I’ve said it here before. I am not wired for running. When I started out four years ago as a means to reduce my risk of breast cancer recurrence, I couldn’t run ten minutes without stopping.
Though I eventually worked my way up to 30 minutes a day most days of the week, I only covered about three miles each time. I had never aspired to anything more than that.
The thought of running roughly five miles (farther than I had ever gone) with a boot camp instructor as my partner was pretty daunting.
How Younger Mentors Motivated Me
The Grass Roots Fitness goddesses planted the seed in my head to sign up for the race. Joann would be running it with me (and even cajoled me into running up and down parking garage stairs to increase my stamina). Francine helped by setting a faster pace than mine on training runs and chatting calmly while I sucked air beside her.
These women are both a few years younger than I (next month I turn 49), but I had even younger mentors who inspired me at a deeper level.
For the past decade, I’ve watched on the sidelines as my two sons (now 17 and 14) have competed in a number of sports between them, with travel soccer fully dominating our schedules at this point.
I’ve watched them grow and develop their skills on the field, and bring the same discipline to the rest of their lives.
I’ve seen them collapse with exhaustion after practices and games, have watched them go back for more with pulled muscles and sore backs. I even watched my older son continue to play after he slide tackled another player (cleanly, I might add), unaware that he had broken his wrist in the process.
Though different in so many respects, my sons share a capacity to dig deep when the going gets tough, to push harder, fix their mistakes, and reboot psychologically after an individual mistake or a team loss.
If they could push themselves that hard season after season, I could push myself a little bit for one race.
The Power of A Shamrock Skirt & Temporary Tattoos
Joann ordered her outfit for the race on the internet — a sparkly green skirt, glistening green arm sleeves, and wild argyle socks. She’s got about a half percent of body fat on her (see photo above), so the ruffled skirt could only look adorable on her.
I was too cheap and too conscious of my weight-carrying hips to order the same thing, so I went to the fabric store and spent $9.99 on shamrock fabric. I managed to piece together my own customized skirt, sans sparkles and gathers, but still looking the part.
The morning of the race, I learned where the real power would come from. I had bought a package of St. Patrick’s Day temporary tattoos and given half of them to Joann earlier that week.
As I held the wet washcloth against my shoulder to apply my first tattoo, I thought of my hair stylist. Lauren is a fair-skinned, raven-haired (currently with a few streaks of green), 20-something beauty who has turned a substantial percentage of her body into a canvass for intricate flora and fauna tattoos.
I had never been a fan of tattoos before, but getting to know Lauren, a deeply creative nature lover who honors her passions through body art, has made me a little less judgmental.
So when I peeled the backing off that first shamrock, I thought, “Wow. I get it!”
There was power in that tat that I never would have imagined.
I went on to cover my arms and calves with various shamrocks and leprechauns, and even got a little racy with clusters on my chest and neck. (Joann and I both had the same leprechaun on our back right shoulder, without even coordinating — there’s got to be some magic in that, don’t you think?)
In the End, Meditation Fueled the Finish
It was a spectacular day for the race — blue sky, bright sun reflecting off the city’s landmarks and the Capitol in the background, and just chilly enough to keep a hot flash-prone runner cool and comfortable.
Runners in green tutus, runners in green wigs, runners whose genders we couldn’t determine (we kept pace with one of these, whom we dubbed “Pat”), and lots of leprechaun hats made for great people watching.
I really wasn’t too tired until Joann told me we had just passed the four-mile marker.
She thought she was motivating me. But a voice in my head said:
“Four miles? You’ve gone four miles? You must be really tired!”
And guess what? I suddenly felt exhausted. It would have been funny if I hadn’t wanted to curl up in a ball right then and there.
It was time to pull out the big guns to put a lid on the brain blather.
I started counting my breaths as if I were meditating, releasing the fatigue and tension with each exhalation. Counting the in- and out-breaths in cycles of ten kept me going during that last mile, even when my brain was imploring me to stop.
As we crossed the finish line, I said to Joann, “I never want to run any farther than that–ever.”
I was tired, but not collapsing on the ground vomiting tired. It was just long enough to be challenging but still fun. And I even did pretty well time-wise, clocking in at 46:53, with an average pace of 9:26.
I took a minute just now to figure out the rest of the results. Out of 3,805 runners, I placed 1,737th. But if you just look at my division (women aged 45-49), I came in 37th out of 134.
It wasn’t a marathon (nor will it ever be), but I feel pretty great about the experience.
And the very best part? The text I got back from my 14-year-old (who was out of town for a soccer tournament) after I sent him the finish line photo: