I have watched Chariots of Fire at least a dozen times since I was a kid. It is one of my father’s favorite movies. I loved the Eric Liddell character and watching that movie made me want to be a runner. But I always hated running, and truth be told, part of me still does. When my dad was in his forties he took up running for the first time. It began as a necessary step to help control his cholesterol, which was high in spite of a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight. I ran with him a couple of times when I was in high school and hated pretty much every minute of it. Other than one one or two single attempts in college, I never attempted running for exercise again. I took four dance classes a week, I did Pilates and yoga. I taught dance. I walked most days after work, but I was never a runner.
Two years ago my dad ran his first marathon. In the last year alone, my father has run two more marathons and a half marathon as well as helping to train a group of 10K runners for the Runner’s World Half Festival. All of this in his mid-fifties.
As part of the Runner’s World Half Marathon Festival our church decided to organize fitness groups. We had non-competitive walking groups as well as training groups for a 5K and 10K. Many of the runners decided to enter the Runner’s World races. I had never run more than a mile in my life, let alone entered a race, but I wanted a new challenge.
Last Saturday I ran my first 5K. I didn’t win any awards (though I did get a medal for participation that I love, as a reminder of this important personal achievement) and I certainly didn’t have an impressive time. But I ran 3.1 miles without stopping, something I had never been able to do during my nine weeks of training.
Two weeks before the race I injured my foot, probably a small tear in my plantar fascia. Suddenly this all really mattered to me. I wanted to run this race. Now I needed to. I had registered. I had committed, I wasn’t giving up now. So I cut back on my training schedule but kept running. I iced my foot, wore sneakers all the time and took plenty of Advil. I was determined I as going to complete this race.
I had two goals. Complete the race in the allotted time, which was one hour and be able to run the whole distance without stopping or walking. I wasn’t overly concerned about time, it was more important that I finish. The week of the race I only did two training runs. The first was an actual practice on the race route. After that, I felt confident. Four days before the race I did my usual training run in my neighborhood. My foot and lungs gave out around 2.75 miles. The day of the race was colder than I anticipated. As we stood around waiting for the race to start, my foot was already cramping. As we began to run each step sent shooting pain through the arch of my foot. But was determined to keep going. Slowly, I got into the rhythm and my foot kind of numbed out. Thanks to the training run we took of the course a week earlier, I knew what to expect. As we climbed the last hill I knew the rest would be mostly downhill and then straight away to the finish. With the finish in sight, my pacing partner and I exchanged thanks and encouragement as we headed toward the finish line. I think we may even have sprinted a little. 36 minutes, 11 seconds. 11 minutes, 41 seconds per mile.
As my husband found me in the crowd I couldn’t quite believe it was over. It seemed to go by so quickly. I didn’t feel any pain until we began walking to the car. 5 days later I still have pain most days and I plan to take at least two weeks off from running. But I finished.
Racing was different. There was an energy and excitement. I realize that by most running standards 5K is a very short race. But I felt exhilarated. But it’s hard to carry that excitement into the cold at 6 AM when you hit the road alone. Will I keep running? I’m not sure. But I think I want to. I especially want to race again. For some of my training partners this race represented a major triumph. One recently, by the grace of God, has overcome panic attacks. Another is fighting thyroid cancer. Our training leader began his running journey to battle a family history of high blood pressure and heart attacks and he is now in the best shape of his life with multiple 5K’s, 10k’s, and half marathons under his belt. For me it was a simple as a new challenge. Taking a first step towards trying something new that I never thought I could do. Realizing that I am stronger than I think and more capable than I realize. That was my dream and now I don’t want it to end.