On June 9, 2012, I ran in my first 5K. I ran as a part of Team Hope in the Susan G. Komen Quad Cities Race for the Cure. It is something that I’ve been blogging, tweeting, and status updating about a lot in the last few months, so I thought I’d share my experience.
I took my shirt out the night before the race. I should have been in bed. I was a little worried because I had just spent the last few days at Annual Conference, at which I did a lot of sitting, a little walking, and no running. My last run was Monday, and the race was Saturday. I had hoped to get a run in on Wednesday or Thursday, but I got back to the hotel exhausted each night after conference. Plus, on Monday night I re-tweaked my knee and strained my calf. It wasn’t exactly the week of prep I had been hoping for. I laid out my shirt and bib, drank a few glasses of water, and went to bed shortly before midnight.
At 6:30 my wife and I are up. We get our girls up, and we arrive at our team’s meeting place at about 7:30. I had a bunch of glasses of water, and one little breakfast wafer. I’m worried that isn’t enough food for before a race. I don’t like to workout on an empty stomach, but the anxiety suppresses my appetite. There are a few extra things I have to put on – the shoe chip, the number bib, and the “In memory of” paper. On it, I write simply “Aunt Jean.”
As I walk from our church to the starting line, I start to get emotional. I see other teams. Teams with names of survivors. Teams with names of women that have died. I see one 10 year-old-boy whose “In Memory of” paper simply says, “Mom.” I wipe a tear from my eye as I think of all the women that are represented here. I feel a surge of energy as I think of the women in my life. I have their power. My heart starts to race like it did before a football game. “It’s game day,” I think to myself. I’m excited. I’m ready. I start to think of my Aunt Jean, and I feel a twinge of guilt because I know that I’m not doing this for her.
I am running in memory of her. I am inspired by her. I am strengthened by her, but I do not do this for her. I kiss my daughters as the people that are with them make their way back to the “Strollers” part of the starting area. I am waiting in the “joggers” section. If this moment were all about Aunt Jean, I would be with them. I would walk easily with my girls and hold their hand as we were united in solidarity. I’ve done that kind of walk before, and I hope to again. That’s not what this is about.
I am running for myself. I am running for my life. I am running because I want to be better, feel better, and live better. I am running to be a better husband and father. I am running because I want to see my girls graduate college. I am running because I want to be a better pastor. I am running because I want to be a witness, no, I want to be evidence, that transformation is possible.
It hurts a little to think in such a selfish way, but it is true. On the way to the race, my daughter asked me, “Are you going to win, Daddy?” I chuckled and said, “No, sweetheart. It’s not that kind of race. There will be lots of people that finish before me.” ”
“Who’s going to win?”
“I don’t know. I’m not really trying to win. I’m not trying to beat anybody but myself.”
“What do you mean?”
“I only want to beat my old self.” I’m not sure if she understands when she asks, “So are you going to win?”
“Yes,” I say. “Yes I am.”
I’m standing with 8,500 others, getting ready to start. The people are packed in, and there is a lot of energy. A survivor says some things that I can’t listen to. The national anthem is sung, and goosebumps raise on my arms. We start.
The pace is extremely slow at first, and we are a good 100 feet from the starting line. My wife and I are together as we walk toward the starting line. She has never gone 5K before. She’s hoping to finish in an hour. I’ve done it a few times on the treadmill, and six years ago I ran a 5 mile race in St. Louis, but six years is a very long time. In February I set a goal of 40 minutes. I have since updated that goal to a 12 minute mile pace. It takes awhile to get to the starting line, and when we do we let go of each other’s hands. I start to jog.
The energy at the start of the race is high. There are bands playing. There is a high school cheer squad. There is heavy traffic as I weave between people still walking. I finally make my way to the edge of the street and try to get into an even pace. My mouth is full of cotton by the time we reach the first watering station.
When we reach the mile marker, there is a turn-off for those just doing the walk. I keep going. My first mile is under 10:30, which is pretty fast for me, and I get a little worried. Usually when I’m on the treadmill I walk when I get to the first mile. I keep going. I might not be doing this for Aunt Jean, but I can feel her power. I push and tell myself to keep going.
It is a fairly hot day, so I decide to jog on the shady side of the street. I’m astonished at how many people continue to line the course. We pass another band. We pass some front yards, and I give high-fives to a bunch of people as I jog by. I pause for 30 seconds to walk at one water stand. I pass a guy in a clown suit cheering us on. I pass an extremely large woman hip-hop dancing and cheering with a microphone. We run through a Mexican neighborhood, and people are on their porches playing Latin music cheering us on. The support may seem silly, but it helps. I know I’m not alone.
I pass the second mile marker at about 22:30, 1:30 ahead of my 12 minute mile goal. It starts to hurt. I walked twice for a total of 45 seconds in my first two miles, but we make a turn and head directly into the sun. After a short time I start to wonder how they picked a course that is uphill both ways. I walk more. I jog more. I see the really good runners doubling back, running against traffic just for fun, I guess. “Show offs,” I mumble between heavy breaths. I walk more. Every time I start to walk I see my girls. I jog more. I see their smiles. I remember my oldest daughter counting out my sit-ups at the gym when she was two. I tell myself “you are strong enough.” I tell myself, “For them.”
At the end of the long straight away there is a turn, and the third mile marker. I’m at about 35 minutes. I have something left. I stop jogging, and I start running. I run hard. I kick my legs, and as I make another quick turn I see the finish line. Now I am flying. A woman next to me starts to run too. We cross at about the same time. The official clock reads 37 minutes, but I know it took at least a minute to get to the starting line. Somehow I reset my stopwatch during my final kick, so I’ll never really know my exact time, but I know it is right at a 12 minute mile pace.
I almost collapse at the end. I catch my breath, grab a cookie, and a bottle of water. I want to hug my daughters. I want to tell them that I won. Instead, I grab an extra water bottle and turn around. I go back to the final 50 yards and wait. I don’t cheer anyone on because I have no energy left. Then I see her come around the turn. I go to her and take her hand briefly and say, “You can do this. We can do this,” and she nods.
She starts to jog again. I jog alongside her. Now she can see the finish line, and she starts to run. I run alongside her. She runs harder then I’ve ever seen her run. We started this thing together. We finish it together. I give her the bottle of water, and she drinks. She catches her breath, and we hug. For a moment I think we’re both going to collapse. We just lean into each other and cry.
We finished the race. We met our goals (she crushed hers – she actually finished at a 15 minute mile pace). We have done so much more. We have transformed our lives. We have changed our bodies. Together, we’ve lost about 60 pounds. Together, our clothes don’t fit quite the same. Together, we are healthier and stronger. We started this thing together, we still have a long way to go, but I know that we are going to finish it together too.
Eventually, we find our daughters. They aren’t too keen on hugging us because we’re soaked in sweat, but they both accept a couple of salty kisses.
My oldest asks me, “Daddy, did new, strong, healthy Robb beat old, unhealthy, fat Robb?”
“Yes,” I say, and I laugh because I know she gets it. “Yes he did.”