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Crossing the finish

July 5th, 2004 · 1 Comment


Today I did something I’ve been wanting to do for four years: I ran the Fourth of July 5K race.

I wasn’t sure I could do it. Last Sunday I ran the course for the first time, and the hill I hit at the 2 mile mark hit me hard. My stomach cramped, my lungs gasped and I had to stop and walk in order to run again. It intimidated me.

I haven’t been training for long, but I wanted to try the race. It only happens once a year, and previous years I’ve been too busy with babies to make the commitment to run. Now I have no more excuses. So several weeks ago I began increasing my commitment to running, adding more time and distance to my workouts.

Running the race humbled me. Years ago I did track and cross-country in high school. I was competitive and proud. I don’t think I ever imagined myself becoming a thirtysomething mom of three who is so out of shape.

But I can’t deny who I am. Or where I am now, in body and in mind. Running also doesn’t motivate me the way it once did. It used to be my identity. My outlet. My escape. It was a priority in my life. The priority. Now running rates much lower than people and values in my life. It comes in at least sixth place if not lower.

I used to tape Butterfinger bars to the walls of my room. I’d draw posters with big numbers declaring the times I wanted to run. I goaded myself with goals, with mantras…and with chocolate. Add in a dash of pride, self-esteem, rebellion and identity. I knew how to motivate the sixteen-year-old me.

Going into this race, I realized that I didn’t know how to motivate myself any more. Running is as much mental as physical exercise. When I practiced the course last week, I saw how little I had trained for the inner endurance I would need on the long hill. It has been years since I pushed my body beyond comfort. Years since I had to plow through pain with fortitude and focus.

Then I realized that I have practiced endurance. I’ve had three kids. Perhaps remembering how I endured labor would help me endure a 5K race which seems much more manageable than childbirth. Perhaps my new identity as a mom would give me a strength I didn’t have as a teen.

Running today I learned about myself, who I am now. For a while I motivated myself by playing inner music, a beat that flowed along with my feet, a rhythm from the radio that helped me move. I sang along with the lyrics in my head. And I tried to create my own space in the crowd so I could concentrate. I focussed on the street instead of the sea of backs and feet ahead of me.

But when I got to the hill, I had to find something that would help me keep going. I hurt. If I was going to finish the race, I had to make it happen. Labor was the last thing I wanted on my mind. Music didn’t matter to me any more.

What mattered most to me, I found, was remembering what I wanted to say about the race. I wanted to say that I had ran the whole course. That I hadn’t stopped. That I had run, not walked. That I had persevered.

As the grade of the hill grew steeper, I thought about my goal. I thought about how much I wanted to say that I had run it. No stopping. No walking. Some beside me walked. One girl would stop, run backwards, stop again, walk and then run forwards. She passed me and beat me in the race.

But I kept running, even at a slow, “granny-shuffle” pace. I didn’t stop. And I made it all the way to the finish line.

I surprised myself! My time wasn’t great. It wasn’t even good. I did make it under 30 minutes. But my sixteen-year-old self would have cried to receive such a time.

Yet I ran the whole way. I found a pride in the simplicity, in the humility of it. I was happy. I had accomplished my goal. I had crossed the finish.

Almost immediately I felt stronger. Even though physically I could feel how hard the race had been for my body, mentally I knew I had gained new muscles. Inside. I had a new confidence.

Through the past year, I’ve been tossed in various storms and wondered whether I’d survive. At times it’s felt like a desert and I didn’t know if I’d find a way to water. I’ve doubted everything, including myself.

But today I saw with grace that I can persevere. If I want something enough, I can choose to push through the pain for it. I can engage my God-given will and receive reward. Thinking about what I want to say at the end can motivate me to make it through the middle.

Already I’m thinking about next year. I’m planning how I will train to run the race in another 364 days. I want to know that feeling again. I want to know one more time what it feels like to cross the finish.

Tags: journal

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 jenny // Jul 6, 2004 at 10:43 pm

    Oh Julie!!! Congratulations! What a wonderful accomplishment!!! I didn’t know you were planning on running that race:) I am so proud of you!!!