was starting to think that I was going to be ok. Only a mile to a mile and a half more I thought…I could do it. It was about that time that the keeper of the map at the time (my preggo friend) said the most beautiful words I’d ever heard: “Well, if we turn to the right, this should be the last leg of the race.” I thought I’d heard her wrong…I still needed to cramp up, gasp for air while gulping my water, and then drag myself dramatically over the finish line. We couldn’t be almost done. By “last leg,” she must have meant “last half” or something. But sure enough, about a block or two up the road sat my sister and my baby at the finish line. As we passed, she snapped our picture on her phone and announced our finish time. One hour and seven minutes. It was over. There were no flashes of cameras. There was no vomit. There weren’t any tears. No pointing fingers and snickers from the winners. I wasn’t even THAT sweaty. As a matter of fact, I was first greeted by my seven year old, asking me if he could go play on the playground. It was just another moment.
We headed to the place where everyone else was gathering and swapped stories about our experiences along the way. As I sat there listening to people talk, a few things hit me. One was that the whole cliché “The only thing to fear is fear itself” was ringing true. I was so scared of failing and of embarrassing myself that I had almost talked myself out of doing anything at all. It wasn’t anything super scary or intimidating. Turns out it was just a long walk.
Second was that I am surrounded by supportive people who aren’t looking to judge and criticize me. One of the girls who came in first took the time to come tell me good job for finishing. She also told me how she ran the whole thing but crossed the finish line gagging and laid down face first in the grass. She is in shape and athletic. And she gags. I found that to be strangely comforting. Others who had also finished made it a point to congratulate me as well. Even though this race wasn’t about ME, they had noticed that it was a big deal and made an effort to be encouraging. I appreciated that and was reminded that 99% of the criticism that I fear coming from other people is usually just from myself.
And I did not come in last place. Granted, the woman who did had to carry her three year old on her shoulders the whole time, had several children tagging along beside her, AND got lost and did an extra lap around one of the blocks. But still.