by, 03-04-2012 at 01:57 PM (1025 Views)
Yesterday, in a haze of 5000 people I accomplished the unthinkable. I found anonymity and at the very same time, I found self.
On March 3, 2012, in the freezing cold, I stood at the starting line of my very first 8K run. There were so, so many people that when the starting gun went off, it took five minutes until the group I was standing with actually began to move.
In minutes I lost my running partner, she got carried up the hill by the crowd. I could see her pastel blue jacket bobbing and weaving in the throng. My lifeline was that blue coat, and then, it was gone. Over the top of the hill she went to set her own records, and run her own race.
The feeling of losing her was daunting. There I stood moving slowly, watching everyone around me, stunned at the sheer size of the crowd. Every technique left me, every word of advice from my trainer seemed to be sucked up in that huge swell of human movement.
I was in the tail end of the entire 5000 people who started that race and on my own. A million thoughts ran through my head in the space of a minute - should I run to the car and give it up? As I began climbing the hill, I looked around me, and focused on this group who were last. Did I want to be last? Did I care?
Weeks of training in the snow, cold, rain and wind suddenly flashed through my head. I was back in training running hill drills in the snow. Snot running down my face, my sneaker unlaced, a novice at 51, feeling like a fool and not being able to get 15 feet without stopping. My will alone would climb Mount Everest if it could but my legs and feet were an entirely different matter. Everyone in training used to laugh when they blew by me. They all laughed till last Wednesday when in a burst of energy, I blew past them at the 1.5 mile mark. When I finished my practice run our trainer stopped me and said "Congratulations - you've got running legs. You won't run the whole 8K but you'll cross that finish line, and you'll succeed".
Trapped in a sea of struggling first time runners with a 40 mph head wind in my face and only one direction to go I slowly began moving. I picked up one foot then the other. Thoughts like "Set your stride, set it slow, make a pace, get a rhythym" were pounding in my brain. How do you set a pace when you are staggering across a bridge without being blown into the metal barriers?
Without my running partner, I decided quickly to focus on other runners who were passing me. I would follow them visually and run to them. As they tired, I would push past them. This got me 3 miles into the race and through the flattest part.
I was cruising finally. I wasn't running like I wanted but I knew better than to start long strides, even though the urge to bolt was tremendous, I kept the focus but at 3 miles I began to tire.
Then I remembered my IPod nano was still clipped to my glove, and my head phones buried in my ears underneath my hat. I quickly turned it on. One of my headphones blew. I had music in one ear only, but it was the sweetest sound I ever heard. It was grace. I found my own world at that point, and kept moving.
As I turned the corner to Lucovedo Einaudi's "Primavera", we got hit with the hardest winds of the day. We were running on a bridge over the highway and the wall of wind hit some of us so hard that we were clinging to the fence to get across the bridge. I never stopped. I kept moving, my feet were doing things my mind wasn't even aware of and I went with it. Down the hill we staggered, and up a small incline to a road where Buffalo's old grain mills stood. This harsh stark landscape seemed to utterly encompass my entire emotional state of mind.
I wanted so badly to know where I was in the race, and there were no markers, and no kind people yelling the mileage at this point. There were only staggering tired human beings, being hit with pellets of freezing rain and snow in the side of the face. I pulled my hat down, dug in and forced my feet to keep moving.
To my right a young lady was running and crying at the same time. I asked her if she was okay. She said her hands were so cold she couldn't feel them in her gloves. I took my left running glove off, took out my hand warmer and gave it to her. I told her to tuck it inside her glove, and she smiled at me, this big heart warming smile. She went to give it back and I said keep it. Then I took off.
I felt lost again though. Where was the finish line? Where was my son? Did he make it across? How about my nephew who was running with him? Were they in the beer tent at this point laughing at their easy victory? I knew my daughter was behind me with the walkers, I'd passed her at one point. What of my beautiful running partner? Over and over again these thoughts were in my head.
My legs were tired, my face was so cold I wanted to cry. My hand was starting to freeze. I looked down and my lace was untied. I could hear my trainer yelling at me "DONT STOP". I burrowed into myself for one last look at who I was, and what strength I had as a human being. Still I kept moving.
I looked up for a moment. Hallucinating, I saw my running partner, her smiling face, her beautiful blue jacket, and her hand outstretched to mine. So this is what runner's delirium is? It was HER! She came back for me, that beautiful child came back to help me finish. She yelled "You are a mile and a half from the finish line, keep moving. I'll run in front of you". Around the last corner I went with providence by my side. She talked and talked slowly, I dont remember what she said, but the sound of her voice and her moving feet, her act of simple kindness was a gesture that I have needed in my life for so long. Someone came back for me. She loved me. She's always loved me because I am her Aunt, but she loved me in a very profoundly human way, in a way that let me know I was no longer alone in this world.
I crossed that finish line yesterday, quietly and without fanfare next to my angel in a pale blue running jacket. I smiled. The world changed.