I did it again! After running my first four-miler on the Fourth of July — and proving to myself that I didn’t die or, worse, come in dead last — I finally had the courage to run my first 5K. And, appropriately, it just so happened to be the 10th Annual Downtown Westfield 5k and Pizza Extravaganza…meaning there was gooey, cheesy pizza (and cookies!) awaiting us at the finish line. Now if that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.
Even though this race was a shorter distance than my last, mentally, it proved much tougher than I anticipated. I’ve been putting off registering for a 5K for years now, always assuming that I was still too fat to run a race and that I’d just make a fool of myself amongst the “real” runners. That’s why despite the fact that New Jersey is in the midst of a brutal heat wave, and the sticky 90+ degree temperatures have been making movement of any kind utterly unbearable, I knew this race was something I had to do. I also knew that my running sneakers are in desperate need of replacing — which was evidenced by the blister I earned in mile two — and that I haven’t been running as often since I became addicted to kickboxing and spinning.
In the end, though, it wasn’t the sweat pouring down my face or the stinging pain of a newly-formed blister that I had to overcome: it was myself. I had to once again go head-to-head with the old Jen, who had no qualms about telling me that I couldn’t run a real, official 5K race, and that I didn’t really belong there.
That’s when the mantra that my Muay Thai Kickboxing instructor constantly barks to newbies — “Fake it ’til you make it!” — started running through my mind. Maybe I wouldn’t meet my goal of beating my average 10-minute miles this time (I definitely didn’t), and maybe I didn’t look as good crossing the finish line as some of the more seasoned runners, but with time and training (and some new kicks), I can and will become better and stronger and faster.
I decided right then and there that, for now, I’m going to continue to break the bank on the latest running sneakers and slap on GPS-enabled sports watches and don cute, colorful racerback tanks — and totally fake it.
Last night, when I showed up in my snazzy new running duds, I took a look around at the other runners. Sure, there were a handful of men and women with ripped runners’ bodies who looked as though they escaped the womb wearing Nike Airs. But then there were the children and the senior citizens. There were runners who were tall and lanky, and ones who were short and stocky. There were runners wearing knee braces, and mothers pushing baby carriages. And suddenly I found myself peering down at my own body, which despite its blatant faults (ahem, batwings) has gotten pretty strong and muscular in the last three years…and realized that I fit right in.
I forced myself to remember that I’ve worked hard for this moment, and I that I had every right to revel in the joy of crossing that finish line. I truly believe as though I’ve been given a second chance on life, and running a 5K is just one way to celebrate the new me and the kind of future I never thought possible.
This thought wasn’t lost to me as I pounded the pavement amongst thousands of runners and realized that I never, ever thought I could be an athlete. Yet there I was, a former obese woman whose idea of exercise was once racing into the kitchen to sneak another sleeve of Thin Mints, and I was keeping pace with people who have been working out and pushing their bodies to accomplish incredible feats for most of their lives.
Of course there are still the little things that wreak havoc on my self-confidence, like the loose skin on my inner thighs slapping together in my running shorts, or the fact that I only managed to eke out painfully slow 11-minute miles for a finishing time of 33:03.
But as long as I never lose sight of the journey I’ve had, and keep upholding my commitment to live a healthy, active life — by signing up for more races! — I’m confident that someday I won’t have to fake being a runner. I’ll just be one.