“You’ll be glad I stayed,” she said.
“No I won’t,” I replied indignantly. “I gave everyone strict instructions. Remember? ‘Don’t run slower than you usually do just for me.’ I’m slow and I don’t want anyone holding themselves back just because they feel bad leaving me. So go. Please. I know you run faster than this.”
She didn’t answer. She also didn’t increase her pace.
I gave up. Mostly because I can’t talk, breathe, and run all at the same time, but also because I didn’t have energy to waste on arguing. I knew the mountain I had to climb and I didn’t have stamina to spare.
So we ran. But I was annoyed. I didn’t want to hold anyone back. I also didn’t need anyone feeling sorry for me. I know I run slow – about as slow as the 70-year-old walkers in front of us. But that’s fine. My only goals were to finish in less than forty-five minutes and to run the whole way. Not one step of walking.
At the quarter-mile mark the police officer cording off traffic danced and clapped as we passed. “You go girls! You can do it!”
“I’m gonna need you again in about a mile,” I laughed.
“I’ll be right here on your way back,” she said.
I was keeping an even pace. An even, slow, pace. I knew if I wanted to finish having run the whole way I couldn’t go any faster. But she was still beside me – even as slow as I was.
At mile one we started seeing runners already on their way back. Every so often we’d pass a member of our group and I’d smile, straighten my back, and add a bit more bounce to my step, trying to make it look like I was enjoying this and holding up well.
Why I decided to do this was beyond me. I hate running. But I said I was going to do it. So there I was. Running as best I could. And she was still beside me.
We made it to the half-way point and I was oddly happy to be on the return side meeting people still headed for the turn-around. Not that I was glad they were behind me, but I was just grateful not to be last. I looked to my right and the ocean spread far beneath a cloudy sky. It had seemed crazy to drive so far for such a short race, but now – looking out over the California coastline – it was worth it. Maybe.
I could see mile marker two ahead. I was tired but okay. Two miles was as far as I had ever gone before. I said a quick prayer that I’d be able to go the last mile.
Mile two and a quarter. The mind-talk begins.
I’m really tired. I really want to walk. I don’t think I can do this. I have to walk. Just one step.
No Krista. You can’t.
Heavenly Father please. Help me.
Please help me finish. Help me just do this one thing. Help me do what I said I would do.
I was breathless. “Help me remember why I love this? Tell me again why I’m doing this?”
She began to rattle off the why’s, legitimate or otherwise. I just prayed. And we kept on running.
I don’t remember anything about the space between two-and-a-half and three miles but I know my body gave up and something else took over. My mind perhaps. More likely my spirit. But I was still running. And she was still beside me.
Only one-tenth left. The crowd along the streets got thicker the farther we went.
“You can do it!”
“You’re SO close!”
“The finish line is right there,” they yelled.
They didn’t even know me. And I was practically last. I didn’t know it would feel like this. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I just didn’t know it would feel like this.
I could see the finish line up ahead and my legs voluntarily pumped faster. I couldn’t slow them down. Audible sobs escaped with every gasp for air. Heart racing, I kept pounding forward. She reached over and put her hand on my back.
“I have to stop crying,” I laughed. “I can’t breathe and I can’t see! But I just didn’t know it would feel like this.”
I had never run this fast, or this far, but there I was – three steps away. Three. Two. One. Runner 663: Forty-four minutes and fifty-nine seconds. And there she was – right beside me.
For a minute I was lost in the euphoria and the finishing ribbons and the commotion of it all. But then I heard my name. I looked to my right and there was my group. Four girls jumping up and down, smiling, laughing, cheering as though I’d just finished a marathon. In a way – I had.
I really wasn’t prepared for how it would feel to finish. Truthfully, I wasn’t really prepared for any of it. And I needed a minute alone.
Run slowed to walk and I didn’t stop until I reached the wall by the cliff. Shuddering, I collapsed into a fit of uncontrollable sobs.
Heavenly Father I did it. I finished and I ran the whole way. I did it.
Thank you …
Thank you …
Thank you …
I did what I said I would do.
And I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
Looking back, that race was the most excruciating physical experience I have ever had to that point. I’ve never pushed my body farther or relied so heavily on my spirit. To some it’s only a 5K – a mere 3.1 miles. But to me it represents the depths of my ability and the wellspring of strength from which my soul draws. I’ve done hard things before – but I’ve never reached a point where I was certain I couldn’t go on. I’ve never felt the moment where body ends and spirit transcends. Until that day. May 20, 2006. The day I did what I said I’d do.
“You’ll be glad I stayed,” she said. And she was right.
She’ll probably never know just how glad, or how grateful I was, and am, that she stayed. She’ll probably never understand how both she, and those three miles, changed my life for forever. And the funny thing is–the race is over. But she’s still here. Still matching my pace. Still running beside me. Helping me do the things I say I’ll do.