Joining with thousands each attaining a personal quest is awe-inspiring.
By Kathy Flaherty
At 2:03am Sunday morning, I am having trouble sleeping. In just over six hours, I will run in my first 5K race. Excitement, anticipation, pride and fear swirl to keep sleep at bay. I suppose I'm as ready as anyone is at the 11th hour.
Four months ago, when I celebrated my 34th birthday, I wasn't a runner. I had been in college, but that was 11 years ago.
At that birthday lunch, my editor, who was treating, asked what I had achieved in the past year of my life. I squirmed as my mind flipped for significance in the past 365 days. Unfortunately, I was coming up short.
"You moved to Annapolis," a generous friend suggested. Yes, but, that was more than a year ago.
She tried again: "You bought a car." Can't count a necessity purchase to replace an ailing beloved Explorer. I frowned. I believe every day has value in itself, but I was coming up blank for a meaningful tally.
Before the month was out, I started running. I'd meant to, anyway; I was bored with my aerobic classes.
I started at the fitness section of the West Street library, where I found the Runner's Handbook. It detailed what I thought after 11 years was an extremely reasonable start: a 10-week program beginning with two minutes of walking alternating with one minute of running. Each week, I'd run a minute more. Before I knew it, I'd be running for 20 minutes. A plan was just what I needed.
The book also offered instruction for training for 5K, 10K and marathon races. A seemingly far-off goal, but I copied the programs.
For the first crisp Sunday in October, I had a date to show up at Baltimore's Inner Harbor at 8am.
By July 4, I was running three days a week. On my feet for 30 minutes, I was running maybe 10 and walking 20. I must have been feeling pretty confident, because when the friend who shared my holiday talked about her new interest in running, my ears perked up. She planned to run the Baltimore Race for the Cure. October 8 was a long way away. Sure I could do it. This would be a great goal. If I had something to reach for, it would bolster my running, keep me at it.
At first I dared share my newfound goal only with my husband. With the passing weeks, my running improved and I gained confidence. I let a few friends in on my secret. Then I was audacious enough to ask a friend to join me. The commitment had been made. I was in for the long haul.
At 8am, with my stomach jumping, I asked my husband if we couldn't just go have breakfast instead. He guided me firmly to the Inner Harbor.
Here, I am one of a throng of 27,000 runners and walkers. The motivations and desires of each of us are as diverse as the persons themselves. Many women proudly display pink signs of loved ones whose memory or survival they are honoring. Electricity flows through these square miles.
As for me, I am thrilled. I am actually here to run, as I had planned back in the 90-degree days of July 4. My intent is to run the full 3.1 miles without slowing to a walk.
A crest of pink and white balloons marks the start. With music pumping, a horn sounds to start the race. The crowd surges forward. I bob and weave to find free space to run. The first half-mile or so, I spend dodging others. My race pace is erratic, beginning as a dash, slowing to a jog, becoming a trudge after one and one half miles, finally stepping back up to a slow stride.
As with many things, the start and the finish are the best parts. The last half-mile is certainly the prize. A garland of white balloons beckons at the finish line. My muscles are tired, yet I can't help but speed up. I search the crowd for Kevin, my husband, waiting to share the triumph of crossing the line. I can't see him.
The dense crowd slows approaching the finish. Disappointed, I must slow my step because the runners in front have slowed. I walk the last five steps across the finish line.
As I grab water, I look for Kevin, anxious to boast that I ran the whole way. I stand at the finish line as other runners finish. There is a separate lane for breast cancer survivors. As they cross, an announcer shouts their names. My chest tightens and tears well up as I think of each person's private journey. We're all glad to be here.
This is ad rep Flaherty's second Bay Weekly story.