"Do you think," I asked, "that I could do that Hot Chocolate 5K thing in November?" It was late summer 2010, and I had an inexplicable wild hair.
"Yes," my friend said, "you can absolutely do this, and I will help you." The next weekend found me out on my first-ever training run, panting, praying for sweet death, with Di running up ahead of me, talking the whole time in a manner that made me envious and hopeful. I registered for the race, not knowing what was about to happen.
I was inspired to try running by my sister Kathie. My sisters and I, we've never been particularly athletic, but I admired Kathie's gumption, and truth be told, I wanted some of my own. But I wanted something else, too. For years, I'd seen runners around town, doin' their thing. Solo, in groups, in the morning, at night ... I wanted what they had. I wanted that wind-in-your-hair freedom. I wanted to see if there was an athlete anywhere inside me.
That first race took place on Kathie's birthday, and I will never forget watching her finish the race. While I ran the 5K, she ran the 15K, and I thought what she was doing was absolutely otherworldly. Hollering to her as she approached the finish line, I couldn't hold back the tears.
I have never seen her look so strong.
Today, I ran my fifth Hot Chocolate race. To date, I've run the 5K twice, and the 15K three times. Today's race wasn't my best time, but it wasn't my worst. I covered 9.3 miles at a pokey pace, and I finished in a little more than two hours and 15 minutes at a pace of 14:31 per mile. But contrast that with four years ago, when I ran 3.1 miles in 49:56, at a 16:05 minute mile. This is what progress looks like.
But it's so much more than that. It's friendships forged, goals set (and occasionally crushed but often missed, yet celebrated anyway), breakfasts eaten, photos taken, challenges offered and confidence built. It's the blisters and the black toenails, the smelly sports bras and the unmentionable chafing, and it's chasing something bigger than you are.
For a long time, I was chasing a sub-40 5K. For a lot of runners, that's incredibly slow, but for me, it's a huge accomplishment. And I've done it. Twice. Now I'm chasing a sub-35 5K, and a sub-3-hour half marathon and yeah, a sub-2 15K. And I'll get there, eventually.
But for tonight, I'm achey and accomplished. My feet are really pissed at me, and there is this raw spot where my trusty sports bra and I clearly did not see eye-to-eye. I'm ravenous and euphoric, not because I made it to the finish line.
No, this incredible feeling comes from believing in myself enough to make my way to the starting line, time and again, with the absolute knowledge that, one way or another, I will finish.
I am so grateful for the love and support of everyone in our tribe. May we only cease to run when our bones are too brittle to risk the impact. I love you with everything I am.