On Saturday, September 18, 2010, I made a significant transformation. I finally unearthed a part of me that I didn’t know existed, and it may never have happened had it not been for my mom.
I jumped out of bed at 5 a.m. when the alarm clock screeched it’s wake-up tune. Another involuntary 5K race my mom had planned for me. At this point, I hadn’t invested in actual running clothes, so I quickly threw on a black tank top and grey pair of shorts, pulled my hair up in a ponytail and hat. I had a bagel with peanut butter and some orange juice for breakfast, grabbed my Asics running shoes, and prepared to set out. A blast of cold air enveloped me as my garage door opened, and I quickly hightailed it back inside to throw on a pair of yoga pants and hoodie. Brrr!
My ever-so-supportive husband drove my mom and me to the race site, which was an hour away, so I could just relax, collect myself, and finish waking up. I never drink coffee on race day, and that whole caffeine dependency was rearing its ugly head. I stared out the window in silence, taking in the beauty along the way. The leaves on the trees were just beginning to change color, and I felt a surge of excitement take over me. I am head over heels in love with fall. It is my favorite season, and everything that comes with it makes me a happy girl. I look forward to it with childlike delight every year, and I have built a great case for my addiction in Fall Love.
The race site was a countryside park surrounded by farmland. From the moment I stepped out of the car, I knew this race was going to be different. It wasn’t the adrenaline that always accompanies race mornings, nor was it the anxiety in the voices around me, deep in fearful discussion about the massive hill we were about to face on the course. There was something else in the air on this cold, crisp fall morning. I was no longer tired, my body felt strong and ready to perform, and my problematic knee wasn’t bothering me at all. I felt great. Then there was that familiar smell of fall in the air that sparked my energy even further. I told my mom and husband I was going to forego my knee brace for the race. Both of them warned against it, saying I would most likely regret it. I shook my head and it was decided. “I don’t need it. My knee is great. Everything just feels right today.” Deep down, I knew if my knee took me out of the race, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Then, at the last minute, I decided to mix things up even more. I took the advice of a fellow runner and left my iPod behind, too. Now I was really feeling brave. Perhaps I’ll even try to pace my mom this time.
When it was time to line up, I exchanged my warm and cozy hoodie and pants for the mid-30s temperatures. I stood shivering, from both the cold and anticipation, until the gun went off, signaling the start of the race.
I immediately missed my music for the first quarter of a mile, and even voiced this out loud to anyone who would listen, eliciting a few chuckles from my fellow racers. Still, I felt good. The chill of the wind hitting my face was now refreshing, and my legs warmed up quickly. I tackled the first hill, and it wasn’t so bad. I picked up the pace on the straight stretch, and watched as my mom passed me as she did in every race thus far. I mentally ditched my plan to pace her after a few minutes, and fell into my own pace.
Around Mile One, I began to relax and take in my surroundings. The course was breathtaking, leaves tinged with color, open fields that went on for days, and a silence that put me at such ease I no longer felt as though I was putting forth much of an effort. All I heard was the sound of my breathing and my footsteps falling gently onto the paved road surface. There was no knee pain, and my legs felt incredibly strong and powerful. Even the brief whiff of horse manure didn’t deter me, and I pressed on, in all my glory. It was then that I realized, for the first time, I was ENJOYING what I was doing. I was running and liking it. I smiled hard, my heart warming at the recognition of what was happening. Even with a monstrous hill looming in the distance, my happiness continued to grow with each stride. I sped on down the hill of death, and towards the bottom, waved at my mom as she passed me on her way back up. The greatest part of running up a hill is that you usually get to run down as well. As I reached the sharp turnaround point, I began my ascent, only stopping to walk for three steps (yes, I counted) before realizing it was easier to just push through and run that mountain in the middle of the second mile. I could see my mom in the distance, and it dawned on me that I was either getting faster, or she was slowing down. I pushed myself to speed up my pace as much as I could, and pressed on. Before I knew it, I was rounding the last bend and heading down a long stretch towards the finish line. I could see the clock in the distance, and began my final sprint. As I closed in, I saw my mom running back to escort me in, and she was yelling “Run! You can still stay in the 26:00-minute mark!” I swung my arms and sped up, crossing the finish at 26:48, my first time breaking 27:00.
I happily fist-pumped the air with one hand while grabbing a bottle of water with the other. I walked over to where my husband was waiting, and he grabbed me up in a congratulatory bear hug. It was another one of those perfect life moments where it feels like it couldn’t get any better…and then it does. I won first place in my age group, which was an added bonus, but all my pride was focused on my time.
That day will forever remain one of my most cherished memories, for it was the day I found my reason for and love of running. It was the race that changed me, igniting a spark that will never burn out. Continue reading about my journey in My Pumpkin.