Running has always been a part of my life. I began in 7th grade, participating in track and field. I can still remember the first time I ran a quarter of a mile, measured on a treadmill. Childhood asthma made it difficult, but I gradually worked through it and increased my distance.
By sophomore year of high school, I realized I was not a fast sprinter, and a less-than-graceful hurdler. By senior year I’d fallen in love with cross country, as I raced my way on to the varsity team. I believed I was done with competitions after graduating high school, but I was mistaken.
Five weeks before the Fairfield half marathon, I spontaneously registered for the event online. My longest distance up to that point was six miles, and that was during the previous summer. I’m still not sure what drew me towards the event. Maybe I was being foolish, or maybe I just wanted the challenge of reaching a distance I never had before. I researched how to tackle 13.1 miles and made a training schedule. I was prepared, or so I thought.
It seemed as though everything started falling apart after registering. First, I tackled a long run. My goal was 11 miles. I started strong, but approaching mile ten, I experienced intense knee pain and had to stop in my tracks. I later learned this was because I increased my distance too quickly; my body was telling me to slow down.
Four weeks before race day, I came down with a cold. I was forced to stay away from physical activity for five days. I tossed my training schedule at this point and created a new, milder one to ease myself back onto the road.
Less than two weeks before race day, I experienced heartbreak for the first time. My long-term boyfriend and I broke up, and I felt as though my world stopped. I had only a couple of restless hours of sleep each night, and I couldn’t stomach food. Consequently, my miles were significantly shorter. I didn’t want to hurt my already worn out body.
Everything in my mind told me not to race. I ignored my new training plan altogether; weight and muscle loss concerned me. There were countless reasons to not show up and run, but my heart wouldn’t accept any of them.
That mild summer Sunday morning, I geared up with my neon yellow running belt, sports drink, and emergency knee brace and approached the starting line. I was in my head, absorbed in my music, adrenaline coursing through me as I awaited the countdown to start. I ran hard and fast, excitement propelling me forward.
I started the race running by myself, for my own personal reasons. After all, running is an independent sport. I had no idea what the many miles ahead had in store for me.
As I fell into a steady pace and came upon mile three, I looked at the crowds on the sidelines. I witnessed racers waving at friends and family, happiness on their faces as they spotted loved ones or called out their names. I ran over sidewalk chalk messages, cheering on strangers. The race coordinators set up water tables along the route. But whenever there was a large gap between hydration stations, families were on the sidewalks outside their houses with their paper cups and cold water, children eagerly handing them out.
As the miles passed, I noticed more and more: a woman stood with a large bowl of orange slices to fuel the racers; garden sprinklers were set up for racers to run through; energizing music played from stereos; and musicians played violins, bagpipes, and guitars at various places on the sidelines. Someone even hosted a drum circle in their front yard, their rhythm matched my feet as I powered through.
Despite the pain in my feet, I smiled. I waved to strangers I didn’t know because their signs made me laugh. As I passed, I thanked the local firefighters standing by in case they were needed. A stranger watched me put on my knee brace by mile eleven and asked if I was okay; I smiled and nodded. The further I ran the more I came to realize, I was far from alone. Not only did I have other runners around me, I had the community by my side.
Nearing the finish line, I turned back into myself for the final sprint. My race was ending, but I gained a whole new perspective on life.
No matter how difficult a situation, regardless of your doubts, find support from others around you. Although you may feel alone, there’s always someone cheering you on. Most importantly, find support within yourself. Trust yourself to succeed even more than you imagined. You may surprise yourself with what you are able to accomplish!