My freshman or sophomore year in college - I don't remember which it was - I had five papers due in one week, all for different classes, each one due on a different day, probably. I think it may have been the week after Thanksgiving, perhaps the last papers for the semester before finals and Christmas break.
Whatever it was, I actively chose not to bring ANY of that stuff home with me to work on over Thanksgiving break. It was supposed to be a BREAK, right? So I took one.
And then I came back on a Sunday and wrote my paper for Monday. I wrote Tuesday's paper Monday night, and so on through the week. No drafts, no outlines. I was an English major. It probably was freshman year, now that I think about it. I had at least two classes...Chaucer, maybe, and something else...Poetry. And some sort of history class, I think, and I don't remember what else. Intro to Theatre comes to mind.
Anyway, I cranked out my papers....
And I got an A or A- on all of them, if I remember correctly.
I don't say this to brag.
Quite the opposite. It wasn't good for me.
I had been able to do that to some degree in high school as well. Chemistry and US History (junior year, our teacher coached football and believed girls should wear skirts and dresses and - probably - be seen and not heard unless it was to announce dinner) were the only classes in high school that I did really, really poorly in. And our Chemistry teacher was no peach either. But still - I'm responsible for my own test scores, I know that.
Anyway, I had, unfortunately, grown quite comfortable with my ability to crank out papers. I carried that through a lot of college, too.
And it taught me that I didn't need to work hard to do well.
Not really a good lesson for me. Or anyone.
So fast forward X number of years. Okay, make that XX number of years. Here I am now, not in school, married, kids, all that.
And back in the spring I started walking with Rosa's Foster Mom, and we talked about running, eventually, and then she suggested we sign up for the NK5K in September. That was a safe distance away - we'd have plenty of time to prepare. And we did. Not together - our schedules just didn't mesh for that - but we would check in with each other from time to time to let the other one know what we'd done, how we were progressing, and so on.
I really started looking forward to getting up early - before the humidity settled in like a big, wet, itchy wool sweater - and mixing some running into my walking. I felt good. I felt good doing it, felt good about it. Felt a bit sore now and then the day after, but that was good, too.
Then we went to Seattle, and I kind of...well, I backslid. I did go on some fast-paced walks with my sister-in-law, but still, I wasn't running (my lazy choice there - I certainly COULD have), so I was basically losing whatever stamina I'd started building.
And then we came home, and various things distracted me. Or, rather, I let them distract me. It was humid. We had painting to do. I needed to catch up on all the laundry. I'm still jet-lagged. Excuses, that's all. But I let them take charge. And I started telling myself things like "Well, once the kids start school I can go running/walking after I drop them off." Which is still a lovely idea, but they started on the 1st, and the 5K was less than two weeks after. Not a lot of time to go from "slug" to "runner."
But I somehow believed, in some delusional part of my brain, that I would do just fine. I'd run most of it and walk when I needed to. No harm, no shame, in that.
It was the same mind-set from school. No need to prepare, to study, to plan. I can turn out an A performance, no problem.
The 5K was this morning.
I woke up early and - TMI coming up - had a lovely bout of the runs before the actual RUN. Crampy and...well, it was gross and unpleasant.
But I put that down to nerves, which were a bit late in showing up. Usually I get nervous about stuff at LEAST the day before, if not even earlier.
I managed to eat a granola bar with some peanutbutter on it, and some water, and then I headed off to pick up Rosa's Foster Mom and my sister and then head over to the high school where the race was set to start and finish. I had my ipod all charged, and my sneakers laced up, and somehow I was still in denial. I was...just...very uncharacteristically relaxed and laid back about the whole thing.
I think it just hadn't struck me yet. What I'd signed up for.
I was joking around, you know? I'm just in it for the tee shirt (well, that was kind of true). I'll run, and if I need to, I'll walk a bit. Hear that? "If I need to..." Talk about delusional. It just didn't seem real to me. I joked around that I was a fraud, and my sister joined in - the police would pull me out of the race - I didn't belong there, I was not a runner. What WAS I doing there, anyway??
And then we were all in a big mass at the starting line. I joked that we were like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse. I don't know why I think like that, but it struck me funny at the time. I was still in that state of "this isn't really happening" or something. Someone sang the National Anthem - and then the announcer took the mike back and started us off.
