I love a good run, and for a long time, I loved a good race. The butterflies at the start line, right before the gun goes off are infectious. The thrill of a medal at the end is fulfilling. Then, the competitive edge for road races slipped away from me, and I had enough awards, t-shirts, and commemorative mug/water bottles to set me for life. I then transitioned out of racing and found comfort in a run for introspection, fitness, and fun, no competition. It was a nice phase that somehow lasted way longer than I ever anticipated, and once I got out of habit for Saturday morning 5ks, they never really slipped back into priority. Years went bye with no races.
Then, shortly after Wesley was born, my mom asked me to run a road race that many people from her work were participating in one Saturday. I was hesitant, but when she said she would pay the registration fee, I conceded, and that race got me back into some occasional 5ks, my half-marathon, and marathon jaunts. I was back in stride, literally.
Even with the much longer distance races, the repeat race of the one my mom asked me to join in on remains one of the hardest races, and has remained difficult for the past 3 years of me running it. It is hard to pinpoint what makes this 3.1 miles so difficult.
There is one solid hill to run. For a 5k race, it is extremely large, and the race knowledge/etiquette of many runners seems to be virtually non-existent, which results in getting boxed in too frequently, runners aligned with inappropriate pace marks, chaotic water stations, dodging inexperienced “rabbits,” and matters of the like (and if any of that lingo seemed pure jargon to you, you would fit the bill for low race knowledge/etiquette–no offense intended). And even though I medal in the race, I never set a PR and always feel extra exhausted after crossing the finish line.
After this year’s race, I was encouraging a first time 5k runner that I knew, trying to convince her that the race is a hard one. I said all the things above, but something still was lost in that list, something you can’t really pin point, and after speaking with her, it hit me: the emotions.
Emotionally, this race is brutal. It is a major fundraiser for cancer patients, and this race encourages people to race with and for a team. Survivors, fighters, and supporters abound. There are team photos and team shirts, team posters and team hats. It is sorta like a big rally too or community get together, complete with a massive balloon release before the official start of the race.
For the past two years, I have run in honor of my cousin, Jimmy, a fighter of liver cancer. This year, I had to run in memory of him. That’ll put a knot in your gut at the start line and will certainly give you something to think about as you pound the pavement.
For the balloon release, I wrote a card in memory of Jimmy.
I also wrote a card in honor of my sweet friend’s son Grant, who is still battling Retinoblastoma, a cancer behind the eyes that occurred for him genetically, which his family discovered when he was 6 months old. His parents took him to an ophthalmologist and was given the devastating news. Turns out, there were some clear signs of his cancer, one of which was annoying glows in his eyes in photos. It is sorta like red eye, but white, and while you can photo shop out red eye, the white orbs of Retinoblastoma can not be edited out. They remain in the image, and confused and frustrated that the picture will not fix, photo takers tend to move on and find another image without the glow, while inadvertently ignoring a critical disease that lurks. A sweet boy, part of an amazing family that lives healthy lives and do good things, traveling a journey that is too hard for most to fathom. These sort of things make this race hard, for while running, I think of Karen, my second mom while growing up, a lady I loved dearly and lost to carcinoma in my first year of marriage. She made our wedding cake, her last one ever created before the cancer won. Thomas and I celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together attending the funeral home for her.
I think of my friend Pat, who had extremely advanced ovarian cancer and fought like hell to beat it. I can still remember visiting her in the hospital, my belly big in pregnancy with Daniel. She was so doped up and groggy, recovering from her surgery, happy to see me, while I a billion times more happy to see her alive. Annually she holds her breath for a full day when she goes in for a progress report to see if anything has returned.
Kelley comes to mind. Upon hearing the news about her cancer, I cried huge childlike tears to Thomas. I feared losing her, and all I could image was her son, Carver, right at Daniel’s age, being without his mommy. With a million praises, I can say she is still here to celebrate life, and I run and pray she stays cancer free.
And my mind, unfortunately, has more people to remember. I am also grateful that I have many people to honor as well, survivors and fighters.
After crossing the finish line, I went later to check the results that were being posted. In a race of 3,500 participants, along with many, many supporters, the crowds were large and not easily navigated. When I finally connected back with my family, my mom told me: “You missed it. This one lady just crossed the line and started crying like crazy. I mean, she was bent over boo-hooing. She just crossed the line and took a few steps to get out of the way and lost it.” After finishing her description, my mom asked me, “What was that about?” because she thinks I know everything there is to know about running–and that lady, apparently.
I pondered for a few seconds, cause I don’t really know why she was crying. I don’t know her and I didn’t see her. I positioned myself to give an explanation of how it might have been her first race ever, that she might have prepared for months to run those 3 miles and she never expected to finish, how she might have been a survivor, how she could still be fighting, how she might know and love and be a part of someone that is fighting or someone that she might have lost. How each and every step, although just one stupid road race in the middle of 5k season, is mentally and emotionally exhausting.
Instead, I didn’t say any of those things. I just said, “It’s a hard race mom, a really hard race.”