“I’ll be back in thirty!” I waved bye as I closed the door behind me, leaving the warmth of the home and entering the darkness outside. Just two and a half miles today, an easy, slow-paced run on the streets around the neighborhood. The weather forecast promised two hours long rain-free window of time at the beginning of which I turned my headlamp on while my feet started to rhythmically hit the pavement.
Two days. Oh dear, in only fourty-eight hours from now, I will have done it.
The first mile flew by in the cold air and soon, I was running up the first hill, reaching the turning point for tonight’s run. Just when I turned around and started through three pedestrians’ crossings to get to the other side of the biggest intersection in the town, a few drops of water landed on me… and then the rain came down, like a car speeding up from 0 to 100 in under five seconds. So much for weather forecast accuracy.
The wind picked up and soon, I couldn’t see anything through the rain that was forced into my eyes. The light from my headlamp became more or less useless as it only reflected in the falling rain and the clouds of mist leaving my mouth with every breath.
Well, good training for Saturday. According to the weather forecast, it was going to rain most of the time I was going to be on the trail.
Just when I came to terms with the whole situation, actually enjoying the rain even though I was running basically blind, my foot hit something else than the paved road; something weirdly smushy on the outside but with some hard pieces on the inside trapped my foot like mud would. I turned around. In the heavy rain, I could just barely recognize what that thing was – or rather, what it used to be; some mammal now run over by cars and half-decomposed beyond recognition.
I tried not to think about it, running through the streams of water flowing down the final hill, the street I live in.
Later that night, I almost cried. Almost.
Running… what a stupid idea.
The light streaming into my room through the windows woke me up. Once again, I felt the immense gratefulness for living in a room where this was possible.
The thought struck me before anything else could come into my mind. I pulled the sheets over my head, suddenly… something between scared and excited.
Why the heck did you sign up for that?
This question rang through my ears all day, as I brushed my teeth and made breakfast for the kids, when I sat in the park watching them play, when I worked on an assignment for one of my classes, and as I crawled back in my bed in the evening.
Because of all the peer pressure, probably.
Yeah. You’re probably right.
And maybe – just maybe – because you like… running?
I woke up for the 8375th time that night. This time, with a strong dull pain in my throat. I had five more minutes left before my alarm was going to go off. Tired of trying to get some shut-eye, I got up.
“Good morning,” I wanted to tell myself, yet no sound left my mouth. Instead, the hurting in my throat became worse as I felt it all the way in my ears. Awesome. Perfect. Excellent. Because this is exactly what one needs on a race day morning!
I could hear my grandma’s voice inside my head as I made myself some tea with tons of honey in it; “Everyone who’s got half the brain would just not go and here you are, you idiot, trying to treat yourself with honey instead of just staying in your bed today…”
This internal monologue went on the entire morning and yet I somehow ignored all those wise voices that told me not to go running that day as I drove to the start/finish to volunteer before the race begun, and as I stood near the start line while Tim, the race director, counted down from five.
I couldn’t comprehend that I was actually doing this when I left the start/finish area together with 150 other 10k runners, or when I set for the first muddy climb. When I ran downhill on the other side passing people who couldn’t get through the slippery mud without slowing down. When I had a nice conversation with volunteers at the aid station, instead of gasping for air.
I couldn’t comprehend how it could be happening whenever I passed someone. How was I passing runners instead of them all passing me? How was I able to run uphill? How come I was having fun while my legs were just burning?
And the most bizarre of them all; where on earth did I find the strength in my body and my mind to literally sprint the last 200 yards and catch up to the runner in front of me, finishing less than half a second behind her?
But I didn’t run through the finish line alone. In fact, I was never alone during the entire run, even when there were no people around. I had all the people who believed that I could do this – all the people who peer-pressured me into doing this during all the other races where I volunteered beside them in the first place – with me.
I had Dago and Nick in my last mile when I thought I couldn’t go anymore, cheering me on, each in their own way.
Dago, who didn’t run that day but came equipped with his camera and very specific sense of humour, had his way of encouraging me to go on; “C’mon, you’re only here? What are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to be done by now? Don’t slow down, what do you think you’re doing? Run that hill, run, god, you’re so slow…” he kept going on while shaking his head in (pretend) disbelief at my inability and uselessness until I was out of earshot. It’s probably not necessary to say that people either love him or hate him. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met, even though it seems like we can’t stand each other, the opposite is the truth and I couldn’t wait for him to make it back to start/finish just so I could roll my eyes and say something along the lines of “Such a shame the coyotes didn’t eat you for lunch out there.”
Nick, running that day, caught up to me in the last half mile. I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder, turned to my left and saw him showing me a thumbs up and an encouraging smile. Together with Dagos dis/encouragement, this was what got me through whatever distance was left, even though my body was done with that sh… stuff.
I ran through the finish line while people’s cheers sounded around me. Part of it was the fact that I was quickly catching up to the woman in front of me and we literally sprinted, racing each other. Such suspense always brings cheers, doesn’t it? Somewhere far away, I could hear Tim yelling from the timing tent: “Go, Pavlina, go!”
And then it was done.
The race suddenly seemed to be over too quickly.
In the finish area, I spent the next hours sitting down with ice on my arch and the medics bandaging my foot and feeding me ibuprofen or whatever these pills were. Stan, who is always in charge of food, kept bringing me quesadillas and cinnamon rolls, asking every few minutes if I was alright and if I needed anything. The woman whom I raced through the finish line came up to me and thanked me; “Hey, that was awesome, thank you for pushing me in the last stretch!”
Dago came soon after. “Hey… great work! You pushed really hard out there!”
“Oh god, you’re already here?! God, why?”
We laughed. Nick overheard us. “Don’t you tell me you were mean to her out there.”
“I wasn’t mean, I was the most encouraging person on the entire course.”
“Yeah, as if anyone here would believe that. Hey, you, great job out there! I couldn’t believe you were that far when I passed you, you’re fast!”
“Honestly, the tap on my shoulder was the thing that got me through the finish line. Thanks, Nick”
“Wait, wait, you want to say that my encouragement doesn’t count at all?!”
“Of course it does. And I blame you for hurting my foot. You made me run that goddamn hill.”
There are no words that could possibly describe how grateful I am for the community around InsideTrail Racing. They are one of the most friendly and supportive people I’ve ever met in my life. I didn’t even care how well I’ve done in the race. Just being around was enough and will always be enough.
“Hey, you’re fourth in your age group!”
“And how many were there in my age group? Four?”
“Well, thanks, Tim.”
I finished the race in 1 hour and 20 minutes total time. 1 hour and 18 minutes of moving. This was far beyond what I’ve imagined. I’ve hoped for it to be somewhere around two hours…
When I was in middle and high school, I could never run fast enough to make my teachers happy. In my elementary, middle, and high school, I always sucked at math. In high school, my teachers told me that the life I wanted for myself – a life full of adventure and traveling wasn’t possible.
Now, a few years later, I’ve left the Czech Republic, traveled quite a lot and lived in New York and California. I help my classmates with math in college. And on Saturday, February 16, I’ve run my first race.
Life is… full of surprises for some. These are no surprises to me, though. Because I’ve worked for those things.
But still… Finishing a race came as a little bit of a miracle…