A few Octobers ago, I ran a half marathon.
I trained all spring and summer and fall; got shinsplints and damaged cartilage in my knee, ran until my toenails cut my skin and I bled into my shoes. I wore a brace under summer dresses and ate glucosamine daily. I liked to run in the morning before my husband went to work, but sometimes, when I overslept, I ran after dinner. Once I ran after too many beers and almost threw up on Broadmoor. I had to walk the rest of the way home.
But I was dedicated.
It wasn’t until the race actually happened that I realized how small and unofficial it was. It started well before dawn in the parking lot of a church. The officials looked like high school seniors (I think they were). The charity that proceeds were going to was unregistered and there were few runners. I was running alone, without friends. There was no thrown paint, no costumes, no swag, no participant t-shirts, or medals. It was so much work, and it wasn’t even real.
It was frigidly cold that morning, frosty and dark. The route seemed randomly drawn, sometimes taking us through suburban streets and residential sidewalks, other times bringing us back onto walking trails unlit by streetlamps. Grocery parking lots, even, were crossed, the path marked by chalk. My MP3 player ran out of batteries almost immediately and I had no music to listen to. Though this race took place only five years ago, I didn’t have a cell phone to entertain me.
Because there were so few runners, we very quickly separated, our paces placing us in different spots well ahead or well behind one another on the route. It was a very quiet, very solitary run. As I jogged, I rubbed gloved hands together to warm them, tried to run with hands in my pockets but almost fell on my face.
It wasn’t until kilometre 15 that the sun rose, pink and buttery yellow. I had just crested a hill and rays shot out from between quiet homes opposite the trail as I gasped for breath. I stopped and stood and lifted my face. Closed my eyes and just felt the warmth. When I opened them again, everything was bright. I was somewhere I had never been, on this weird, random, unpaved trail. I was about to accomplish something I had never done.
And then I kept going.
There was no one there when I crossed the finish line. In fact, there was bad news: the race timers hadn’t paid attention and hadn’t recorded my time. I walked to my truck through a small crowd of runners and discovered I had locked my keys inside. It would be another 7K to the house, but, fortunately, strangers offered me a ride. When I got home, there was a toddler at the door and a baby hungry to nurse. There was no time to rest or to celebrate.
There was only that sunrise.
There were only rays of light
warm on my face.