Keep a walking pace if you have to. Just keep running.
I’ve never signed up for a 5K before. My Mister hasn’t either. We pay the money, pin on our numbers, and show up early enough to beat the port-a-potty line. The fundraiser is for my kiddo’s school, so all that really matters is making an appearance.
For us, though, what really matters is finishing.
We’ve been battling head colds and threats of ear infections. We sleep deeply (for once) the night before and wake up rested (more or less) well past sunrise.
At the end of the 1-miler preceding our race, we watch as one kid after another powers around the corner and surges past the clock. Little machines, every one. We stretch and psych ourselves up. We make snide comments under our breath. Of course it’s easy for them. They aren’t lugging around 40 years of bad choices.
All we need to do is this:
By the second mile, I’m not sure I’ll be able to. Head is swimming, belly is churning. I am a regular runner, but in all honestly my regular run is a plod. This is what happens when you jog several times a week for over two decades without ever checking a timer. My pace is a stroll. It works to keep my heart strong. What more do I need?
What I need now is one thing only.
As the ground under my feet roils, I calmly repeat the mantra. Keep running. Slow and steady. Keep running.
I ease down to a manageable pace. Two dudes I passed at the last hill are now passing me. It doesn’t matter. I’m running.
So I keep running.
The rattling noisemakers and whooping cheers are just ahead. Maybe I can make it. I sort of want to be sick. I really want to go sit on that bench.
The noisemaking, cheering ladies hold up a sign that says, “Almost there! Half mile to go!” They whoop and holler. The one who offers me water is a friend. Our boys are buddies. Right now I could punch her face.
I thought her clanging rattler was the end.
Half mile is 5/6th of the race done, I tell myself.
Half mile is a whole 1/6th of the race to go, I argue back.
Half empty. Keep running.
Half full. Keep running.
I halve the half and hear the next round of clangs and claps from ahead.
Then it is the corner.
Then it is the last pounding surge of thigh and calf and breath that shouldn’t be able to sprint, but does anyway.
Then it is finish line.
I plow into a crowd whose eyes are already done with me. I wobble to the sidewalk. Keep my head above my heart. Try not to throw up.
My legs return to me. Gravity becomes an ally again. The voice I almost forgot I had hollers out at my Mister as he pounds through the arch.
Then I am standing tall on a stump in the grass with an apple and water, and the principal is calling out names. I half listen. The sun presses into my neck and shoulders. My hands are sore from clapping. The lithe and grinning runners — real runners — collect ribbons and hugs, then pose and snap photos with their cameras.
The principal comes to my age category. Third place, second place, names I don’t recognize of women I don’t know. Then first place.
A name I recognize.
A woman I am meeting for the first time.
I wobble a bit then step up for my ribbon, my hug.
My mister lets me pose and snaps a photo with my camera. Blue ribbon on the damp, pink field of my tank top.
For the simple effort of maintaining a single aim, this small award.
This big reward.