Bucktown 5K: Pom-poms, Trust and No Glances Behind

Truth is, I don’t like running. Yet it remains the only form of exercise I can tolerate. I avoid it as much as possible but keep signing up for races.

So I must be a runner, deep-down in my gut.

My friend Lisa and I drove up together, parked, took a bus, and arrived in plenty of time. I loved the race swag– a light blue, white and red hoodie with the Chicago flag logo. Mine is just the right size but it was too hot to race in, though I wore it on the way.

I’m struggling.  My friends are able to increase their mileage and continually improve their times. I think I’ve done one race where I ran it all, but otherwise I need to walk at times–  and lately I’m walking father intervals, for longer.

My problems are that I’m unable to commit to a running routine and when my body complains during a run, I’m not able to sustain myself without slowing down to walk at some point. They are signing up for longer races. I’m still stuck doing 5K’s, though I did manage an 8K this spring!

Routine has been a blessing in other areas of my life. I have a feeling it would center me, if I can just find some way to make it happen with running. I’m working on a regular bedtime, weekends included. I know, that sounds so juvenile! But it’s working. I’m not a morning person but am convinced with repetition I can adjust.

How do I jump that mental hurdle? Ignore my sore feet, the pain in my right knee that chronically flares up though I have no official injury? I want to break through!

I refuse to give up, to settle for this. I know I have it in me.

This morning I decided to trust my friend Lisa when she suggested we leave by 6 a.m., park her car away from the crowds on a safe street, and take a bus to the race. I’ve never done that prior, but this was also my first neighborhood race– and she lived in the city years ago. She knows where the parking is bad and what times to avoid, and so I agreed. And it worked! Riding a bus was even a little extra component of fun. We took selfies at the bus stop. It was great to not have to hoof it all the way to the car!

It felt good to trust someone else’s plan.

And today, I truly felt special in this race. I owe it to the cheerleaders/pom squad, whatever title they choose! They were right by the starting line– in uniform and shaking metallic blue and red pom-poms!!

I’m just a woman who pays to race. Who’s not “good” at it yet but still showing up. And being in this neighborhood race today, I felt this enormous gratitude.

I didn’t look back even once– I never stopped moving. My knee was okay! It was such a liberty to not feel any compulsion to check how many people were behind me. I was mindful, focused on where I was going– not who might pass me up or my placement in the number of other racers.

I got OUT of my ego, with that little victory.

And then there were the children– mostly toddlers and four and five-year-olds, standing curbside with their tiny fists opened, leaning in and hoping one of us would choose THEM  as we passed by!

That made me feel like a super-hero! Knowing that some little person was thinking *I was cool because I was one of the people running in that crowd. As we passed through all the beautiful homes in Bucktown, people gathered on their balconies, front stoops, sidewalks  and corners to encourage us. Yelling, holding up signs, dancing, saying ” Great job!!”

Also, how many people in neighborhood envied US– the people who volunteered to challenge ourselves? The crazy people who refuse to quit running?? I’m guessing a lot.

Just when I was feeling sorry for myself about my foot pain, God showed me something humbling: a woman runner sitting curbside, fixing her leg prosthesis. Her t-shirt said “Chicago Blade Runners,” as did the t-shirts of two other women who were not disabled but seemed to be there in support. I’ve now learned it’s a running club for amputees and disabled athletes.

That woman would probably give anything to feel pain again in both feet. Imagine the grief of losing a limb– and not just any limb, but a leg. But that doesn’t stop her.  If that woman’s not making excuses, neither should I!

And when I came to that finish line, I felt myself start to tear up again– two of three times. Again, I wanted to let go and cry with relief, with JOY– but couldn’t. I kept control.

One day, my dream is to run so hard and so fast, that when I cross that finish line I burst into tears without abandon. I will be so proud of myself.

Honestly, I’m proud of myself now. And right now, little tears are escaping me.

Because writing about this is hard– but I’m doing it. I’m admitting to myself– and all of you– that running scares me. That I feel stuck and disappointed in my progress. And that I’m lucky to be surrounded by other runners who inspire me and invite me to race with them, who wait patiently for me to finish after them.

I have two strong legs, two knees, two feet. I can condition them to do better, and I will.

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