After participating in numerous 5K runs, I set my eyes on the Pittsburgh Great Race to be my first attempt at a 10K.
The race was September 27, so I began my training in mid-August. Approximately three times a week, I would walk a few kilometers and then run a few, and each week, I would progressively increase the distance that I ran. I was hoping for a decent time of 70 minutes to complete the race.
One week before the race–on my last long run–I strained my left calf muscle. One week! The pain was intense; I could walk, but with a limp. Immediately I began a R.I.C.E. treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). My sainted wife went and bought a massage roller and dutifully used it on my leg each night. The pain gradually lessened, but my question remained: would I be able to run on Sunday?
Come race day, and I was optimistic. I had purchased and was wearing not only compression sleeves on my legs, but also a calf brace on the left leg. It felt almost 100%.
We get there early, I kiss my wife (non-runner but great supporter) and board the shuttle to the start. My first 10K and we’re off!
Two kilometers into the ten kilometers race, the pain returned. Now, to those ladies who are reading this: I know that most men are babies when it comes to pain and illness. I fully acknowledge that; but, I gotta tell you, this pain was for real! For the first time, I thought I might DNF the race (Did Not Finish).
I had my earbuds in and my 10K playlist blasting, but it wasn’t enough to keep me motivated. Damn it! Where is Chariots of Fire on shuffle when you need it? I had to get my mind off the pain if I had any hope of finishing. I looked around at the cityscape and thought about how blest I was to live near Pittsburgh and to run on these roads that close only once a year for this purpose.
At each intersection, a police officer or two was stationed to keep the streets closed to traffic and for security. I was on the outside of the running crowd; as I passed one policewoman our eyes happened to meet and I smiled at her and said, “Thanks for being here today!” She smiled back and waved and said something that I couldn’t hear thanks to Smells Like Teen Spirit blazing in my ears.
And then, a remarkable thing happened: I felt better. Just by expressing a little gratitude to a stranger, my spirits lifted, and I felt a little spring in my step. Two blocks later, two cops and an EMT. “Thanks for coming out today!” I hollered. One smiled, the other two looked quizzically at me as if to say, “What’s the deal with this guy?” Two blocks, an intersection, and an officer. “Thanks for being here this morning!” A smile.
“Am I a complete dork?” I wondered. No, no: that’s negativity, don’t let that in your space right now. “Thanks for being here!” I shout to the paramedics and officer at the next block. “Do the other runners think I’m a tool?” Who cares? I feel better being nice to these emergency responders and I’m not thinking about my leg.
The race goes on, and I am swept into the middle of the crowd. I say encouraging things to the other runners around me. (I only talk to runners who appear older than me so that I don’t come across as, “That Guy.”) I see a one-armed runner and we share a smile; I give a “thumbs up” to a woman old enough to be my mother. I run on.
I’m fading, I’m wilting. No intersections at this point in the course. Where’s a cop when you need one (to thank)? I start to thank the bystanders lining the route who are clapping and waving and holding signs. I wave back and say “thanks” and they look at me trying to figure out if they know me.
Coming to the end now. Bystanders, people who already finished, and well-wishers are lining the course cheering and clapping and encouraging us. I feel their energy and pump my fists in the air. I scan the crowd to see if I can see my wife, but I can’t see into Starbucks. (Just kidding, baby!)
FINISH! The most welcome word to every runner. I look at my timer: 63 minutes. My personal best by a full seven minutes.
I wanted to quit, but concentrating on being grateful carried me on. I wanted to give in to the pain, but the power of positivity brought me through to the end. I almost let my concern over what others think keep me from doing something healthy, but I didn’t.
When in despair: thank someone (especially a first responder!).