On your mark.
And suddenly, I was moving along, one of the pack.
Weird. Is this real?
My sister had said "I'll see you at the end" before we started, and she started weaving her way through the slower people. Rosa's Foster Mom and I ran together, still in the long stretch of parking lot before moving into the street.
And then - yes, now THIS is real - I realized I was in WAY over my head.
You can't cram for a race. Can't just wake up one morning and decide you are a runner. Running to shut of the sprinkler in the back yard doesn't count as running.
So I told Rosa's Foster Mom that I'd see her at the end, and I put the brakes on and walked.
I was...mad. Disappointed. Annoyed. At myself. I should have....
No one to blame except myself here. And since there would be no point to my falling to the ground and sobbing with shame, I kept going. I walked. Gasping for breath, mentally kicking myself, but walking. Walking is always better than stopping. Besides, if I didn't finish, the race police would probably be well within their rights to strip me of my tee shirt. And since I was wearing it, I really didn't want that to happen. Too many children around - they might be scarred for life.
Anyway, I walked until I wasn't gasping any more, and then I ran some more. Ran til I thought my legs would give out. Then I walked. Ran until people near me were fainting because my gulping of air was depriving them of all the oxygen in the vicinity. Then I walked. Ran...to that tree! And walked. Ran...to that sign! And walked. Ran...til I passed those high school girls who were more interested in their conversation than in breaking any records. Then walked.
And that's how it went.
Just before the 1 mile mark, there were people on the side of the road handing out cups of water. I was tempted to start running just to get to them faster, but I maintained a bit of dignity. Two little boys were part of the water brigade, and I made sure to take my cup from one of those little boys and I gave him a big smile and a big thank you. He was incredibly adorable.
And I was thirsty. I hadn't hydrated properly. Ah well. Live and learn, right?
I passed the mile marker and felt encouraged - only 2.1 miles to go! I'm a third of the way done! I can do this!
The race started at ten in the morning, and today was a beautiful example of September's finest weather - blue skies, cool but not cold temps, a breeze, and sun. The thing was, the sun was hot when it beat down on me for any length of time. I hadn't hydrated properly before the race - mainly because I had some weird fear that I'd lose control of my bladder midway through the race if I drank too much water. So I opted not to drink enough. I think that was also part of my too-relaxed-about-it state of mind beforehand. Anyway, when I wasn't in the shade, or when a breeze wasn't blowing, it was kind of hot. And I didn't have sunglasses on, either, so there was the squinting. Just - things to remember for next time.
Mile marker 2 was in the pretty little town of Wickford, with some water people planted a little ways before that. A woman stood on the bridge where mile 2 ended, shouting out times from across the road and above the cars. "Twenty-eight twenty! Twenty-eight twenty-one!" or whatever it was - second by second.
I was feeling worn out after that. I hadn't trained. Enough. At all. I certainly hadn't even attempted 3 miles (or 3.1) when I was training. So phrases like "in over my head" and "bit off more than I could chew" drifted through my thoughts.
There was another woman who was sort of doing the same thing I was - runrunrun, walkwalk, runrunrun. We kept passing each other, as our run/walk rhythm was not in sync. I did manage to pass some people over the course of the race. Of course, they were just walking, so I can't really claim that as much of an accomplishment, but still. Passing people felt kind of good.
It was nice to see families participating. Father, mother, son. Father, daughter. Mother, son. It was also nice, if a bit embarrassing, to have women definitely older than myself pass me. Go women-older-than-me! It's incentive to keep doing this - maybe one day I'll be the older woman passing some in-over-her-head younger woman. It's good to have a goal.
But then of course, I was also starting to see runners with numbers pinned on who were running toward me. They'd finished the run - probably hours ago, in my wildly spinning mind - and were running the route in the other direction, just for fun, or something crazy like that. Sure, run more, you big show-offs, with your supremely fit bodies and steel reinforced abs! I resented (not really, maybe envied is the better word) and admired them at the same time.
