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I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. In high school, my sport of choice was cheerleading because I was certain it would not entail running. I was wrong. Every morning. 6:00 am. Around and around the track we ran. “We” meaning everyone else as I slowly slogged (slow jog) behind them. My sister is a runner. She always has been. For a long time I’ve wanted to be a runner like her, but the three words I used to my requesting-a-running-partner sister were always the same: maybe next time.
At a young age I started watching that older sister, Kim, sign up for, run, and finish every 5K the Sanpete valley had to offer. Once in a while, in the early mornings, I would decide that maybe I could run with her, and I’d lace up my sneakers and follow her out the door. But try as I might, as soon as mile one would roll around, I’d be doubled over trying to catch my breath while motioning for her to go on without me. I wasn’t a runner. Fourth of July and Scandinavian Days Fun Runs came and went, and each would end with me telling myself that maybe next time I would participate.
That was almost five years ago, and up until April of this year I was still telling myself that “maybe next time” I would participate. At the time, I was running/slogging a mile or so a couple of times a week, but nothing was pushing me to reach my long-time goal of running a 5K. A Sunday walk along the Provo River Trail changed that. As I passed the advertisement for the upcoming Utah Valley Marathon, I realized I had a good two months until the race would actually take place. I thought about that length of time and realized that by June 13th, I could be ready.
It seems a little bit silly to most that I would have to “get ready” to run a measly 3.1 miles, but for me, this 5K was an average runner’s marathon. I would have to train and push and tell myself a million times over that I could do it. I would have to get up early and time my miles and practice breathing techniques in order to accomplish such a feat. Later that night while lying in bed, I perused the Utah Valley Marathon website via my iPod. I had been toying with the idea of signing up for the 5K all day, and I told myself that if I just did it, I would have no reason not to get ready. I filled in each section and bubble, I entered my credit card information, I agreed to the terms and conditions, and then I stopped dead in front of the final “submit” button. I rolled over and asked my husband what he thought. Could I really do it? Would I ever be able to run that far? Could I be ready by June 13th? Before I could spit out another question he had grabbed the iPod, scrolled to the “submit” button, and made the choice for me. He had more faith in me than I had in myself, and he knew that I needed the extra shove he could give me. I was signed up. I was on the list. I was going to run a 5K.
Well, as with everything I do, my tendency to procrastinate kicked in and the days leading up to the race began to tick by. I wasn’t being completely lazy, I was running a mile to a mile and a half three or four times a week, but I wasn’t pushing myself to go any further than that. I kept telling myself that I had plenty of time and that I could still be ready by June 13th. I considered making a schedule for myself in order to see how much further I needed to be running each day in order to be ready, but I talked myself out of it certain that I had plenty of time.
On June 5th, I realized I had just over a week before the race. That June 13th date was staring me in the face as I went for a jog with my husband and we went one and a half whoppin’ mile and a half. I wasn’t completely dead at the end of the run, but I didn’t know how I would ever double that length in only a week.
It wasn’t the easiest running week of my life, but I pushed myself and got as ready as I could get in four short days. Friday night, I tossed and turned in bed, uneasy about what to expect the next morning, and when I arrived at the Provo Towne Centre, I couldn’t believe how many cars filled the parking lot. I had heard news that there would be over a thousand runners in the race, and I hoped that out of those thousand people, I wouldn’t come in dead last. I felt intimidated by the lady in tight biker shorts and a sports bra, I felt nervous standing next to the girl with the ear buds already in and the determined look in her eye. I felt reassured by the lady who, I was sure, was at least eight months pregnant. “If she can run this, so can I,” I told myself. I felt sheepish standing in the crowd by myself, so I put in my own ear buds and pretended to tinker with my iPod. A voice soon came over the speaker that the race would be starting in one minute. The voice gave brief instructions about the course of the route, reminded us to stand near the mat so we would be timed, and wished us luck. The knot in my stomach twisted and grew, and the blood in my veins pumped harder and faster. Then, a gun shot, and the massive crowd was pouring through the tunnel. My adrenaline kicked in and as I picked up my feet, and I couldn’t help but smile at myself and the hundreds of other people around me.
I’d like to say that the next thing I remember is crossing the finish line to a cheering crowd, but it’s not. Those were three (point one!) long miles for me. I put sweat and energy into every step I take when I run. I watched myself pass and fall behind the run-then-walk ers, I shook my head at the boy rounding mile two as I crept across the mile one mark (crazy five-minute milers!), and I watched the back of the girl staying steps ahead of me. Around mile one and a half I finally found my groove and felt like I could run forever, and around mile two and a half I wondered how I could keep going. “I am not a runner,” I thought to myself, “What was I thinking signing up for this?!” Then I remembered my goal. I looked around at those hundreds of people and remembered how long I’d been wanting to do this exact thing. Although my pace slowed, my will didn’t. “You’re not gonna die, you’re not gonna die, you’re not gonna die,” I told myself with every step. “Don’t stop and walk, you can’t stop and walk, don’t stop and walk,” I silently chanted to myself. “Just get to that tree. Just get to that post, just get to that curb.” I’m not lying when I say I put sweat and energy into every step. Running is hard work for me. Hard work! I focused on a certain hill and told myself that once I reached the top of it, I would be home-free. I reached the top of that hill, two side aches, my shoelace coming undone, sweat dripping down my face, and I actually felt home-free. I smiled at myself as I realized that I had almost done it. I had almost finished running farther than I had ever run before. I had almost finished a race! A real live, actual race! I picked up my pace as I jogged up the last hill, and I smiled as I ran towards the finish line. I lowered my head as I crossed the line, grateful that I had made it. I stopped my watch and checked the time. Slow. Really, really slow. But I finished. I didn’t stop and walk. I didn’t die. I was doing an inner victory dance (because nobody wants to look like a crazy doing an outer victory dance) as I grabbed a water bottle and headed to stretch. I looked at the people around me. I found the lady in the biker-shorts and sports-bra, the girl with the ear buds and determined eye, the pregnant lady… and I realized we’d all done it. We’d all finished the race.
As I walked to my car, I couldn’t help but smile. I sent my husband a text: “I did it!!” I knew it would be hours before he’d read it, but I was so excited that I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I got in my car, turned off my iPod, and realized the goal I had just reached. “Maybe,” I thought to myself, “maybe I am a runner.”