Two years in a row I've run the Charlottesville Ten-Miler. Today I ran three minutes slower than I did last year. I've not been able to train. I spend most of time doing some form of work to pay for the various things I must pay for, and I have generally chosen to rest up than lace up my running shoes.
But still, I ran eight minute miles through the streets of my home, along with 2,500 other people. Among that number were my best friend from growing up and his sister. I've not seen them for many years. Both of them took up the sport recently, in part to memorialize their late father, who ran like the Dickens while we were all growing up in Lynchburg.
I've never gone to a race with a friend before, never stood on the line chatting while waiting for the signal to be given. This seemed to make time go faster, and for a moment I was a bit worried that I wasn't going to be able to do my pre-race meditation.
I want to notice everything about everyone else. I want to know who my fellow reporters are, and what has made them decide to spend large amounts of time training so they can run as fast as they can.
Last night, people kept asking me at the Tavern why on earth I would get up so early to run. I generally don't answer them straight. Sometimes they're just expressing that they would never dream of running.
"I only run if I'm being chased," said one person. I smiled, because I might have felt that way three years ago.
I woke up an hour and a half before the race start, and it was cold and dark outside. No regret.
At 7:15, the dark gray sky had slowly given way to hints of a blue and orange morning, fitting as we would run through the University of Virginia. Jeffry and I stood there, chatting about zombie movies. We could barely hear the PA system as we stood in the crowd waiting the chance to move our legs.
I didn't run growing up, and neither did Jeff. I didn't do much of anything physical after a disastrous season playing soccer in 3rd grade. We didn't win a single match, and I lost interest. I got fat as I got older.
And then, somehow in my mid-thirties, I became a runner. I had to, in order to get past a terrible emotional disaster. I ran to stay ahead of my dark thoughts, to get away from the worst in myself.
Two years later, I'm well ahead of those things, and it's become a lot less important for me to get out there.
And then I run a race, and remember that's why it's so important for me to find the time to get the training in.
I want to compete with my running friends, want to do the best that I can possibly can. I want to watch all the strides. I want to hear people's different techniques for breathing. I want to learn how to push myself faster, and to cheer on those who are both better than me and not as capable as me.
The adrenaline of a race is powerful. I always manage to run faster. Unfortunately, that doesn't always work out because I have on occasion caused myself to become sick by going outside my skill level.
I didn't do that today, but I came close. I figured out a pace I was comfortable with, and stuck to it.
So, I was pleasantly pleased when I got to the last mile and I had a ton of gas left in my tank. I picked up the pace for a bit and then hit the Wall of Impending Vomit and slowed it back down.
And then I saw someone I first met ten years ago when I was still working for WVTF Public Radio, and I was getting paid to do this radio diaries project. She was there on the side of road cheering me on. As I passed her, I thanked her, and then thought about her, and all of the other bystanders I knew along the way who cheered me on. At least ten people I know told me I was doing a great job.
So, to honor them, I dug in. With about a quarter of a mile to go, I started sprinting. I had this moment of perfect clarity, this sense that I am this person, this person who has survived to this point. I made a mad dash towards the line, hoping to come in under 80 minutes, and it was the most fantastic feeling in the world to cross, under my power.
I didn't make it in under 80 minutes. I was sixteen seconds over that target, but that doesn't matter. There's another race coming up soon. Want to run it with me?