Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One foot and then the other

A few months ago my mother-in-law sent out a family email, challenging us to participate in a 5-event relay race. Family members began to reply, claiming the road biking leg or kayaking event. Though newly pregnant, I clicked 'reply to all' and wrote enthusiastically: "Count me and my fetus in for the 5K!"
Let's be clear: I am not really a runner. But I have enjoyed running (read: jogging) as my form of exercise for the last two years. I had continued my thrice weekly runs (read: jogging and walking while watching my favorite performances of Glee) on the treadmill since conceiving, and I was excited that the upcoming race would give me the motivation to keep fit during my pregnancy.

A week before the race, I started having pain in my leg and pelvis, but my doctor assured me that this was normal round ligament pain, and that it was safe to compete if I felt up to it. Desperate to run in the race I'd so looked forward to, I took the rest of the week off and hoped the rest would prove helpful.

Mine was the anchor leg of the 5-event relay and by far the easiest. Other family members ran uphill for 11 kilometers, kayaked 3000 meters, road-biked a tough course for 26 miles, and biked far up a mountain before riding down to hand the baton to me.

As I slipped on the baton (an orange bracelet), I turned up my ipod and started enthusiastically out of the park I'd been warming up at. I had only been on the course for about 30 seconds before the arrow pointed me up Beach Street. Oh mercy. It was a long, steep hill. I chugged along, unwilling to stop and walk, but aware that my running pace was just as slow. My whole body hurt--I never run outside of my air conditioned home--let alone on hills! I followed the course left to a flat road (yes!!) only to quickly turn up another steep hill. What was supposed to be my 'warm-up' mile became a painful beginning that set a tortoisey pace and filled me with doubt.

It was really hot and I was thirsty. My lungs burned, my legs stung from the hills, my pelvis ached, and my mind questioned. What had I been thinking? I was not prepared enough for this! But all I could do was keep running--no matter how slowly. I couldn't stop.

Near the end of the third hill, my husband and his sister, Becca, scooted up on the vespa to cheer me on. I was thrilled to see them but couldn't muster much of a smile. (Taylor told me later that he was really worried about how flushed I looked and wondered if they should let me go on!) Further down, the rest of the family drove by in the suburban, kids hanging out the windows, shouting and waving. I gave a weak wave and glanced down at my fancy watch to see how far I'd come and in how much time. 20 minutes were on the stop watch. That seemed right, I thought. And then I glanced at the mileage. 1.4 miles??!!! I was disgusted! I'd never run so slow! And how, after all this, could I still have almost 2 miles to go?

Finally on the flat part of the course, I sensed that I could finish. I still hurt, and I never found that runner's high that I love, but I felt that I could do it. Taylor and Becca continuted to appear on the cherry red scooter offering encouragement and water. It was inspiring, to say the least, that my husband was my biggest fan.

As I ran my last half a mile or so, I kept thinking, this shouldn't have felt so hard. It felt every bit as miserable as the last three miles of the ten mile race I'd run last year. Every second had been a mental battle. Doubting and hurting and willing myself to keep going.

As I turned the last corner I looked up and saw the finish line maybe 1/4 mile ahead. I quickly looked back down. Even within seeing distance, it was still too far away. All I could do was look down at my feet and watch one foot and then the other. One foot and then the other. Only in the last few yards could I look up to the cheering crowd, pick my pace up just slightly, and run to my family.

After the race I said to my husband, "I think every human needs to do something like this. Enter a race or work toward a really lofty scholastic goal or something." And here's why I think so: That race on Saturday was a perfect mircrocosm of what I think life is all about--endurance. I was pushed to my very limit. I hurt and I struggled, but I knew I had to keep going. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and believe that I would get there.

Getting an education takes that kind of endurance. So does having a newborn. So does struggling with illness. So does being patient with your children every day. But we keep going. We focus. We put one foot in front of the other. And one day, we'll get there.

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