My bladder has been emptied and my breakfast digested. I double knot my Adidas, tighten my ponytail and repeat my mantra “I am enough. I do not quit. Ever.”
It’s race day.
A hippie haired surfer with a hot pink sweat band stands next to me at the starting line. He looks like he just smoked a jay in the porta – potty. It’s 7:30 a.m.
I stand amidst a crowd of 4,700 runners, of whom I know no one. The Pacific winds have filled the morning with a salty cocktail of sea shells and sail boats, the smell of California coast.
Hotcakes and bagel stands await us at the finish line by the pier but I’m not much concerned with the finish. I’m more concerned I’ll break my leg, poo myself or rip my shorts right at the crotch and have to crawl to the finish line. Typical race day spooks.
A lot of people think runners are crazy. Well, we are.
In front of me, a little lady with graying hair grinds her foot into the road like a bull about to charge after her prey. She stares at the course ahead as if projecting the path of a hurricane. She cares nothing about the crowd, the music or the cross country kids who will try to beat her. She eats young runners like them for breakfast. I want to stay away from her.
Poised for the pop of the gun, I adjust my raceday playlist and get ready to run.
“I am enough. I do not quit. Ever.”
The 60 second countdown hits me like a shot of cocaine and I feel that at any moment my heart will beat out of my chest and through my sports bra if I don’t move soon.
It’s an adrenaline high that could rival any street drug. With five seconds left, I take a swig of the coastal wind and feel it swell in my lungs.
I hear the gun shot and like a gazelle being chased by a hungry lion, I do the only thing I know, the only thing I’m good at. I run.
Most people don’t understand my obsession. The same way I don’t understand Fantasy Football or iphone apps or Precious Moments figurines. People think I’m crazy because I find thrill in my sneakers, pounding out six or seven miles on the road. I’m a runner. And on this day, race day, I’m intoxicated by the reality that I’m not alone.
We’re thousands strong.
On the surface, we’re frenzied by training plans and long runs and fanatical about mile splits and proper pronation, but behind all the crazy, there’s something happening. Something I did not realize until this race, around mile two. Something that changed my perspective on life.
I am a student and these people, these runners, are my teachers.
Gray haired runners are my favorite. You know the ones, the old people who don’t care at all what anyone thinks of them, ever. Ten feet ahead a man in tiny yellow shorts the length of daisy dukes, boasts a moderate pace, thanks to a set of blinding white thighs, as lean as lazor beams. He wears decade old Reebok’s and a sweatband leftover from the 80’s aerobics craze. His silver hairs have curled like the fur of a wet poodle, after five minutes of sweat. With his chunky headphones he gallops along with the faithfulness of a Labrador retriever, not slowed down by age, but determined by it.
Behind him an old lady glides along theatrically as if she hydrated with a glass of Merlot pre race. She glows with white haired glory, proud of her age and her resolve to run. She sweats hairspray and face powder, with lips the color of a strawberry Margarita. She wears a tee shirt taken home from a Bahamas beach store and doesn’t care about her chip time anymore than she cares about her unforgiving spandex shorts. Her pink lipstick and tourist tee shirt are jewels of pride that shine and shout “I don’t care what anybody thinks.”
And so she runs.
At mile four and five I run next to a clique of kids. Boys who go to school just for P.E. class and girls who ask Santa for kickballs and sneakers over Barbies and hair bands.
A boy with a buzz cut and grass stained soccer shirt bolts by me, his gangling arms push through the wind as naturally as a bird’s wing.
He’s not yet old enough to care about calories and heart rate or what a “tempo run” means. One foot in front of the other, he scrambles ahead like he’s at recess.
I can see it in his stride, he’s got to get it out, the restlessness, the thirst for movement and excitement. No thoughts, no mental commentary or negative talk, he simply goes.
Ten minutes to the finish, I pace my last mile next to a twenty something girl like me. Clad in her college colors, she wipes the sweat from her brows nervously as the finish line approaches. We care. We care about this race and all it means to a young girl who hasn’t a clue where she belongs in the world.
Its what sets us apart from the old people and the kids. We’re too old to not care but not old enough that it doesn’t matter anymore. At the 5.75 mark, with a quarter mile to go, I realize why she’s here and why I am here. We’re here to be free. To be free from caring about politics and perfection and the mistakes we made last week.
When we run we are exactly who we were meant to be – ourselves.
I power through the finish at fifty something minutes. The announcer leads the crowd in a fit of cheers as hundreds of runners finish after me.
I grab a banana and watch. The little old ladies, the middle aged moms, the business men and retired baseball coaches, and of course, the kids, with smiles too big for their sneakers.
We’re all crazy. But that’s okay. At the finish line on race day, I learn that being crazy means not caring. Therein lies the runner’s victory.
“I am enough. I do not quit. Ever.”
Not only on race day, but everyday.