I ran my first ever 10k a few weeks ago. It was held in an idyllic Delaware beach town the day before Easter. The day dawned very cold with an intense wind blowing off the ocean. The kind of wind that stops you dead in your tracks and makes your eyes water. I arrived early, and ventured up onto the boardwalk to stretch and listen to the waves. Crowds of incredibly fit looking people were murmuring and stretching and running back and forth getting ready to run and the light was breaking through the clouds like a perfect post card picture. I stood at the starting line, moving around a little with my legs feeling numb and listened to the pre-race announcements. The national anthem was belted out by a local girl with a ton of embelishment; the notes bouncing off the house-fronts and I wondered if the sleepy inhabitants appreciated so much patriotism so early in the morning.
The starting horn blew and within the first three minutes I watched as everyone took off up the street, until the huge clump of people looked like a tiny clump of ants far, far ahead of me. I nervously looked behind me to notice that I was still in a small group of older runners and some other novice-types so I tried to settle into the steady run I had planned, but my brain was darting all over like a squirrel. It was so unlike my normal runs where I find my groove and it’s almost an out of body experience. I don’t race anyone, there’s no one to pass or be passed by, there’s no pressure to finish in any particular time. I tell myself its all very zen. And I went into this race fully intending to be as “in the moment” as possible. Until the first turnaround point on this double loop course which it turns out can really screw with your head. I was cruising into mile 2 when an entire army of freakishly fast cyborg type runners came blasting past me already well into mile three. I glanced at my watch and realized they were running six minute miles and that’s exactly when my little zen plans went out the window and I started to have serious concerns about being dead last in my very first 10k.
I picked up the pace a little, got a sudden case of I gotta pee nerves and had to detour to the portajohn. While in semi darkness, as I listened to my own ragged breathing of chemical fumes, I had a moment to consider how giving birth to three children has robbed me of control, not just of my bladder but of many other things in my life. I also realized that the majestic rising like a phoenix story I was going to share with my friends as proof of the power of sobriety was going to take a beating when I mentioned that I peed myself a little right in the middle of the majestic rise. So I was rushing and banging my elbows on the side of the portajohn trying to get myself all re-combobulated and back out onto the road, all the while picturing myself crossing the finish dead last. I envisioned the race organizers having already dismantled the clock, packing up their gear and no one left but my poor family huddled and waiting in the freezing cold. Talk about a visual. Clearly, if you are trying to go “all in” on cognitive restructuring along with all of it’s wholesome emphasis on asking “is this true?” then none of this sort of thinking was the way to go. But there it was: That voice, the one that’s been in my head for as long as I can remember. The one that tells me I’m not strong, not enough, not able, not worthy. It stuck with me through about mile 5. And then the course led me off the beach road up a steep ramp to the boardwalk for the final mile. The wind hit me full blast, knocking me backward and I looked to my left and saw that amazing postcard vista again and then I had a new set of thoughts. “I can’t believe I’m actually looking at the ocean right now. Or that I’m doing this. Four hundred days ago I was almost dead from drinking. I just ran five freaking miles. Wow, this wind is seriously intense. But I’m still going and I’m going to finish this race..”
That new voice is just a small voice sometimes, and in things like races where I’m slow and just getting back into running I feel like it’s silly to be giving myself pep talks. When people are conquering far bigger races and mounting huge comebacks, it’s easy to feel like my own little raggedy runs aren’t important. The woman who placed first in my race finished her 10k so quickly she had time to stroll around a little and probably have a snack before running the 5k that began an hour after our race. She ended up being the overall winner in that one. I don’t care who you are, that’s impressive. And even more so when you find out that she’s 48 years old. I can’t help but wonder what her motivation is and where you get that kind of drive and I try imagine all of her Whys. But her story is hers. Just like mine is mine. And when I think about how far I’ve come from my last day one to this day, I feel pride. I wouldn’t have lasted much longer living the way I was. I had given up on every dream I had and spent more hours recovering from the severe abuse I was putting my body through than hours spent doing any actual living. If I was sore it wasn’t because I had just run six miles after running five the day before and maybe three the day before that. It was because I had blacked out and fallen again and had mystery bruises and because actual breathing, the in and out and the moving and the talking and actual functioning had become sheer agony. I would try to drink to numb it out and then hope to never wake up.
So when I crossed the finish line it may have just been an 11 minute per mile 10k done by a novice middle aged mom of three and utterly non-impressive to what I consider “real runners” but to me it was more than that. It’s living, moving, breathing proof that I’m alive again. I’m moving forward and taking on challenges that scare me. I’m staring down a road and yes, people may be much further ahead than I am. But I’m moving. One day at a time. One mile at time. I’m going to do this. And keep doing it. And if some days the wind knocks me back and the challenge makes me literally pee my pants, then so be it. That’s why they make black leggings.