I think I spat my lungs out. I can’t breathe, all that is happening in my throat is this wheezing sound. My face probably looks like if I was either murdering someone, or like if I was the one being murdered – probably both at the same time. But hey, there’s the finish. So what about I just try to go still a little bit faster. Oh cool, there are people cheering here. Whoa, that’s loud. Guess I can’t slow down now. Gosh, I’m dying.
It’s 9.43 a.m., Sunday. Since Wednesday, I’ve been nauseous and hurting, unable to eat much and more or less living off of Ibuprofen. I had to have a little emergency medical procedure done on Wednesday and the doctors didn’t say I shouldn’t be running – they only told me to do whatever I would normally do but to take it slowly. Taking their advice into consideration, I just broke my 10K personal record.
I had every excuse not to go to the race. Cramps were killing me since I first opened my eyes in the morning, I could barely eat a banana, and Ngoc who was supposed to pick up my race packet the day before (I couldn’t do it because I had to attend a conference) completely forgot to do so. The rules were very clearly posted: “There will be no race day bib pickup.” I debated going back to bed and trying to get some more sleep in. Still in my cozy pajamas, that sounded like the best idea I’ve ever had.
But no, oh no. For some stupid reason, I’ve decided to go to the starting line anyway, and try my best to ask around and see if I could figure the bib situation out. And I did. I got my bib and could line up for the race. The rest is a (painful) history.
Stiff legs. Okay, I can deal with that. Just follow the lady with the shirt that says “runs on plants.” There, she’ll make a nice pacer. “You’re running better than the government!” said a sign held by two people cheering for the runners. I had to chuckle at that.
Even though I started off quite briskly, in the second mile I fell into my comfortable pace which I couldn’t shake off. It was only at the end of mile three, walking a slight hill, when I realized that even though I was hurting because of the Wednesday emergency, my legs felt good and I could go faster, and that in this comfortable zone, no miracles would really happen. I tried to get my pace up, remembering my good friend Ian and all his pep talks and accomplishments and general view on life. Would he walk this hill? No. Would he stay in his comfort zone? No. Would he ever give up trying to push himself through the discomfort to break his limits? Hell no.
And so I didn’t either.
I picked up my pace. “Chafing the dreams,” said another sign and I had to laugh. Running uphill, I had only enough extra breath to call “way too real!” to the ladies holding it and they laughed wholeheartedly.
The sixth mile was my fastest mile of the race. Don’t ask me how I did it, I have no idea. It was all in my head and only in my head – my body was falling behind big time. In the last .2 mile, I somehow managed to pick up my pace even more, even though I was just wheezing instead of actual breathing, and I could barely see where I was going.
I finished. A friendly woman in a red medic shirt tried to get my attention as I staggered around, trying to figure out where to go next – and how to stay standing at all.
“Hey, hey, are you okay? You okay? Do you need to sit down?” I heard from somewhere far away even though she was standing right next to me. I tried to somehow tell her that I can’t sit down – I knew my legs would go all stiff and hurting, and the idea of sitting in a wheel chair was a scary one thanks to the flashbacks that came flooding my mind for a brief second.
“No, no… I just need to – I think I need – can you give me some Ibuprofen?” I managed to get out, and she walked me to the railing to lean on it and pointed me in the direction of the medical tent only about 10 yards away. I made my way there, walking like if I was drunk, and asked for an Ibuprofen. Now that it was over, the cramps came back so bad that I thought I was going to throw up.
Nobody had Ibuprofen. Okay, let’s enjoy this sufferfest I guess. Just as I was walking towards the tables where they gave out bananas and snacks (and I must point out and appreciate here the fact that they gave out food and water even before medals), Ngoc finished her race.
After some time, we got together and tried to collect the rest of the family. We had one member still out – after going through two previous checkpoints, his planned finish was calculated to be at 10.32 a.m. But as we were waiting, time passed and he still wasn’t coming. He burnt out somewhere between mile 9.2 where his last checkpoint was and the finish, that much became clear. (Later on we learned that it was at mile 11 and that he had to sit down there for some time.)
I decided to run back and find him and get him through the finish line, running. I found him about half a mile from the end, barely walking. A little tap on the shoulders. “You can do it, man. C’mon!” And there we came, running. We could see the finish line and people cheering.
“I gotta leave you here and run outside the fence,” I said as I moved to the left to go on the outside. “You keep running!”
I ran past the fence, past the people cheering him on with me now.
“Keep going! You can do it! Go, go!”
He ran through the arch and sat down right there as he was. I made my way around, got there to pick him up and holding him up helped him to get to the medical tent where the rest of the fam was waiting, and where he devoured three bananas from the medics.
It was clear that he, too, ran only with his mind in the end. And I can’t stop but think about how incredible it all is, how the limits we set for ourselves are so often only in our heads, and how hard but unbelievably rewarding it is to break them.