On Monday, I ran the annual 4th of July 5K in a neighboring town. It’s a great run for me, a nice, fast course. The problem is that a) it’s 4th of July and ridiculously hot, and b) the final straightaway heads directly into the blazing sun, which feels at least 10x hotter than when the sun is at your back. Fortunately, I’d just read the heat-themed articles in the August issue of Runners World magazine and did some pre-race hydration that maximized my coolness without requiring mid-race porta-potty stops. Perfect.
I went out much too fast and I knew it, so I started my runwalking approach pretty early on in the race, wondering if a carefully calculated strategy would slow me down or help me finish faster. I walked with Team members, offered encouragement to an 8-year-old boy who was questioning why this ever seemed like a good idea in the first place, and chatted with police officers who lined the course.
I finished in 30:36, within a mere 36 seconds of my all-time personal record last year on the same course. It was a respectable time and showed some pretty significant improvement since the See Jane Run 5K in early June. And the best part of my race had to be coming around the final corner and seeing my 4-year-old waving his American flag with a big smile on his face, very proud of his Mommy.
After the race, I planned to stay for the awards ceremony, just because I think that it’s the polite thing to do. And then it hit me: the elite runners don’t need me there to applaud for them. The people who need me are the 10K runners who are lumbering down that brutal final straightaway for the second time (the 10K is a double loop of the 5K course). So I stood on the grass and cheered on the other runners, including members of my Team (Go, Team!), but mostly complete strangers.
And something suddenly occurred to me as I watched their exhausted, sweaty and demoralized faces change to smiles as I cheered: sometimes we just need someone to be our cheerleader, to give us that little bit of encouragement to get to the finish line. I was swept up in the moment, so happy to be there for them, and realizing that maybe my Strengths Finder analysis was correct. (More on that in a different post.)
But there was one person I’ll never forget. Coming down the road in the middle of the pink 10K race bibs, were two women with the white 5K bibs, a full hour after the race started. One was significantly overweight, and the other was dressed in triathlete garb. The triathlete had long since finished her race, but had spotted the other woman struggling to make it through and had gone back to walk with her to the finish. They walked, stopped, rested, and began again. “I didn’t even know if I could walk a 5K,” the woman said, breathless, “but look, here I am and the finish line is right around the corner.”
Her triathlete partner gave her the game plan: she’d stick with her right until the end when she’d step away and let her go through on her own. “Don’t forget to smile!” I advised. “They have photographers at the finish line. You want to look triumphant!” She gave me a big smile and a fist pump and continued on her way.
I swear that now whenever I feel like I can’t go another step further in anything I do, I will remember that woman.
Here I am. The finish line is right around the corner.
2011 5K Results
- Oakland Running Festival: 31:47
- See Jane Run: 33:55
- Proud to Run: 32:58
- San Ramon: 30:35