And it was tough. The first mile consisted of a really steep hill that I walked up, as did many other people who were in the rear of the pack. Once the route descended the hill, I was able to run. Not for the whole 4 miles, but as much as I could possibly run in intervals of varying lengths.
I had done a great job of getting out of bed every other morning at 6:30–of course it helps that 6:30 is when my husband leaves for work. I would get into my running gear and tackle the couch to 5k app, slowly building myself up to run in longer intervals. I was ecstatic when I got to week 5 day 3, which is running for 20 minutes straight. I had told myself that once I got to that point, I would stop using the app and just focus on distance. Time had run out by then and I was only able to do one run without the app before the race. For that run, I was able to go for about 2 miles without stopping to walk. Granted, my pace is that of a turtle, but my shuffle run is still faster than my walking pace. And really, just the fact that I was getting out there in the morning, like I had said I was going to, was enough for me. The temperature every morning was in the high 70s with pretty high humidity. But it never bothered me. I expected to come home sweaty each time, that’s what happens when you run during the summer months. Even on days when we were under a heat advisory, I still ran, because in the morning before the sun gets high, the temperature isn’t in heat advisory territory. So when several people talked of braving the heat and the humidity being the worst part on race day, I just kind of laughed because it really didn’t affect me. I had long since gotten used to it.
There were 1,016 people registered for the Firecracker 4 Miler this 4th of July, and according to the results website, there were 860 or so actual runners. I placed somewhere in the 740 range. I had no aspirations of doing anything spectacular for pace, I just didn’t want to come in last. I was very close to the bottom of my age group, but I wasn’t last and that’s o.k. with me.
What was spectacular about the race was the people. The event was hosted by the local running club that I’m a member of. I don’t go to their meetups out of self-consciousness, but I’m a paid member. It was many of the members that served as volunteers for the race. There were people at every turn in the route clapping and cheering for every person that rounded the corners. They didn’t know my name, but they could see my number and having someone call out “Come on 64, you’re doing great!” when I was huffing along was amazing. The people handing out water at every mile with big smiles as I approached were encouraging. Seeing my husband randomly on the side of the route taking pictures when I didn’t expect to see him and hearing him cheer me on, was a great motivation. Even the ladies running behind me commented on how sweet it was for him to do that.
But the moment I will carry with me came as I rounded the last turn that would lead me to the finish line. There was a lady waiting for me. Judy is the wife of the man I teach with. I teach English and he teaches math. He doesn’t have a Facebook page, but she does, and we have been friends on there for several months. She’s of retirement age, but is in great shape and running races like this are the norm for her. She had called out to me earlier in the race. She was about a mile ahead going in the opposite direction I was. We quickly passed by each other and I didn’t think much of it until I saw her on the corner of that last turn. Obviously she had already finished the race and gotten her medal, in fact, she placed 2nd in her age group. But there she was, back on the course, waiting for me. She hopped off the curb and started jogging beside me. Words of encouragement poured out and though I was very much out of breath, I thanked her as best as I could. She kept pace with me for that last quarter of a mile, continuously assuring me that I was very close to the finish line. When we reached the very last few feet, she stepped off the course and across I went. From extended arms I took hold of my finisher’s medal (which is all I really wanted), a banana, and a bottle of water. People were clapping and cheering and my name was being called over the loud speaker as I crossed, as though I was the first. It felt great. I didn’t see Judy after that, I had wanted to thank her again after regaining my ability to speak without my breathing getting in the way. I did get to thank her on Facebook later. It is very true what they say about runners being the best people.
This race was Judy’s last for a while. She told me this when we bumped into each other the day before at the packet pick-up location. Her knees have really been hurting her lately. I told her, this is just the beginning for me. And I meant it. I’m determined now to lose weight. My diet prior to the race wasn’t the best. But now I’d like to get rid of the weight so that I can be a better runner. So that in a future race, I can be an early finisher so that I can step in and jog with someone who needs an extra boost to the finish. It may take me a while to get to that point, but I’ll get there. I’m not going to give up, this truly is just the beginning.