I am a runner. I know, I know. I started off the first blog post in this two-part series by stating the exact opposite. But I have to be a runner. How else could I have found myself standing a few yards behind the fire-engine red starting line of the Big Dog 5K on a beautiful fall day by the Charles River? I looked around to find that I was surrounded by a massive crowd of serious-looking people clad in spandex, busy stretching and twisting their sinewy limbs into unnatural positions, headphones dangling out of their ears. Questions and irrelevant thoughts began to fill my head. I wonder what that guy’s listening to? He looks like a Wham! kind of person. I shouldn’t have had that coffee. Ugh, my stomach. I hope I don’t puke. Oh god, what if I do? Should I just keep running, like it never happened? Isn’t that what the marathoners do when they have to go the bathroom? This kind of train of thought continued for some time, unfortunately. Among all of the thoughts about coffee and George Michael, what I was really worried about was that a) I wouldn’t achieve my goal of running the entire race or b) I would come in dead last. I’m a competitive person. Last place is not a place I like to be in, whether it’s during an intense game of Candy Land or while waiting in line at the DMV. And then the guy with the megaphone yelled “GO!” and my life flashed before my eyes.

You know the wildebeest stampede scene in The Lion King? I felt like that one sickly wildebeest limping in the back of the herd, destined to become lion food. People were flying past me, elbows flying into ribcages, feet pounding the pavement dangerously close to nearby ankles. Within a few seconds, one over-enthusiastic fellow runner slammed like a football player into my back. It was one of the most jarring and humbling experiences of my life. I mean, I never said I was Usain Bolt or anything, but the fact that I was slower than the average 5K-er was now being shouted at me from all sides. The chaos slowed a bit after we passed the first mile. The Speed Racers were all at the front and the rest of us were staggered along the route. I found my groove and took a minute to look around. It was a gorgeous day to be in Boston. The sun was shining, the air was crisp, and the garbage trucks were loud as they honked at us from the highway. Things were pretty golden until I looked to my left to see a fallen soldier vomiting on the side of the route, completely validating my starting-line fears. I couldn’t help but send her a positive vibe or two before patting myself on the back for the small accomplishment of NOT being her. I was feeling good when right before Mile 2, things started to get a bit hazy. My vision started to look like a Van Gogh painting. My joints started to creak, and it suddenly felt like I was running against a very strong gust of wind. This was something that had consistently happened during my training. My body would be in fast-forward for most of Mile 2, and then everything would suddenly switch into slow motion. I started to pump my arms faster, which provided a small, temporary adrenaline boost. I slowed myself down, but that only made me feel even more lethargic. An ugly voice began polluting my thoughts. Well, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if you walked the last part of the race. Maybe even just for a minute? Just to get yourself centered? I mean, you wouldn’t even have to tell anyone. I had just passed the Mile 3 mark when I figured it all out. A new voice started to say, You’re almost there. Be thankful that you’re healthy enough to run this race, and that you’re here right now, doing what you want to do. You can do this. I kept repeating this over and over again, and all of a sudden, the finish line appeared over the horizon.
My friend Abby, a former track star who had completed the race eight minutes earlier (that’s like a decade in running terms), was waiting on the sidelines. With superhuman strength, she launched herself back onto the path to run beside me. Yelling at me like GI Jane, she forced me to sprint as fast as I could to the finish line. This was a great idea and all, but I was so discombobulated that when she backed off and veered away from the finish line (since she had passed it so long ago), I followed her. The entire crowd collectively yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” and I clumsily re-routed myself and finished with a time of 32 minutes. It wasn’t the most graceful finish in the history of the Big Dog 5K, but dammit, I finished. Setting goals is a great motivational tool. Achieving said goals is the best feeling in the world. Even though I couldn’t breathe, and my face was just as red as it was on that day on the bus back in middle school, I parked myself under a nice shady tree and I didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day. It’s almost been a week since the race, and I have no plans of stopping my training. I’ve even thought about running a 10K (at some point, not tomorrow on my lunch break or anything). Like I said before: I am a runner. I like the new, more active me. Now I just have to see where the whole thing takes me. If you want to do something, do it. If you want something, go out and get it. Just don’t puke.  — Alison PS. Check out this video from last years race to get the full experience:

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