In September of 1992, my sophomore year, I decided I was going to sign up for the cross-country team at my high school.  This decision was based entirely on my ability to sprint short distances.  In case you don’t know, cross-country is about pacing yourself for long distances.  I was beyond terrible and so, in September of 1992, I quit the cross-country team.

Imagine my surprise when in January 2005, I got a wild hair up my ass to run a marathon.  Yes, I was going to run 26.2 miles.  I started training the way any serious runner would, by jogging inside my house.  I couldn’t run outside in the cold because of my asthma and I didn’t have a gym membership.  Did I mention I was also about 15 pounds overweight?  Yeah.

I soon realized that I might want to set a more attainable goal of a 5k, a mere 3.1 miles.  The race I picked was listed as easy and flat, so I thought it would be good for a beginner.  It was at a high school with “Highlands” in the name. (Foreshadowing!!)

I joined the gym.  And then I actually went!  My times weren’t laughable for a beginner and I was getting stronger and losing weight.  I was almost able to run the whole thing without walking breaks and I was getting some confidence.  My friend (who had run an actual marathon) was giving me advice and kept saying that it is much harder to run outside than inside on a treadmill.  We went on a run together and she promptly kicked my ass.  But then she made me a smoothie, so we are still friends.

Race weekend approached after about 6 weeks of training.  I had a friend coming in from out of town plus a few local friends all geared up to run too.  Did I mention that they were all runners?  Not a bunch of newbies content with making fools of themselves with me, no, I chose to invite my RUNNER friends to run with me.  I told myself I just wanted to finish (100% not true) and that it would be great if my time was a personal best (sort of true).  I bought a 5k outfit.  We carbo-loaded the night before.  I planned a healthy brunch at my house for post-race.  It was going to be awesome.  I was going to be awesome.  Marathon, here I come.

As I stood at the starting line, I contemplated backing out.  My friends wouldn’t let me.  The race started and I had a good pace through the parking lot of the school.  We got out on to the road.  The experienced runners were off in the distance by now and I kept my pace.  There was a hill.  Not huge, but earlier on than I thought.  I got to the top to find there was another hill.  This one was bigger.  I was slowing down.  Crap.  Another hill.  People were passing me.  I was tired and it was cold.  I started crying but I kept going.  I walked a little here and there to catch my breath.

The hills, though, just kept coming.  I’m sure you’ve heard older people say they used to walk uphill to school both ways in the snow?  I am fairly certain that this is the school they were talking about.

As I was making my way up the final hill, I heard footsteps behind me.  I turned and it was an older man.  By older, I mean in his 80s.  He passed me.  He PASSED me!  Behind Grandpa was the ambulance that closes the race and blocks off traffic.  It was official.  I was last.  I cried the entire final quarter mile or so back to the school, all the while with this emergency vehicle following me, lights swirling, holding up the cars behind it for this mess of a “runner.”

When I got back to the school, I realized I didn’t know where to go.  Everyone else was done, the old guy was nowhere in sight and so there was no one to follow.  I saw my friends in the bleachers waiting patiently for me.  I hugged my one friend and sobbed into his shoulder.  I knew him fairly well at the time, but we were not close enough for me to be snotting all over him.  They asked if I crossed the finish line because they hadn’t seen me and I said no.  Because I couldn’t find it.

It was right in front of me. So as if this whole thing wasn’t humiliating enough, I ran down the bleachers, out onto the track and headed toward the finish line.  “Wait!” I heard someone call out.  I looked up and realized they didn’t know there was still a contestant and they were starting to take it down.  I crossed and my time was noted.  My first 5k was now in the books.  I came in 86th.  Out of 86.

And then I got back to my sobbing.  I felt like and was, quite literally, the biggest loser.  We headed inside to get our T-shirts and for the awards ceremony (2 of my friends won for their age/gender categories – Go them!).  A woman approached me and put her arm around me.

“First race?”
“You picked a tough one.”
“I’m an idiot.”  There might have been more tears.
“You’re not.  You did it.  You should be proud.  Most people wouldn’t have even signed up.”

