The sun was already beating down on the pavement. Under the start banner, runners jockeyed for position, some of them solo, others with strollers, toddlers, even dogs in tow. It wasn’t your typical 5K race. It was all about family. I lined up with my friend E to the right of a group wearing neon yellow shirts. As the gun went off, we began walking. The crowd moved slowly at first like a newly unearthed ant swarm, everyone clambering for the freedom to move on their own. I walked patiently behind a legion of strollers unwilling to give up their ranks. We moved off to the left flank hoping to get by.
E and I moved out ahead of the strollers and fell into a very easy jog. I let her know that any time she wanted to pick up the pace, she shouldn’t worry about me. And in about two minutes, she was pulling away from me – leaving me to my slow patient jog. Running is an interesting sport. Lots of people do it and in this case, we were all doing it together. But even though everyone was running at the same time, there wasn’t much interaction. Once you fall into a good rhythm, you can’t really have a conversation. You’re stuck with your own thoughts and your breathing. Of course some people have their playlist streaming in through headphones, but otherwise, it’s a solo venture.
Running in my first 5K was a big milestone for me in that I never thought I could sustain my energy for that long. The sun was beating down and it was 80 degrees even at 9 in the morning. I wasn’t used to running that time of day or in the direct sun. I usually head out for my runs when the tree branches shade my path with a cooler kind of air. During the race, I could feel the blood in my arms and legs like hot lava. I had to slow down a little at times, but I didn’t walk.
I overheard a mother tell her daughter, “See that trashcan? We’re going to run to that and then we can stop if we want.” That’s cool, I thought. She’s teaching her about small personal goals – how to make them and how to reach them. Along the route, grade school cheerleaders encouraged runners to “keep up the good work,” but I relied on my own internal dialogue to keep me going. When I crossed the finish line, no one was there to great me – at least no one I knew. I’d gone the distance and the person who was most proud of what I’d done was me. AS I walk back toward the tents and tables, I’m thinking that in life, being proud of the goals you accomplish is worth much more than anyone else’s approval. I caught up with my friends at the water table where we cooled the fire burning in our veins.