I arrived on scene damp all over, with particularly wet shoulders and knees. I had inadvertently stepped in a puddle en route, soaking my right foot. While waiting with my brother and dad for nine o’clock to roll around, we huddled under a sparsely-leaved tree (since most trees downtown are on the skinny, foliage-challenged side) as its leaves sporadically gave way to forming puddles, spilling the contents onto our baseball caps. It was so gray outside, it almost felt like 4 a.m., when the sun has just barely begun to illuminate the black sky.
When you have nothing else to do, it’s easy to notice the things that bug you, like rain. But when we amassed with the other spandex-clad runner, I found something else to fixate on while I waited: Everyone in this race had their numbers pinned to their chests and equal-sized signs on their back that read, “I am running for…” The runners, myself included, filled in the empty space below, reminding everyone around them that this wasn’t a fitness event, it was a memorial. “I am running for my Aunt Grace, I am running for my future, I am running for my sister,” some read. We were all there because breast cancer was something that touched our lives and was to be beaten, only with the help of a united front. United is the perfect word to describe the Sunday morning Run for the Cure 5-kilometer race.
My dad, brother and I shuffled ahead after the race began, caught up in the crowds. We agreed to keep a slow pace, so as to avoid chronic disappointment at how out of shape we thought we were as compared to the square-calved, toned runners on either side of us. I found my breathing pattern, my brother’s face reddened a bit, my Dad almost slipped but recovered after almost everyone around him asked to make sure he was OK. (Even though it’s embarrassing when this happens, it’s really so nice that everyone wants to help, right?) I found my rhythm without losing my breath and shifted my gear into enjoyment mode. I breathed in the view as we crossed the river (on a bridge), looking ahead at the 11,000 bobbing heads of other runners.
I was inspired by the sight of so many people, just as I thought I would be, because I love being amassed, as I mentioned, with other people who keep me motivated. By the second or third kilometer, though, I didn’t need to rely on the crowd for motivation.
A white object bounced past my right eye’s peripheral vision, and was drawn to it. It was connected to sunken cheeks, purple-rimmed eyes and a body running a slightly faster pace than I. This lady looked sick, like my grama did in the months before she died. This lady was bald, from chemo, and was running this race with us. I almost lost it, and pointed her out to my brother once she was out of earshot. “Isn’t that so cool? Isn’t that inspiring?” I asked him. I was glad to have a brimmed hat to cover my eyes for a few needed seconds.
I looked ahead to the second bridge we were to cross to return to the other side of the river, past the Parliament buildings and National Art Gallery. As my Dad, brother and I noticed the finish line ahead, I looked at my Dad and ushered in the last movement: the sprint. We ran full speed ahead for the finishing line, and I concentrated on my breathing again. It felt so good, like I couldn’t leap far enough, like if I tried a little harder, I might just take off and be airborne. We crossed the finish line, panting heavily and smiling. As I took off my wet windbreaker to let some of the sweat and steam off of my skin, I took pause in congratulating myself for completing the course.
I was in the middle of giving myself this mental pat on the back when I saw two people cross the finish line holding hands, an older man and a young boy. They high-fived, and made their way past me towards the food and water tent. I kept my eyes fixed on them, because I was impressed by this man’s selflessness of completing a race with a boy. It would have required great patience, as I’m sure he could have achieved a better time had he done it at his own pace. As they moved ahead of me, I read the signs on their backs and let my eyes pour out some quiet tears. The little boy’s sign read, “I am running for my mom.” The man’s: “I am running for my wife.”