Today I ran the 30th annual Turkey Trot at the Boar's Head.
But, I'll be honest.
I really didn't want to bother. I was so tired this morning when I got up, and I really wanted to sleep in. I'd worked the night before, and then lost my dog for a few hours. My sleep was broken as I worried about him. He eventually came back, and I was looking for an excuse to justify not running the
But, my friend Normajean had transferred her registration to me, and I'd picked up the packet, and I didn't want to let her down. I didn't want to let myself down, either. I've not run a 5K in a very long time, and I wanted to see how I could do.
Part of me didn't want to go because I don't have my children today, and sometimes it's hard to be around other people and their families. I kind of just wanted to be by myself and relax and wasn't sure if I wanted to be around a crowd.
These negative forces were penning me in, and I was wavering and wavering about whether to go. I sat in the car for about two minutes before deciding if I really wanted to start it up. I felt paralyzed.
In the end, I knew I had to go, and just run the race. I had to do my best.
I used to work near the Boar's Head and have a lot of memories from there, and the time I was with my second wife. It is a beautiful complex, with a magnificent pond. I'd never really been back in the Ednam Forest subdivision. My friend Harry had told me it was a steep course, with a particular killer hill halfway through mile 2.
So, I went, and I got there just a few minutes before it started. I jogged half a mile to the start line to warm up. Somehow my GPS watch had gotten on the magic setting that shows my pace rather than my speed. I can never figure out how to make it to do that and can't always translate miles per hour into something that makes sense.
I took this as a good sign, and I was in good spirits at the start line. I was by myself and all around me were families, friends, students, everyone formed in a temporary community to run this race. Hundreds of people had entered the race, and I only recognized a handful of them but didn't go over to say hello because we were so close to the start.
I waited patiently and my mind was calm. I did not have a sense of nervousness at all. I was focused on pushing my body to do something my mind really didn't want it to do but had consented anyway.
And then the starter's gun went off, and suddenly we're off. I was behind a block of slower people for a minute, but I did not get frustrated. We took off due east, straight into the sun. I thought about the power of that magnificent star, giving us everything that we are, the source of so much of our life. The sun shined so powerfully on us and I imagined my cells were being powered by its light. And I ran, ran as fast as I could for that first mile.
If you've never run a race, I have to say you really should. It's a remarkable thing to do. If you follow my postings on Facebook of my runs, you'll see I average about an 8:00 pace. That's the amount of time it takes me to run one mile. Now, that's the average of all sorts of velocities I may be running in at any given point. On flat portions, I'll try to push myself. On the uphills, I'll try to tell myself to slow down. On the downhills, I try to let gravity take over so my heart and lungs don't have to work quite as hard to go fast.
But during a race, I can seemingly run faster. I want to do better than I did previously, and I want to do as well as I can.
That doesn't mean I want to beat other people, but their presence motivates me and pushes me harder. And one of the most interesting things about racing are the fellow racers who end up in your pace group. You begin to wonder if you can push just a little faster than them. You wonder who they are, why they run, what they get out of this. I watch the way they run, the way they breathe, and I'm amazed at how similar we are, as animals who have decided to propel ourselves across asphalt as fast as we can. We're not being chased by anything real. We're running for the sake of running and it is marvelous.
I ran the first mile in 7:05, which surprised me. I thought I was a little slower than that. I felt fine, but up to that point it had mostly been flat. At that point, we were back in the neighborhood, and it was fairly hilly. I seemed to be at the tail end of one pack, with another one about 100 feet behind me. Ahead of me, some of the elite runners were almost halfway through the course.
I try not to think about that.
I ran, and I ran, and as the race went on, I began to fatigue a little. My mind reminded my body to stick to form, and to watch the pacing, and to remember that this is a race. My mind and body worked together to achieve a goal, as opposed to my mind getting in the way of things.
I hit the second mile marker at 15:00 even. The second mile was mostly uphill, so I didn't think this was too bad at all.