She was right.  I knew it in my heart that I had done something great.  And now, 7 years later, I can even laugh really hard about all of this with only a tiny bit of still wanting to cry.

It’s not easy for me to put myself out there for the world to see.  It’s hard enough to fall on your face when no one’s looking, let alone when the world is watching.  I’ve been putting more and more of myself out there lately, which is overwhelmingly frightening.  But I figure no matter what, can any of it really be any worse than being followed by an ambulance up a country road while I weep?

I’m linking up with Yeah Write again this week!

Edited to add:  This blog was selected as a Lurker’s Favorite!  You can discover many wonderful writers at Yeah Write by clicking on the badge below.


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44 Responses to “Running.”

  1. Kudos to you Michelle…I give you a lot of credit for being so brave and putting yourself out there…I know how hard it is to do! There’s so many things I want to do but don’t cause I have such a fear of failing and being judged by people.

  2. Missy Olive says:

    Runners have to start somewhere! And in most cases (yours is an exception) there is always someone else finishing behind you.

  3. “And in most cases (yours is an exception) there is always someone else finishing behind you.” Thank you for the hearty laugh this morning!

  4. Oh honey! I just wanted to give you a big hug after I read this! Great story-telling, by the way, and you are very brave. If this had happened to me, I would NEVER have told a soul about it; I would never have written a blog about it. I would have blocked it out even from myself. Instead of being all goofy like me, you not only wrote a beautiful post but seem to have used the experience to face life with a bigger smile than ever. You’re a winner in my book.

  5. I love this post! I may not come in last in my races (just ‘mostly last’), but I sure do come in at the tail end at a lot of other things :) You really captured the feeling of it all.

  6. Heidi says:

    Oh, that last paragraph did me in. Good for you for putting yourself out there. It is, you are brave and inspiring.

  7. Gia says:

    Aw, that’s rough. But good for you for doing it!

  8. I’m proud of you for doing it at all. I keep promising myself I will, I’m running out of excuses.

    • It’s hard to encourage someone after telling that story, but seriously, it’s such a great goal and if you actually train and maybe check out the course of the race before you sign up, it can be a wonderful experience!

  9. Lots of great things in this piece but “I’m sure you’ve heard older people say they used to walk uphill to school both ways in the snow? I am fairly certain that this is the school they were talking about.” That part won me over completely. Keep putting yourself out there. What you are showing to the world may not be perfect, but it’s pretty great and honest and real. And that always wins the day. And people’s hearts. Erin

  10. This just made me want to hug you and then go out and run a race! You should be proud of yourself. Not many people (ME) would even try, and that’s the truth.

  11. Kerstin says:

    Great accomplishment!!! That’s something to be absolutely proud of, I could not last even 1 k…

  12. Tara says:

    umm… I kind of love everything about this post, your humor… your running… your finishing… your snot. All of it. I’ve done 3 half marathons and my personal best time for a race? Oh, the one I went out with my brother the night before we ran and had beer, wine and chili fries. You did it! Proud for you.

  13. Jen says:

    I’m sorry and proud of you for finishing all at the same time. And first races are hard!!
    So, are you still running? Did you go back 7 years later and kick those hills in the butt? If not, you should!!!!!!

    • I do love to run, but I rarely get to. I’m also now more than 15 pounds overweight, so I’m trying to get back into the swing of things. Someday I’d like to try again. But no, I never even want to drive up that hill let alone run it!! :) Thanks for reading and the kind words!

  14. Kim Pugliano says:

    Oh my gosh you did it. YOU DID IT!!! I’m working SO HARD on my running and hope to one day be able to run UP A HILL let alone 3 miles without walking. I envy you. You are so amazing and should be so proud of yourself. I know I am. I can’t wait to tweet to you, “I did it too! And yes, I cried!!!”

    ~The G is Silent

    • Thank you – I think I saw you tweet about a recent run (did I see that? I don’t know, my head is in space this week…) but go you for working on it! It’s so hard to keep working at something when it doesn’t come easily. If you keep at it, I’m sure you can do it too! I can’t wait to see that tweet from you!

  15. so i thought i was a runner (in houston, where everything is flat), and i moved to north carolina and went for a run with my husband and literally had to walk back down the hill to the gym because i could not make it all the way up. it was one of my worst and somehow most self-actualizing moments pretty much ever. needless to say, i think you rock!

  16. Kristin says:

    I am so freaking impressed. I don’t think I could do much more than a quick walk for more than a mile – or maybe even half of that. It’s amazing that you finished, and that you didn’t see that as a huge accomplishment at the time! Congratulations!

    • Thanks! I think I was so caught up in beating myself up and feeling humiliated that I wasn’t able to see what I had actually done. Looking back I wish I could have seen it more positively at the time.

  17. Lenore says:

    Good for you, Michelle. You stuck with it.
    I have a similar story, and by similar I mean it involves running. I ran in a track race – four laps. I forget the purpose of the race, the organization – all of it. I was only 10yrs old at the time, but I signed up. *sigh* I was last. I don’t remember how many others ran, but I was last. I said I was on a track, right? Because I was – surrounded by a stadium of people and a guy with a microphone. Yeah – the guy with the microphone was saying, “We still have one making her way … still coming…” Oh lord, how embarrassing it was. I was BEYOND slow.

    Years later – at the age of 25 – I ran a 10K, the Peachtree Roadrace in GA, and I didn’t come in last. Yay me! Yay you!! We did it. We crossed the finish line, and that is what matters.

  18. It doesn’t really matter where you finished, just that you finished. You set a goal and accomplished it and should be very proud of that.

  19. I ran my first 5k in November. Sooooo many people passed me. Who cares! I did it and was so proud of myself. Looking forward to my second one in May and having less people pass me.

  20. Miranda says:

    I just finished the couch to 5k plan (on a treadmill) last week and have started working on moving it to outside. I’ve done it once this week and felt like my lungs were going to explode – much harder than the treadmill! I plan to do a 5k in the next 6-8 weeks….and I’m sure my story will end up being something like this…but at least I’m doing it! :)

    • I started with Couch to 5k but since I’m an instant gratification kind of girl, it didn’t have me running marathons on day 1 so I wasn’t satisfied. I ended up training by setting the 5k loop on the treadmill and trying to run the whole time and get a better time every single day. I don’t think that is a good training method, in case you’re wondering! Good for you for getting out there and trying it – good luck!

  21. Jackie says:

    I’ve always wanted to like running. Just not my thing, so instead I watch people run…on tv from the safety of my couch.

    • I don’t think it’s for everyone. It’s very monotonous, which is a big part of what I like about it. Sometimes I count my footsteps or just 1-2-3-4 which is so relaxing to me. It’s very hard to think about “important” stuff when you’re counting. But something like yoga where the purpose is to concentrate on form and that should be relaxing – totally stresses me out!
      thanks for reading!

  22. Love that you did the race and wrote about it here on your blog. It’s an honest exploration of hopes, dreams, fears…and a reminder that we are our own worst enemy. I am very inspired by your story.

  23. I had to laugh-sob at your closing line – what a way to make an impact!

    Seriously, I was laughing with tears in my eyes all the way through this post. At least you ran the race. I have yet to even sign up for one, despite repeatedly telling my husband (who’s run seven marathons) that I’m going to run a 5K. Someday. And yet I can’t get up the nerve to commit to a race. For one reason – fear. I’ve never been very good at setting goals and then following through. But maybe now I actually will. And I’ll do so with you in mind. Seriously. You’ve provided some amazing perspective here.

    I also love what Flood said at Yeah Write when she picked this post as her Lurker’s Favorite – running, like writing, is a competition with yourself, and both can be very, very lonely, with only the voices in your head pushing you forward. But, oh, what I triumph when you finish.

    Maybe if I can start approaching running the way I do writing, I’ll finally actually run a race.

    • I know what you mean about committing to signing up – I agonized over it (maybe I should have agonized even more!). But that prompted me to seriously train so it was a good thing. I hope you do sign up and good luck with the running! Also, I agree about what Flood said – it is so much about what your brain is saying to you about what you’re doing. So hard to turn it off some days. Thanks for stopping by and your kind words!!

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