As I approached a long flat, curve through the University of Minnesota campus a thought occurred to me, "Can I finish this thing? What if I need to start walking? Would it be such a bad thing to start walking?"
A few weeks ago, I ran my first 5K, an inaugural event at the University of Minnesota that began next to and ended inside the new football stadium. In the days leading up to the run, I was nervous. I'd only been running for eight weeks or so and, while I'd run 3 miles before, I wasn't sure what would happen in an official "race." Would I burn out in the first mile? Would it be too hilly? Would I embarrass myself? I had to remember that I was running for me, I was running to meet my own goals and against my own best times. And so it was entirely in jest when, the day before the race, I asked my husband, "What if I win the whole thing?"
Without missing a beat, he replied, "I'll suspect drug use."
"If you win and they come to me and ask, 'How did she do it?' I'll say, 'Test her for drugs.'"
He had a point.
The morning of the race, he drove me to campus, our 15 month old blabbering away in the back seat. "We forgot the camera," I told him.
"Oh, yeah, I meant to grab that," my husband joined in my lament. My dream of the sweaty, tired but happy post first 5K shot was gone.
I hopped out near the stadium. They'd park and grab some food while I warmed up and figured out where I needed to go. We'd meet up again at the end of the race, after they'd watched me cross the finish line on the big screen on the football field.
I warmed up a little. I peed. I joined the throngs heading to the start line. I found a spot at the back amidst the strollers and, as it would turn-out, the walkers. This run wasn't chip timed, so I set up my Nike+ and found the music I wanted to listen to. The race began. It was anticlimactic. Those of us at the back walked a good distance to the start line. I took off at an easy trot as I crossed the line and started passing walkers and stroller-pushers. The volume on my iPod was too low and I knew that turning it up would involve a lot of fiddling, so I let it go. I listened to feet hit pavement and conversations around me. A little boy (yes, there were children in this 5K) was telling his friend, "You can do it!" I considered pacing myself to this duo if only for the little nuggets of encouragement.
I found a stroller pusher to pace myself to: a dad in a bold blue t-shirt that was easy to find. I kept him in the corner of my eye. At the halfway point, water and sport drink tables lined the student quad area. A decidedly unbusy medic team sat near the tables. "Wow," I thought, "Nice of them to have these things at this race, but if you need water and a medic on a 5k in the middle of campus, you're probably in a pretty bad way." But I stopped that thought as soon as I had it. No need to get cocky. What if I end up needing a medic?
And so it was that as we rounded the last long curve that I found myself wondering if I did, indeed, need to start walking. My iPod told me I had 1.5 K left. I can do this, I thought. I keep the stroller pusher in the bold blue shirt in my sights. There was a slight slope down to the stadium. 400 meters left, my iPod told me. "I'm doing this," I thought. I still had some energy in my legs and some hope that I'd finish in under 34 minutes. I pushed harder around the outside of the stadium.
And as anticlimactically as it started, the race was over. I'd crossed the line. "Congratulations," a voice said over my headphones. "This is Lance Armstrong. You've just completed your fastest mile." 9:40. Or something like it. My iPod offered to send my run to Nike+ as there was a wifi signal. I sent it. Later on in the day, I found it was lost in the internet-ether.
I searched for my husband and Ada as I grabbed a banana and bottle of water. I found them, staring up, hopefully, at the big screen.
"Eric! Eric!" I called. He'd missed me crossing the finish line on the big screen.
We headed back to the car and I checked my time. Under 34 minutes, or so I remember now. With no pictures, no Nike+ record, no witnesses, I might not have even run that race.
But I know I did. And I know how sweet it was.