I could not run three years ago when my life took a dramatic turn. I was almost 200 pounds and my body was definitely not running the show. So, as I've remarked time and again, I worked hard and learned how to become a system of mind and body. I learned how to cheer my mind up by running hard, by forcing my body to achieve a higher performance. I ran my first Charlottesville Ten Miler in less than 80 minutes (I ran it in exactly 80 the second time around). I can achieve if I work hard.
I've spent the last two months getting back in shape. I'd been in a relationship and I'd let my body go again as I let my mind experiment with emotional attachment. I put someone else before exercise, and when that ended, I picked up the same habit that had sustained me previously.
And here I was, on Thanksgiving Day, running just as fast as I could, running downhill now, coming closer to the end of the course.
In my peer group was someone who I recognize as a marathon runner. A friend of hers had been further back in the pack but had sprinted up but stopped when she got to the woman, whose name is Leah. The friend perhaps thought Leah was starting to lose steam. We were running at a 7:20 pace at this point, and those hills had taken a lot of energy to get through.
I was pushing myself pretty hard, and I was thinking about being a human, and was thankful that I get to be the sort of creature that gets the choice to do this. To run with reckless abandon on a day in which our culture encourages us to appreciate all that we have. This existence, that golden sun shining and illuminating our every day, our every moment.
What fuels us? What makes us go? What makes us get up when things are completely shattered and broken? How can we find hope in a world that times seems one Sisyphus would recognize?
For some of us, we need multiple sources of fuel. Maybe all of us need that. All of us need to feel connected to this universe in fundamental ways that have meaning and give shape to our improbable existence.
I am glad I found running, because it showed me a way of living my life that I desperately needed when another source of fuel dried up suddenly. I'm glad I have found the hobby of playing music. I know there are other sources of fuel for meaning that I will find if I don't close out the possibility.
Leah was struggling, and her friend was encouraging her.
"Come on, Leah, you can hear the finish line! You're on pace to beat your personal record for a 5K! Come on!"
I heard this, and decided to push myself. I dug in and ran as fast as I could. I wanted to get to the finish as fast as I could.
Less than half a mile was left to go, and there I was, on a road I'd been on so many times before as an employee. I was running, picking up my pace, enjoying the beat of footfall all around me, all of us careening towards the end trying to do the best we can. Coming so close now, finish line 1000 feet away or so.
However, my body was not so happy with the idea of pushing full out. I have a tendency to throw up if I run too fast for too long. And sure enough, I could feel the backlash welling within. I slowed down, and Leah and her friend crossed just in front of me. Another guy or two had sprinted past me.
But I wasn't mad at myself. As I approached the finish line, I looked at the clock, and I was doing well. My mind was pleased, and both mind and body were pleased I did not go through with the violence of vomiting, and I crossed at 22:46. I went through the chute, handed in the bottom part of my bib, and then went to grab a coffee.
I didn't know anyone there. When the race was over, I felt like an outsider again. I didn't feel like socializing, but I went and watched people crossing the finish line for a while. It's amazing how different people run in different ways. Some people seem to run effortlessly. Others seem to have to huff and puff and swing their arms majestically.
And different kinds of people run. Tall people. Skinny people. Old people. Little kids. People with weight. People with amazingly perfect bodies. Fathers crossing the finish line with their sons.
Everyone of those people had determination to do the best they could.
And I do the best I can.
I did not stick around for the awards ceremony. To be honest, I saw way too families together, and I didn't want to let the emotional pain into my mind. There is nothing I want more than my children at the end of a race. They've never been there for any of that.
But I hold out hope they will be. I hold out hope that someday I'll have them at the end of a race, or I'll get to run with them in a family event like this.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful of so much. I am thankful that I have three beautiful children, all of whom are doing well. I am in all of their lives to some capacity, and I work so hard to move towards the light of positive feeling so that I can build a life that always seeks improvement.