Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Strength in Numbers

AUGUST 3, 2006

So, a couple of months ago I decided to run a 10K – the “Bolder Boulder” here in Colorado. Actually, my friends and I decided to do it together. It is no small affair, attracting approximately 50,000 runners every year. It seemed like a good idea at the time, until I realized that if one is going to run a 10K, one has to actually run. Right. Running is by far my least preferred method of exercise. However, having done this once before, I thought I might be able to pick it up again without too much humiliation. Wishful thinking. First of all, it has been four years and twenty pounds since I did this last. Second of all, well, there isn’t really a “second of all”. What I do know is that my first training workout was no picnic (although it did take place at a park), I met several legitimate opportunities to quit, and I got a shirt at the end.

As for my first training session, it took place on a beautiful spring-like day. Blue skies, frolicking children, chirping birds, and a woman jogging in sweat pants that were too short and a t-shirt that was too tight who begged for air while gripping her water bottle for dear life. (P.S. That woman might have been me.) Rewind to the chirping birds. As I rounded the bend near the playground I simply couldn’t help but pay particular attention to the sheer volume coming from the group of shrubs and trees where dozens of birds seemed to be having a Junior League meeting. I decided to try and focus on the beauty of the day and not the fact that I needed an oxygen mask. It worked for a minute – birds were cheerfully making plans for their next charity event, and I was happily breathing (gasping) the fresh air as I ran toward them and then IMMEDIATELY, and by immediately I mean RIGHT AWAY, the chirping STOPPED! It was DEAD SILENT as I sailed (staggered?) by and not until I was all the way past them did the gallivanting begin again. I’m telling you, it was like a flashback to the seventh grade. Now it’s possible that I’m just being sensitive, but I swear they were laughing at me.

I brushed aside my “mockingbird” moment and through the next several weeks, many roadblocks arose trying to keep me from preparing for this 10K. Sickness compromised two weeks of training, knee injuries ruined many more, and the loss of my niece, Clara Grace, was the final straw. For reasons unbeknownst to us, she wasn’t meant to survive past 8 ½ months in my sister’s womb. While the magnitude of this heartache is largely not mine to share, my own feelings are ultimately all I have. And since I ran this 10K three days after her memorial service, ON Memorial Day, my feeling was that I wanted to bring her with me. Each year the sponsors provide additional bibs that you may attach to your clothing if you want to write down the name of a friend or family serving in the military, or somebody else whose memory you wish to honor. I grabbed a bib, wrote her name in black permanent marker, and secured it to my shirt with safety pins; and just like that she was attached to me for the next 6.2 miles.

Miles 1 and 2 went by quickly. Mile 3 was lined with an Elvis impersonator, belly dancers, and well-wishers offering me free monkey bread and beer (see “Boulder, CO” in the dictionary). Mile 4 started to get harder, and that’s when I started talking to myself…and to Clara. It’s you and me girl. Just move and breathe. We’re almost there. It became a bit of a chant in my head for the last couple of miles. You and me girl. Move. Breathe. At about 5 miles I came up next to a father/son team - the son I would have guessed to be about 9 or 10 years old. It was time to bring out the encouraging words, and this dad rose to the occasion. “You’re doing great son. Keep it up. We’re almost there. I’m so proud of you.” I smiled. You and me girl. I swear I felt a push, and I ran a little faster for a moment. A woman passed me near the final stretch and said, “Yay, Clara Grace!” I wasn’t sure how to respond, but it gave me a little jolt. It meant something to me in that moment that someone besides my family was acknowledging my niece’s existence. It was as if her place in this world had been validated and people – strangers – were cheering her on. “Thank you.” I managed to mumble back.

Ultimately, I finished. WE finished. It was a good day. I drank a Mountain Dew, ate a snack and rode the bus home. Later we BBQ’d with friends and laughed while the kids jumped on the trampoline and played badminton. In a couple of days I will wear my t-shirt. In a few months I will receive mailers for the next running event as if this is something that I do now, and a year from now I might just be hurling my big butt over another finish line. Wish me luck.

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