Dance music pulses through my skull as I take off in a crowd of hundreds of people in the early morning air after a canon erupts.
My heart’s already beating so fast and I haven’t run 100 metres. It’s my first race and I can hardly believe I’m here. But I’ve done my training and I know I can do it, so I let my glutes and quads do their thing. I just come along for the ride. As soon as I pick up the pace, my nerves fade away.
There are kids and mothers and spouses cheering and clapping as we jog through the first few feet, then it’s all downhill. I try not to go too fast at first, though my legs want to fly. I feel the 8 a.m. sun on me as I run in the middle lane. Police have stopped traffic at every busy intersection so runners, like a mob, can take over the road. We glide across an overpass, and continue downhill. We run through a construction zone where the workers stand clapping. I feel like I’ve already won.
I smile as I run up the first challenging hill, and I smile more as I pass others. I continue on this route I know so well. I know when I will tire, and I know if I keep going, I’ll be OK. After two miles, volunteers pass out water and Gatorade. I take a sip of water and keep running, tossing the cup on the ground like I’ve seen on TV. Keep running along the harbour and up the next big, gradual, Main Street hill.
Jog alongside a boy who can’t be any older than 12. I pass my landlord’s shirtless son and nod. I feel like I’m riding on a wave of adrenaline. At the top of this hill is the homestretch. I’m at 30 minutes when the half and full marathon runners take a turn, us 5-milers head for home. More water and a wet sponge feel so great and I cheer like a fool when I pass other pedestrians cheering us on. An old lady with a cane claps as I pass. Continue on, press on, it’s getting tough. Last few kilometres and it feels hot. Past Dairy Queen and the thought of ice cream gives me a stitch (or is it my poor breathing?). Keep pressing on, up another hill, passing walkers. Keep going, until I need a 30 second walking break. But the end is so close!
I think of the finish line. I picture running across it. I practise my smile. And before I know it, I’m almost there. I pick up my pace and run as fast as my body will take me. I throw my hands in the air as I round the last corner. But the finish is farther than I thought. I keep up the pace and I hear someone yell “Nice run! Keep going!” It’s all I need to hear. I wave at my boyfriend waiting at the gates, and I plow through the end. Time is 47:29. I beat my goal of under 50 minutes. But I really don’t care. I did it! I can’t stop smiling and my whole body feels happy.
Sign me up for the next run. I’m hooked.