My chest swells with pride any time someone allows me a minute to brag on the races I have completed. There is not one ounce of creativity in me. Singing, dancing, painting, or (sometimes) cooking are talents I was not born with. But let me start talking about my racing adventures and you would swear I was a world class athlete that took the running community by storm when I appeared on the scene. Of course that could not be farther from the truth. My average pace per mile is so slow that I often refer to it as my running shuffle. Oh I had a few shining moments of glory when I was able to keep pace with some fairly strong runners, but that was a lifetime ago and my priorities are very different now. These days my joy comes from the beautiful scenery along my favorite routes and the time I spend gabbing with my running buddies as the miles fly by.
Going way back to before I ever toed my first start line, I was actually a walker. Initially in my limited understanding, working out led to getting sweaty, which led to bad hair days. Needless to say, exercise was not a part of my daily routine until my mid-twenties. Having always been a voracious reader, most of my free time was spent getting lost in hardcover bestsellers at my favorite bookstores as well as dropping major cash at Starbucks daily for a caffeine fix. The company I worked for at the time offered all employees free memberships to a local gym. A good girlfriend of mine took advantage of the offer and I tagged along with her the first couple of visits so we could catch up on gossip while walking on side by side treadmills. We would gab and socialize during that treadmill time and eventually eased into a regular workout routine where we would meet at the gym a few times a week.
When I lost that job (hey I was destined for greater things, right?), I also lost the free gym membership. By then the walking routine had become a regular part of my week so the only option was to move my workout to the streets. In an effort to mix up the walking a bit, I started targeting stop signs and street lights. On my neighborhood roads, I would start jogging at a stop sign and then switch to power walking when I got to a street light or vice versa. It was a fun and effective mind game. The workout would flip flop over and over again until my stopwatch informed me that 30 minutes had passed. Slowly but surely I got stronger in the jogging intervals and no longer needed the walking breaks, so they were phased out completely. My confidence grew enough that I set my sights on running across a bridge in my area that connects to a local running path. The bridge probably measures a half mile in distance, so to go across and back would mean I would need to run a full mile non-stop. I set the goal and focused on the prize.
Walk breaks be damned on this bridge! All the "real" runners in my neighborhood ran along that path and if I ever wanted to be considered a real runner as well, then that bridge would have to be conquered. If it were not for the fact that I was running, I would have sworn I was trembling the entire trip across that bridge. My breathing remained steady and my focus never wavered. When I finally completed the run along that foot path for the first time, I had to turn around and look behind me for my brain to process that I actually made it to the other side successfully. My emotions overwhelmed me for a few seconds as a stood there taking it all in. I sucked up the tears that threatened to flow in an attempt to act normal so no one would think I didn't belong there. After all, I had just proven I was indeed a "real" runner so mushy tears were not allowed.
Going back the same way I had just come, a goofy grin crept across my face and stayed there the entire way home. My then boyfriend (now husband) pretended as best as he could to share in my joy, but there was no way he could have possibly understood how massive that accomplishment was for me. All he asked was when I was going to do it again. From there, the seed was planted and I was a changed woman. A 5K and a 10K race would follow soon after, but the need for a greater challenge grew. As intimidating as it was, I signed up for my first marathon with Team in Training. In exchange for raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the TNT group coached and trained me to run the Rock and Roll marathon in San Diego. It took me over five hours to get to the finish line. The next day I wore every ache and sore muscle after that first marathon like badges of honor. No one I knew had attempted such a thing, so my friends and family revered me like I had scaled Mount Kilimanjaro and lived to tell about it. Suddenly I was treated like an athlete and I relished the feeling.
Even all these years later after having completed several races of varying distances it still feels good. I still have every finishers shirt, every medal and every race bib of every race I have run. One day I will pull them all out to show my grandchildren or great grands that their old wrinkled nana was once a real athlete and she kicked some butt a time or two. If I live long enough my running days will eventually come to an end as joints get older and muscles get weaker. My hope is that the pride I felt during that initial bridge run will never fade and I will always be able to keep going in spirit.