After two years of running, I finally summoned the courage to run my first race!
The race was held in a neighboring town, which just so happens to be home to the park where I usually run. I figured I’d start somewhere I’m comfortable, because despite my oh-so-cool, “it’s no big deal” facade, running this race was actually a very, very big deal to me.
No matter how many years have passed, that 260-pound version of myself is always around, hanging out in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind, telling me that I can’t do anything that’s even remotely athletic. Even though I know my own running ability and average speed — solid 10 minute miles — there’s still some part of me that, when it comes to competitive events, automatically assumes I’m too fat, too slow, too weak, [insert horrible thing you’d never say to anyone except yourself]…and I’m definitely going to make a fool of myself amongst all the “real” runners. So why bother trying?
That negative inner dialogue has been playing on loop for 25 years, and upon my realization that losing weight — and successfully keeping it off — is doing little to silence my harsh inner critic, I knew I had to start participating in group activities where I’d have no choice but to recognize that I’m just as good as everyone else. Hence my newfound obsession with martial arts classes and sudden need to run amongst hordes of people.
This race was something I had to do just to prove to myself that I can, as insane as that may sound. So bright and early on the fourth of July, I lined up for the 32nd annual Firecracker Four Miler. That’s right…I skipped a 3.1 mile 5K and went straight to a four-mile race. Go me.
I set just one race-day goal for myself. I wanted to run (or, okay, jog) the entire four miles. I knew I could do it — I’ve run the same distance many, many times on my casual hometown jaunts — but there’s something about lining up with hundreds of fellow runners that suddenly makes you doubt your own ability. Especially when you’re like me, and doubting yourself is as commonplace as breathing. Being surrounded by women 50 pounds lighter than you certainly doesn’t help, either.
I just wanted to stay calm and relaxed and finish the race…which proved more difficult than I thought given searing 85+ degree temperatures at 9:30 in the morning. The humidity was unbearable; sweat was pouring down my face by the time I hit the first mile mark. Fortunately, race organizers set up plenty of water stops and lots of kind local folks were shooting us with their garden hoses to offer some much-needed relief from the heat. Needless to say, I was drenched by the time I crossed the finish line.
But the important thing is that I did, indeed, cross the finish line. And my only brief stop to walk was at the first water station, before I learned the fine art of quickly tossing back the contents of the paper cup mid-run (and pouring the rest over my head).
I ended up staying right on my usual pace, and clocked in just after the 40 minute mark. I probably could have done better, but my finish time was the last thing on my mind. That’s because to most of the other participants, it was just a run in the park. But for me, completing any physical challenge serves as proof that I really, truly am not the same person anymore.
When I crossed that finish line, I could hardly remember that there was a time where I couldn’t walk around the block without getting winded. Let’s not forget that I was the girl who, for years, couldn’t even complete the mile in gym class. Suddenly all those years I spent alone, devouring boxes of Cheez-Its in front of the TV, felt as if they belonged in someone else’s life story.
I may not have been the fastest runner — and I’m certainly not the smallest — but for the first time in my life I’m not beating myself up for being anything less than perfect. My thighs are still huge, but guess what? Those are the legs that just carried me through a four-mile race.
This weekend, I proved that I am a “real” runner. One who proudly sports lime green neon tank tops.
Running this race has helped me put things in perspective. When I set a goal — and prove to myself that I can achieve it — it no longer matters what size dress I wear or what the number says on the scale. I’m tired of worrying about my BMI and obsessing about how to hide my loose skin in a bathing suit. Instead, I’m overwhelmed by an urge to shed these last stubborn pounds just so that I might run faster at my next race, or tackle more sprints in my spinning classes, or kick higher in my Muay Thai kickboxing classes. These are the things I’m really passionate about now, and it’s because of my new body and all my hard work that I’m strong enough and fit enough and healthy enough to pursue them.
The best part? I’m already registering for my next four-miler — and first 5K. And there’s not a single doubt in my mind that I can crush them both.