It has been years since I completed a 5k race. My last race bib was from just before the pandemic, but I have a new one to add to it now. Though there is frost on our roof this morning, this past Saturday it was hot and humid. Georgia is like that–our weather is fickle. I’ve been training with a friend in the early morning hours, meeting up as early as 5:30 and practicing in the dark, greeting the sun with sweaty faces and uplifted spirits. I think some mornings, it was really just sheer stubbornness that we turned our alarms off and laced up. Over time, we gradually increased how long we jogged and decreased our walking intervals. By race day, we were confident we could maintain a steady pace with even breaks of jogging and walking spread throughout. We didn’t plan for direct sun at 2 pm or temperature in the upper 80s that feels like the low 90s because humidity is like being wrapped in a warm, wet blanket of ughhh. When the race horn blasted, my friend and I got unexpectedly separated. She, being the faster of the two of us and less heat sensitive than me, was ahead at a nice clip and I tried to match her pace, using her bright coral shirt as my focus point. Less than a half mile in, my calves began to sting and tighten and my knees smarted with each step. I realized quickly that if I was going to finish the race without injury, I had to walk it. This wasn’t how my friend and I meant to complete this race, waving at each other from opposite sides of the route and sending texts to encourage each other and share location. She also needed to walk, eventually. The heat took its toll, as it does with all runners. There has only been one other 5k I’ve ever wanted to quit and that was my very first one. Back then, I had no idea what I was doing and 3.1 miles felt impossible. This time around, 3.1 miles didn’t feel impossible, but when I turned one of the last corners and saw just how much farther I had to go, I did feel like stomping my feet and yelling at a race worker for not providing more water stations. Heat makes me cranky too. I yelled in my head and kept walking, not a stroll, but fast, hips swinging and arms propelling me on. If it was not for the promise I made to my son that morning, I might have stepped off the course and gone back into the shade, contently eating the free waffle quarters Waffle House was providing in support of the Angel Dash race and its charity, Rachel’s Gift. One of my sons is an early riser and he was up to see me getting my socks and shoes on, following me around while I got my water bottle ready, packed my sunscreen and extra hairband. After grabbing a blanket to snuggle back into bed to read, a favorite activity of his on Saturday mornings, he popped his head back out to say, “Momma, I hope you finish your race!”. I promised him I would, because the choice of verb he used was everything at that moment. He didn’t say “win”, but “finish”. All of those mornings when I didn’t think it mattered to my son, because breakfast to a growing kid is of utmost importance, it did. He saw what I was doing and took something from it. I would tell both kids over breakfast, I’m not training to win and I never will train that way. I’m training to take care of myself, to support my friend, to be strong, to protect my brain, etc. I’d share with them all the various reasons why I run and why being the last person to finish a race is never truly a problem. I train to meet my own goals, including my goal of patience with my body. When walking is necessary so that I can keep running later, then walking is the best choice. I crossed that finish line and met my friend and we curled up in a corner and nursed our water bottles like they contained nectar of the gods. It was one of the best, most rewarding races yet. I didn’t give up and I did finish. This time, I sent my race time to my husband to tell the kids and my youngest thought I had the best time ever. To a 2nd grader with a limited grasp of time, he doesn’t understand that in the race world, my time was terrible. To a 2nd grader with an apparently solid understanding of what running a race is really about, my time was exactly what it should be and proof that, at least in this area, I’m succeeding at setting the example I want my kids to see.
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