Last Sunday’s weather was crisp and cool as I stood at the start line. I took a deep breath and smelled the air. My eyes started to water as I accidentally inhaled the smell of sweaty bodies and dirty gym clothes instead of the autumn air.
We were packed in like sardines, all 10,000 of us, ready to run 6.2 miles if it killed us, and for some of us, that statement was eerily frightening and very close to the truth. I glanced over at the medic tent where the EMTs stood on "red alert" – ready to save the first person who fell to the ground, their tongue lolling out of their mouth while deliriously mumbling, "Nana? Is that you?"
I turned to the stranger who stood next to me. Obviously, she was a seasoned runner. She was adjusting her iPod and bouncing up and down to stay warm. What I admired most about her was that she had remembered to bring a clothespin for her nose. As the guy in front of me bent over to tie his shoe, I gasped and pulled my T-shirt over my face and tried to breathe normally. She looked at me and smiled.
The start gun went off.
Unfortunately Moses was nowhere to be found and the sea did not part. In fact, for several minutes, the sea of runners didn’t even move. The runner next to me pulled off her clothespin and assumed the "I’m ready to sprint all six miles" position as we waited for some sort of movement. I squinted and looked ahead. Thousands of runners sprinted ahead of me.
We moved three steps and stopped. Four steps and stopped. "This is worse than freeway traffic," I muttered. After five minutes, I finally made it to the start line and began running.
Halfway through Mile 1 I silently encouraged myself, "Hey, doing good there, sister! Still alive and breathing … breathing might be an understatement … more like gasping desperately for any sort of air, but still breathing nonetheless!"
Mile 3. Things weren’t looking as bright and cheery. Someone in front of me quickly jogged to the side of the road and lost two eggs and some bacon on the curb. I was beginning to hallucinate a finish line. On the opposite side of the road, the leading runner was on his way back. He wasn’t even sweating. He was smiling and waving at the crowd more than the Rose Bowl Queen as he effortlessly ran five-minute miles.
Mile 4. Volunteers held out a glass of cool water for me as I ran past. I managed to grab a cup and tossed the water in the general direction of my mouth. I missed. The guy running behind me wasn’t too happy to be saturated with eight ounces of liquid.
Mile 5. I was pretty sure that if anyone asked me my name from this point forward that I wouldn’t know it. An eighty-year-old woman passed me. "Cheater!" I yelled at the back of her head. I desperately tried to remember something to motivate me to keep going, but all I could recall was watching the end of the Ironman Triathlon on television as the last of the participants crawled across the finish line after 27 hours on the course and lay there waiting for a priest to give them their last rites.
Mile 6. I hoped the medics had a new lung in a cooler waiting for me at the finish line because I was pretty sure I needed a transplant ASAP. I looked behind me and hoped a vicious, rabid dog was chasing me because the only way I was going to make it any further was if I was running for my life.
I looked up in horror. A hill loomed before me. "Who in their right mind puts a hill at the end of a race?" I asked out loud to anyone who might be listening. As I battled up the hill, a group of runners caught my eye. They were running in the opposite direction from the rest of us. I then realized that these runners had already finished the race and were just running the race again … FOR THE FUN OF IT.
I made a mental note to myself. "If you ever become elected Queen of the World, make a new law that states "No runner shall re-run a race until all the other runners have either completed the race or died."
"I see a finish line!" I yelled deliriously. "And I don’t think I’m imagining it!"
A few seconds later, I ran into a narrow area that resembled a cattle shoot. "MOO!" I gasped to the lady who collected my race number. I waved off the medics who were pacing, just waiting for someone to fall over.
I threw my arms up the air and celebrated. Not bad for a 45-year-old woman. And I didn’t even have to crawl across the finish line at midnight.