When Katie asked me if I’d be willing to write a race report for my first 10k, I immediately agreed. Just ask a couple of my students who witnessed me having a minor freak-out at my desk when I read the email. :)
As I write this I am lying in bed covered in IcyHot from the waist down and listening to my neighbor try his darndest to sing like Taylor Swift: “Weeeee….ah nebeh ebeh ebeh ebeh….getteeen bahck togetheh!” Let me give you a little background story on how I got here, because without it I can’t fully express what this 10k meant to me.
I have been heavy my entire life. However, I played year-round sports all through grade school, and I was pretty fit and strong for being as overweight as I was. In college I started dating a guy, but the relationship grew into emotionally abusive codependence pretty quickly. I am a Christian, and looking back on that year I realize that I found my identity in being HIS girlfriend, not in Christ. I felt guilty all the time, and I turned to food for comfort to ease that guilt. My boyfriend, an ex-ROTC member, was alarmed by my weight gain, and tried to get me to run with him for a bit. However, running was literally my nightmare.
It made me come face to face with the fact that I had eaten myself to a point of physical exhaustion and sickness. I couldn’t keep up, I struggled to breathe, and his ROTC-drill sergeant encouragement tactics didn’t exactly make me feel inspired. Running meant frustration, failure, and fighting with him.
By the time we broke up one year later, I was nearly 100 pounds heavier and very much hated myself. The things he told me replayed in my head, “I don’t think you’re beautiful anymore,” “I thought if I loved you then you would lose weight and become the diamond in the rough. All the other guys would be jealous of me because I had you. But I guess I was wrong,” “I find you repulsive.”
Yeah…nice guy. And I believed him.
I left that relationship with a lot of scars (the most notable one being from a python bite…but that’s another story for another day). In the four years that followed I slowly went through the healing process, trying to ignore the lies he had told me and fighting a losing battle with my deeply entrenched emotional eating habits. During those four years I lost a grand total of seven pounds.
I graduated college in 2011, and eight days later I was on a plane and moving to Spain for my dream job: student development for a study abroad program in the enchanting city of Sevilla.
|My first springtime in Sevilla (that's me in the middle). Weight: 243 lbs.|
So I faced my fears and decided to prove to myself that I could do hard things. I started running and counting calories. Just now as I wrote that, I was quite tempted to put it in quotation marks, like this: I started “running.” But that’s not true. The moment I ran, I was a runner. Not a “runner,” not a faker. Even though it meant only running slowly for 30 seconds at a time and walking for five minutes, dreading the next 30 second round of running. Eventually, 30 seconds became 1 minute became 2 minutes became 4. I remember the first time I ran for 10 minutes without stopping and the first time I ran a mile, about four months after my first 30 second run. I did a couple run/walk Color Run 5ks during my build-up to a mile, and one month after running my first mile I decided to do another 5k, setting the goal of running the entire thing.
|Ecstatic after running 10 consecutive minutes for the first time ever! Weight: 224 lbs.|
Fast-forward a few months to February 2013. I was having a one-on-one with a student who brought up wanting to do a race, and I mentioned a 10k circuit that was coming up in April. And just like that, I started training for my first 10k. Six point freaking two miles. The longest distance I had ever run at that point was the 5k race, and my weekly runs were averaging about 1.5 miles. So I got a little help from the internet and constructed a 10-week training plan. I worked up to about 3.5 miles, and then I got sick. For two weeks I couldn’t run, and when I did start running again I was back down to 2.5 miles and still very slow. I managed to run the farthest I had ever run, which was 4 miles in one hour (see, told you I’m slow!) a couple weeks ago. And then race day arrived.
|A photo with my students before the race (I'm in the yellow jacket). Weight: 202.5 lbs.|
The morning of the race, I got dressed and hopped a bus to the other side of the city to the start line. I met up with a group of my students who were also doing the race. We warmed up and stretched together and then took our places in the starting mob of about 5,000 people. Some of the girls in my group are college athletes, and they went ahead to follow the 50’ pacer. I stayed back as I knew I would be in the second half of the finishers for sure. Then we started the push forward.
Within the first two minutes everyone passed me. Literally EVERYONE. Including the poor folks who were in the porta-potties when the race started and came frantically barreling past me. “Well,” I thought, “yay for self-esteem!” It was quite disheartening to realize that I would be running this race alone as the pack got further and further away, but I settled into the pace that I knew was good for me and that I could keep up until the finish. I kept reminding myself over and over that I hadn’t signed up for the race to beat anyone or to place but rather to prove to myself that I could do it. And so I kept running.
Running alone, I pushed over to the side and followed the orange cones down the middle of the closed streets. Around the first km mark, I saw the final pace car creeping past me out of the corner of my eye. I thought about pushing harder to keep up with it, but I knew it would only exhaust me and keep me from accomplishing my goal. Besides, as a rule of thumb, I never race against anything with an engine. ;) Then a couple minutes later, the police escort rolled slowly by on his motorcycle. Then one ambulance. Then another ambulance. And finally a city bus, used to pick up anyone who gave up in the middle of the race. Two thoughts crossed my mind when that bus passed me. 1) There is no way on EARTH I am getting on that bus of my own will or volition. 2) Can’t give up now, because the only thing that can carry you to the finish line now is your own two feet! And so I kept
I passed a race volunteer, who clapped slowly and stared at me with pity as I came along about 5 minutes behind the rest of the racers. And then I started to cry. I sniffled and choked back tears and turned up my music really loud. I forced myself to stop crying because it was interfering with my breathing, and I had already come too far to let my own body quit on me. I had just managed to calm myself down and find my rhythm again when a policeman on a motorcycle approached me and told me they were opening the roads back up, so I would have to run on the sidewalk. After he left I started crying again, and the cycle of calming myself down repeated itself. But I kept running.