When I turned onto the (blessedly shaded) road back to the high school, I felt a small surge of energy return. Okay, maybe not a surge, but a...a wave. A flurry. A flutter. I ran in the shady areas and walked in the sunny parts. That was working. And pretty soon I could see the school. The parking lot for the buses where we'd first pulled in that morning...and the people waiting along the road, watching for their friends and family. I tried to pick up the pace, but the sun was hitting there and I could only run in short bursts. I knew my sister had finished a while ago, and I wondered when Rosa's Foster Mom had finished.
And then there was a woman in a white tee shirt handing me a cup of water. Rosa's Foster Mom. She had come to let me know that I'd have to run past where it looked like the entrance to the finish line was and loop around back into the part of the parking lot we'd come out of at the start and THEN cross the finish line. She'd watched some guy turn on the speed going the wrong way, and he had to run back out, up, and around. Presumably burning with shame, frustration and embarrassment, though I don't know. Maybe not. Most people do not seem to burn as much as I think I do. I gulped down water and thanked her for letting me know the last little route. Then she crossed back to the other side - the finish side - and I started running again. So close to finishing. I wanted to finish...respectably. I ran up the little incline, then had to stop. I ran around part of the loop, then had to walk, and then the finish line was in sight, so I ran that last bit of the race so that I could cross the line running. I glanced over at my time, too. 44:25 or something close to that. Hey, less than a fifteen minute mile! Woo hoo! I was burning up the roads, people! Okay, not so much.
But the whole crossing the finish line thing? That was really, really nice. There were a whole ton of volunteers there cheering everyone on, only when you cross the line, it's like they're - for that second or two - ONLY cheering for YOU. They tell YOU you've done a great job, had a great race. ONLY YOU. Or, in my case, ONLY ME.
It's so nice to hear that. It was good to hear that throughout the race. All the volunteers along the way were wonderful - it's amazing how much a total stranger yelling encouraging words at you can help you run a few more steps longer than you thought you could. At the end, I felt a little emotional. I know - doesn't take much with me. But still, there it is. That's how I felt. I walked through the little maze of ropes that funnel you off the course, and someone wrote my number down on the list, and I saw my sister and Rosa's Foster Mom carrying water and smiling, and wow. I did it. Maybe I didn't run the whole way, but I completed it.
And that's something.
We headed up behind the school to where the food was. All I wanted at first was a banana and more water. Pizza didn't appeal to me at all - my stomach felt a little dodgy at that point - but after the banana I sampled some whole-wheat bread from one of the local bakeries (and I'm totally blanking on the name - when I remember it I'll fill it in here) with a cranberry-orange jam on it - very, very yummy. We hung around as overall winners were announced, and then some of the age-group winners. The cool thing to see - one of them - was that all three woman who placed overall were in their late thirties/early forties. The woman who took the number one spot was, if I remember right, 43. And then there were the men in the 50+, 60+ and 70+ age groups - so impressive and inspiring. They didn't have the scores yet for the 60+ or 70+ women when we left, but you know, just seeing people racing at those ages, people who look amazingly fit - it's, well, I hate to keep repeating myself, but it's inspiring. If they can do it....right?
We also waited around while they drew numbers for the raffle, but none of us won anything. So we headed back to the car and I drove my sister home - we visited with her chickens a bit - and then drove Rosa's Foster Mom home - visited with her chickens, too, including Rosa - she's all grown up now, pretty much, and I need to take pictures of her. And then I came home.
Pulled into the driveway and got out of the car. Alex and his friend from across the street, E, were playing in the front yard. E asked what I'd been doing - he saw the number still pinned to my shirt. Alex told him "She was in a race." E said "I didn't know you did races." I told him it was my first one, and I'm doing another one on Halloween. Alex asked how I did. I said I did pretty well. "Did you come in last?" he asked. I used to like that kid a lot. "No!" I said. "Second to last?" he persisted. "No! I came in somewhere in the middle." "Oh! That's good," he concluded as I headed into the house.
Yes, it is good.
P.S. And of course, that "I'm a fraud" thing has come back to bite me. I just looked up the race results - and I'm not listed anywhere. I know I didn't break any records, but still. It would be nice to be listed as having finished it. I emailed the guy in charge of the results. Hopefully it will be rectified soon. Next time - no more self-depracating remarks. Lesson learned!