Finishing the Race

Let me first mention that we draw motivation from many sources. Very often it’s a person, a thought, a song or perhaps a story that may motivate us. For me it was a children’s story about a butterfly.

Nike sponsored a run in New York called the Nike One Hit Wonder Run. This is where top Musical Bands, with No. 1 hits, would play their number one hit at every mile along the 5 mile course in NY’s Central Park. That year, Joan Jett made a special appearance.

I remember my last glance at the car thermometer before getting out of the car – 102 degrees. I was wearing the ticket to get into the race – a mandatory Nike dry fit, bright red, jersey with my number printed on it. 10,000 other entrants did the same. No shirt, no entry – that was the rule.

Driving up Madison Avenue to find a parking spot I took notice of all the red shirts walking, and biking uptown to 97th and 5th avenue, but it was nothing in volume compared to the sea of red shirts that were in Central park and at the starting line. It close to race time and the temperature was dipping to 91 degrees.

Secretly, I always get nervous before a race because I have this fear of not making it. Why? I have no clue. It’s weird. But as I’m waiting for the race to begin and contain my own self doubt, I overhear people talking about the hills and how big they were. Of course this fed my own self-defeating thoughts about running in such hot conditions. Then suddenly, I was intimidated by Central Park. Could I do it? Would I make good time? What am I doing here? I only had to look around to see that all the other red shirts and me were doing this run together. There were in no better or worse shape than I. If they could do it so would I.

The countdown began. The micro chip on my shoe would count my time from the moment I left the start line. I set off slowly, listening to all the folks around me chattering with excitement. I had classic disco music playing on my iPod. I was jamming.

Along the first turn, I saw a familiar face – a friend, a member of the press, off to the side the road, she wasn’t running but I called out to her and blew her a kiss and gave a hearty wave. This was a good start – a good sign! I feel pretty good! Then I hit the first hill…this was the supposed “killer hill” that I’d been hearing about at the start line? It was a little steep, otherwise no problem. A confidence builder. 1 mile done – four to go! Then my iPod froze. Damn! I started fiddling with it and lost about 3 minutes trying to reset it. The 9 minute mile folks passed me, the 9.5 minute mile folks passed me and I needed to get running! No way were the 10 minute mile folks going to pass me. No Way!

Ugh. I’d have to run without it, I was losing too much time.

The second mile had a couple of small hills and I was feeling the lactic acid buildup in my legs. My mouth was super dry, I needed water. I slowed up again to grab a cup from the water station, downed it, and soldiered along. Man, oh man, was it hot and I missing my iPod, Bigtime! I checked it again, still not working.. Some girl behind me was yacking about the guy who blew her off the night before, another was talking about how she should have taken up track when she was younger but didn’t know better, and another was talking about her marathon training….UGhhhhhh, I needed to silence the voices. I took my iPod and fiddled with it again but no use. I was losing time.

Almost half way there – three more miles to go! It would be fine. I would just have to think about something other than what I was doing. I took notice of the trees. It was shady for most of the run, but the third mile hill was a killer. Not because it was so big, in fact it was a mere incline, but my legs were feeling heavier. I passed another water station grabbed a cup of water and a Gatorade and gulped it down.

Suddenly the red shirts were becoming quieter.

Between the third and the fourth mile my legs kicked in. Ah, finally! I needed think about something other than the heat! Then I saw a girl collapsed on the side of the road from heat exhaustion.

There was an overall hush throughout the park. This was by far the coolest moment of the race. The only thing I could see was a flood of bright red shirts bobbing up and down in the distance ahead and all I could hear was the constant beat of feet hitting the asphalt. That rhythm would have to carry me through to the finish line because I needed a beat badly. I listened to my own labored breath and focused on the addition my own breathing – what I called the “rhythmic running band”. Those darn self-defeating came back telling me I wasn’t going to make it…

“Think of something else.” I thought.

Immediately, I flashed back to a story I knew about two caterpillars who discussed turning into butterflies. One resisted the change. The other friends got through the change. Once a butterfly she came back to motivate the weak and feeble caterpillar She did this with four words You Gotta Have WANNA. As I hit the asphalt in 99.9 degree heat, with 10,000 other people in Central park, I muttered the phrase “You gotta have Wanna!”