Traffic started to flow again, and I watched in dismay as they started picking up the cones marking the race route! I was angry. I had just as much right as everyone else who trained for and paid for this race to be able to do my best and finish it! I understood that the roads could only stay closed for so long, but it felt as if they were sending me the message that because I was so slow I wasn’t worth it. That I wasn’t a real athlete or a real runner because I had been left in the dust. And I had to keep telling myself with every step that that simply wasn’t true. I couldn’t control what was happening to me, but I could choose to respond with one determined step after another. And so I kept running, never stopping.
Eventually, there were no more cones and I relied on people standing on street corners to tell me which way the running mob of 5,000 people had gone before me. Most looked at me with expressions somewhere between confusion and pity. I ignored it. Last summer I started running with music because I got tired of the rude comments and whispers of pity about the fat girl plodding along, and I wasn’t about to let people who have no investment in my life define it for me. I kept running.
Around the 5k mark I came upon the water station…being torn down. Shortly thereafter, a race volunteer stopped me and asked me incredulously if I was in the race. I looked down at my bib and then up at him and said, “Yes.” He asked me, concerned, “Where is the ambulance? They should be right behind you!” I told him that they had left me behind a long time ago, and promptly started to cry again. That sweet man called the impatient ambulance drivers a few choice names, and I felt so relieved that someone felt indignant for me. He told me to keep running while he made a phone call and that he would catch up. I did what he said, and I kept running.
A couple minutes later he was by my side and fell into step with me. He told me they weren’t going to send anyone back for me, but he would run with me until the finish line. And of course I started to cry again, touched by this kind stranger. We continued making light, sporadic conversation for a while, and then he turned to me and asked if I knew where the race route was. I told him no, and he admitted that he also had no idea where we were supposed to be going. So we just kept running!
A bit later we saw some cones on a corner, so we ran to those. From there, we saw cones up ahead, but we also saw cones on the corner to our right. The man said that the sports center and the finish line were up ahead further and just to the right, so we continued straight. When we got to the next set of cones, the trail went cold, but he said that he was pretty sure the sports center was across the bridge to our right. So we crossed the bridge and saw the sports center up ahead. As we reached the road to turn into the final leg of the race, I saw a horde of runners coming in…from the other direction. My heart sank when I realized that I had missed a loop of the course somewhere and that crossing the finish line now would mean not completing the entire race. I said all this aloud, and my running buddy simply said, “Finish strong. You cross that finish line with the rest of them because
you deserve it.” And then he stopped running and disappeared from my side into the crowd before I even had the chance to say thank you or give him a hug.
Frustrated, angry, exhausted, and emotionally drained, I joined in the crowd of runners headed towards the finish line. As I did the loop around the stadium track, I heard my students cheering for me, but I couldn’t accept it. After all, I hadn’t done the full race. As I turned the afterburners on for the finish line I felt like Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect when she tells the girls to leave the burrito behind her ear and she says, “It fuels my hate fire.” I put every tear cried during that race into those last 20 meters. When I crossed the finish line, my students congratulated me, but I didn’t feel proud. I felt cheated. I felt robbed of the experience.
|Crossing the finish line in 1:08:15|
When I got home I calculated that I had run a little more than 8 of the 10 km. Later in the day I Skyped with one of my friends, and I told her that I felt like I wanted to find the race organizers and tell them my entire story of how I used to be hurt and broken. How I used to think I wasn’t beautiful or worth loving because I was too fat and I had made myself that way. How God redeemed me from that and showed me that I am worth it and that I have been deeply loved all along. How in the past year I have learned to nourish my body, built rock-hard running legs, lost 48 pounds, and covered lots of miles that less than a year ago would have been impossible for me. To tell the race organizers that I may be slow, but I am a runner. I put the same effort into my 3-mile long runs as a marathon runner puts into his or her 20-mile long runs. Even when I could have stopped, even when the odds were
against me, even when I felt humiliated, and even when I could no longer see where to go, I KEPT RUNNING.
As I write this from my bed, the pungent smell of IcyHot filling up my bedroom, my Spanish neighbor is still belting out poor attempts at pronouncing American pop songs. I now realize that all the things I wanted to tell the race organizers are my true victories from this race. A year ago, had I experienced a similar situation, I would have quit. I would have found a city bus and gone home ashamed and defeated. Back then I wouldn’t have understood that I was simply making the choice to quit and that I would have been able to choose to keep going.
I would be lying if I said that this race didn’t leave me with a bad taste in my mouth, but that doesn’t matter. I am proud that I finished and that I did so despite the challenges I faced and the embarrassment I felt at being left behind. Ultimately it doesn’t matter that I was the slowest of 5,000. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t get to run the full 10 km just because someone else didn’t think my slow self was worth waiting for. Regardless of what happens to me or how slow I go, I know I am worth it, and I will make a choice. I will choose to keep running. And I hope you choose the same.
Beautiful Things Out of Spanish Dust.