Why is there always a hill to climb at the end of a Race? Somehow it’s God’s little irony. As if I hadn’t done enough running 12 miles? Ya gotta put a hill for me to climb to get to the Finish Line? Well, Ok — if that’s how it’s gotta go — then let’s get busy climbing this d@mn hill.
That’s how I felt when I came out of the coma that WAS mile 12. I had to T.H.I.N.K. myself into a revived energy level. I had to pull myself up out of the puddle I was melting into in my sneakers…….and Build the strength to run that last 1.1 miles. I remembered a chat I had with my friend Tom at work. Tom is more familiar with New Brunswick than I am, so the day I showed him the course map, he calmly took me through it, telling me where it was flat, where it was hilly. Ok, ok, so it wasn’t a BIG hill, but it was a hill to climb, none-the-less, after having run over 12 miles. Besides hills have a way of feeling BIGGER (even when they’re not) when you are really really tired. And I was really really tired. I started up that hill at a jogging pace, and part way up, I felt my strength give way. I broke. My entire body retreated back into a walk. A slow stiff walk. I felt it like a snap inside. Just then, from off on the side of the road, I heard a voice yelling toward me. It wasn’t a harsh voice. It was an encouraging voice from the side of the road. There was a woman in a rain poncho, one of the race volunteers on the side of the road, I guess. It was as if she saw the snap in my spirit — because what she said was Powerful. She was looking straight at me, and I was looking straight at her, and she said in a loud, yet friendly and almost pleading voice…..“Don’t stop now — you’re almost there. Keep going. Keep going”
Yea! Keep going, Diane. I said to myself, OK, OK, let’s do this. And I dug deep and found the last bit of effort I had. I turned the corner. And there IT was. The Finish Line, decked out in all its glory in Rutgers Scarlet Red — glowing like a beacon at the end of the straightest, flattest street in New Jersey. I started to run. The cheers were coming from all sides –from ahead of me, from the right, from the left. My legs were gone. What I WANTED to do more than anything else in the world — was walk. Just walk. Just crawl myself over the finish line. That’s what I WANTED to do. But, Hells No, that was NOT what I was GONNA do. I was GONNA run down that flat street, running full on toward the Finish Line, as if 2500 other people had not run across it before me. It was overwhelming on every level. I remember noticing a group of 20 something young men standing on the right side of the street, wearing their medals, wrapped in the silver warm-up blankets — they were cheering me on. They were shouting at me, and encouraging me, as if I was a Gazelle. A Real Freaking Gazelle! For those few moments, I was the Lead Runner….Heading toward the Finish Line….and all these amazing runners who had come in long before me, had stayed. They stayed. Stayed for me. Stayed to cheer me on, to encourage me across that line. Oh Man, what a feeling! Remember long ago, when I told you not to be afraid to get out there and run, because it was friendly out there? Well…..that lesson could not have been more clear than at this very moment. As an overweight person, I’ve always felt a self-conscious about running. Like things were jiggling that I didn’t want folks to see jiggle. You get me, you understand. What I know now is that very thought is just another form of self-sabotage. A wicked game your doubting mind is playing on you to keep you on the couch, and away from trying! Let it go. Let it ALL go. Get outside and run, walk, bike, skip…..Just Do It. Real athletes, ya know — the gazelle?– they ARE friendly! You know why? Because they KNOW how hard what you are doing IS. They have walked a mile in your shoes, or in my case, they had just run the same 13.1 miles I ran. They weren’t looking at me and judging me. No way! They were happy for me. The gazelles were celebrating my victory. The only person who had thought that my victory was “less special” than their faster victory had been ME. In that moment….I Let It ALL Go. Never again would I diminish my own achievements, by thinking they were not fast enough, or not good enough. The 13.1 miles I ran was just as hard on the gazelle as it was on me…..and they stood there on the side of the road to make sure that I KNEW that I.Was. One. Of .Them. I still get choked up remembering that. Now you know why my smile coming over the Finish Line was so large!
There was so much noise on that street. Bands playing, Voices over the Loud speaker, Families and Friends Cheering. I crossed the Finish Line with the widest smile on my face. Soaking wet, but who cared! Then just as if God were calling my name from the heavens above, I heard the MC say my name. “Diane Robertson”. Did he just say my name? Holy S&IT! He just said my name! That was a first for me, except for maybe High School graduation. Something tingles inside your soul when your name gets called out into the Universe like that. Those 3 seconds were Mine, and only Mine. I kept moving forward. Then I saw Peter, he was smiling as wide as I was. I kept moving forward toward him, and we high 5’d and kissed and hugged across the barrier. Did you hear, they said my name? He laughed and nodded, directing me forward toward the race volunteers ahead of me, waiting to greet me. There to greet me — with all the same excitement and joy as they greeted the elite runners. A lovely blond woman handed me my Finisher’s Medal. I took it into my hands and began to cry. I looked at her and said, Thank you. She smiled at me. I don’t remember if she said anything. Truth is, she didn’t need to. Her smile told me everything I needed to know. She knew. She knew that this was about more than the 13.1 miles. This was so much more. More than even I had realized until just that moment.
From there it felt somewhat like a fast blur. Someone gave me a bottle of water. Somehow Peter was on my side of the barrier, and he walked me to the Athlete’s food station where I picked up some bread and an orange. I think I was floating above the ground, in sensory overload. We stepped to the side, where Peter talked to me, telling me how he took my picture as I came across. He told me how proud he was….and I told him how I was feeling and how it felt to run it. Just then, from off to my right — from the other side of the barrier, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned, and who was standing there? It was W51. The lovely lady I had met at the Starting Line. She told me — You did it! We gave each other a high 5. I got teary-eyed again, and thanked her, and she was gone as fast as she appeared. I looked for W43 in the crowd for a little bit, wanting to give her the same gift that W51 had just given me. But there were too many people, and too much going on. That moment made me realize that while all these runners came together to run for their own reasons……..that the common experience we had just shared, created Kindred Spirits out of all of us.
Peter and I found our way to the tent where we could print my Official Race Results. LOL, I know it’s silly….but having that little slip of paper that told me my time, and my Overall Race Rank, well….it was precious. Peter and I walked slowly down the street toward our car, with me wearing my Finisher’s Medal and holding that little slip of paper. I had the time of my life, and the Buzz still hasn’t worn off.
In the days ahead, I hope to share with you some of my After-the-Race experiences, and lessons learned. Always learning….always learning….always learning.
Ciao for now….Diane