I don’t know the last time I was as nervous as I was before the 5k. I woke up at least 10 times the night before, once so soaked in sweat that I had to change my shirt. The race was Sunday afternoon, and let me tell you it was the longest morning in the history of time. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, the air was crisp and fresh, and I honestly thought I was going to puke at the starting line. I know sometimes runners puke at the end of the race, but leave it to me to do it backwards. From the second I woke up to the second we started running, all I could focus on was trying not to freak out.
But I didn’t freak out, and I didn’t puke. I was nervous as hell; that didn’t go away until a minute or two into the run. I underestimated how hard it would be to dodge the people slower than me while also trying not to get knocked over by the faster people (yup, that’s right, there were people slower than me!). The crowd at the start of a race isn’t very fun. Lola and I had agreed that it was ok if we didn’t stick together during the race; neither one of us wanted to hold the other back. But within the first few seconds of starting, I had already lost her. I didn’t know if she was ahead of me or behind me or even next to me. I started to get nervous but decided not to think about it- I couldn’t handle any more things to be anxious about.
Then as the crowd thinned out a bit, she was next to me. Hooray! Propelled by the excitement, the adrenaline, and the rush of the crowd we ran farther without stopping or slowing down than we ever have before. In those few moments, I think we were runners- you know, the ones who make it look easy.
Then reality set in as I realized I could barely breathe, and that we were only maybe a half mile into our 3.1 mile race. But Lola and I naturally run at pretty much the same pace overall. She has more speed where I have more endurance. Her quick pace made me move faster; the duration of my sprints made her keep running. We ran by my parents, who were proudly waving their bumble bee balloons (how cute is that!?). It was the first moment in which I felt the magnitude of what I was doing and how much it meant to me, and I started to get a little emotional (my mom would later tell me she got choked up at this point, too). But I had the rest of the race to run and hadn’t earned the right to bask in the glow of accomplishment yet.I felt pretty darn good until we rounded a corner and came upon one of the race volunteers who was yelling “If this is your second lap, go left. If this is your first lap, go right.” Those two sentences knocked the confidence right out of me. We were coming around for the FIRST time and people were already on their SECOND LAP? What?! Is that even possible? Are they wearing jet-propelled footwear? Are they human? Am I the most horrible runner ever? I was shaken. All those people I thought were behind us might be behind us only because they are about to lap us?
“We’re doing a lot worse than I thought!!!” I said to Lola in a slightly hysterical pant. “No. No way. I don’t think so.” Lola replied. I am usually the one saying how awesome we will be, but in that moment I had visions of the entire crowd of spectators being home by the time we crossed the finish line, my parents the only ones standing there to see us shuffle across the line. “Ok!”, I said, not entirely sure but just wanting to believe her. Besides, what could I do? I already knew that my best was not going to be as good as other people’s best. I was just shocked to see how much better their best was.
We just kept on going, pushing each other along without really saying much. I don’t even really remember hearing the music playing on my iPod. I was just in it, in the moment, in the race so much that I almost wasn’t aware of what was happening, only of what I had to do next. Which was keep….on…..running. And then run some more.
Finally, we turned a corner and there it was. There is no feeling like seeing the Finish banner high in the air ahead of you. I turned to Lola and said “Is that it?!”. All this looping around and people passing us and I wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to get too excited for nothing. “That’s it!” she said. And we took off, faster than lightning. Ok, maybe not exactly faster than lightning. That would mean lightning was slower than us, and if lightning was slower than we are few people would ever get struck by it. Because they could outrun it. But I did feel full of electricity–I have never felt adrenaline like I felt it in that moment. We ran fast. My body couldn’t move fast enough for all the sudden energy I had. I crossed that finish line at full speed and it was nothing short of glorious.
Adding to the beauty of the moment was the fact that we finished exactly how we trained: together. Oh, and we weren’t last. We finished in 39 minutes 3 seconds. That’s a 12 minute 34 second mile, which completely surpassed what we thought was a lofty goal of a 15 minute mile. I am immensely proud of us. I always knew we could do it, I just didn’t know we could be as good as we were.
When I got to work Monday morning I had an email from my mom:
“when i woke up this morning and sat at the kitchen table there were your 4 safety pins…i felt like I shouldn’t move them..that they should stay there forever marking your special accomplishment..I wondered if you wanted these safety pins even though you now have over 200..i think these pins are special …..“
I think they’re special too. I’m framing those suckers. They represent the sweat, the pain, the drive, the determination, the stubborn craziness it took for me to do this. The represent my first major step towards the triathlon. They represent that maybe, at least for that day, I could actually consider myself an athlete, and a runner. I will never again cross my first finish line. But now I know for sure that I hope to be crossing many more in the future.