I ran a 10K early Sunday morning. I finished in one hour and six minutes at a 10:36 pace. On the cusp of 40, it was my personal best.
The race route was a loop, so just as we normal running folks approached mile marker two, a pack of super-human running folks passed us on their way back to the finish line. As I huffed and puffed and chanted, “sweet potato fries, sweet potato fries, sweet potato fries,” to maintain my pace, these guys (and gals!) blew past us running five freakin’ minute miles. I thought, running is so easy for them, but then I took a glimpse of their faces as they raced by, and they looked miserable. They actually looked like they were in pain. No matter how talented they were, they were doing something unbelievably hard.
I ran this 10K last year, but this year was different and not just because I ran faster, although I did, damn it! It was different because I didn’t do it alone. INTROVERT ALERT! I like to be alone. It’s why I like being a writer. It’s probably why I like to run, too. (Did I ever tell you about how I picked out my wedding dress all by myself? A story for another day…) For some people, being alone is hard. For me, being alone is easy. It’s comfortable and it’s safe…to a fault.
Last year, I did the race alone because I convinced myself that it would be way too early for Mike to drag the kids out of bed and parking would be a mess. It was really because I was afraid. Afraid to be an inconvenience. Afraid to feel guilt. Afraid to disappoint. It was only after the race was over that I wished I’d done things differently, because I didn’t just feel alone at the finish line. I felt a little bit lonely, and that was hard.
This year, I did two hard things. First, I asked Mike to come with the kids to the finish line. Second, I ran the race with a friend. It was hard to worry about burdening (or letting down) my family, and it was hard to have anxiety about running too slow to keep up with (or letting down) my friend, but I put myself out there, and I’m so glad I did.
My running partner was amazing. I warned her
a few several times to break away if she needed or wanted to, but we ran side-by-side until the very end. Every mile or so, we’d check in with one another.
“You okay?” I’d say.
“Yeah. You?” she’d say.
“Good.” I’d say.
Then we’d carry on.
I had to slow down a bit for the last half mile. “Go ahead,” I said. “I’m right behind you.” After she crossed the finish line, she ran back to cross the finish line with me. If I’d run the race alone again, I would’ve missed out on her incredibly thoughtful gesture of support. Mike and the kids weren’t at the finish line when I got there because parking was predictably a mess, but they arrived eventually, and we celebrated my (kick-ass) accomplishment together. If I hadn’t asked them to come, I would’ve missed out on that, too.
Not being alone at the race allowed me to feel inspiration instead of doubt, courage instead of fear, and camaraderie instead of solitude. I felt the opposite of being alone (and lonely). I felt at ease. Still, as the day went on and my muscles tightened, my toes hurt, and my back ached, I realized I’d actually done something unbelievably hard.