Last Saturday I ran the third annual Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) 5K, which is organized and run by a group of Montclair High School students to benefit an Essex County non-profit that helps our area’s homeless families. The student organizers provided great race day fun, from the warm-up calisthenics led by a local trainer, to the live band, and a swag bag that included, among the gift cards for free classes and other cool stuff, a yummy cookie from race sponsor and local food chef/blogger Suzanne Michaud of Comfort Food Kitchen.
Race day dawned warm and sunny. Most of you probably already know the course in Brookdale Park, which straddles Bloomfield and Montclair, is a hilly one. It's a real challenge for me; hill running wears me out. I walked to the park, picked up my race bib, pinned it on and started to warm up my middle-aged body; with each twist, bend, squat and trot my muscles began to soften and elongate. All of us, 134 runners strong including an entire girls lacrosse team, lined up at the start; I stayed well back from the front, giving the faster runners a clear opportunity for a quick start.
The gun sounded and we were off, down the length of the track and out the gate into the park proper. I searched for my stride and found it pretty quickly; my running breath took longer to find, but eventually it kicked in too. Around the park I ran, keeping pace with the much younger woman dressed in blue in front of me. No one passed me, which was a delightful first for me. At about the 1.25-mile mark the young woman in blue slowed her pace; I slowed too. Then she started to walk.
I ran up to her and managed to squeeze out, "Hey, keep running. I need you. You’re pacing me!"
She smiled as I ran by. A few moments later she passed me with a wave. Happy, I settled back in behind her, my pace runner. The sun shone brightly and the sweat trickled down my back, down my face. On we ran.
At about the 2.25-mile mark the young woman in blue slowed to a walk again. As I ran by her I rasped, "Keep moving, girl! I need you!"
In short order, she picked up her pace and passed me with a smile. We headed up the hill to the finish line. I saw the clock in the distance down the length of the track … 30 minutes and counting … and I tried to run faster, breathing hard, as I was cheered toward the finish line by the encouraging crowd lining the track.
I crossed the finish line in 30:38.6, a personal best! As I caught my breath, the young woman and I smiled at each other.
As I walked home from the race, my fourth since March, I realized something:
I am a runner.
I can run.
How about you? Have you realized something about yourself that makes you smile?