It was zero degrees when I went outside to test the waters. Immediately and simultaneously, I both saw my breath as I exhaled and had it taken away as well. But perhaps not how you might think.
The temperature had plummeted overnight, and the sky cleared. At 8 am, the sun was shining brightly, and the trees, now crested with ice, presented a breathtaking background for a cold New England day. Some ice impeded the swiftness of the river, but it still flowed slowly. A sign that even when presented with obstacles, we can always prevail.
As I looked around the back yard, dressed in what I hoped would be appropriate gear for what I was about to do, the snow glistened back at me – like twinkling lights in the night guiding your way. With the sun giving me hope that it might warm up, and my canine child quickly finding “his spot” so that we could go back inside, I mentally prepared for what was to come. The snow crunched underneath my boots as I walked up the trail, anxious to pack up my stuff and get going.
“I must be out of my mind to think I can do this and in this weather no less. Henley, your momma, has lost her mind,” I said out loud – as if speaking it might convince me to consider otherwise.
Henley looked at me with his soulful eyes and wagging tail – a picture of happiness and hope. At that moment, the cold air struck me, albeit oddly, as I was about to do something I’d never done before. And likely in single-digit temps, double if I was lucky.
But, I committed and set a goal. Moreover, I wasn’t doing this solely for me. There was a bigger purpose, so following through was the only way to go.
I can’t say that I was nervous about it. I’ve worked hard this past year and pushed past the limits of my mind that can often confine me. I know I am stronger – physically and mentally – and that this is a solid foundation from which to construct aspirations. I tried to remember that I can do many things when I set my mind to it, and, in the words of my mom, that “You are made of good stuff.”
With this, I would forge ahead.
The night before, my husband asked me, “are you ready?” I shot back that I felt unprepared and that I hoped like hell that I didn’t go to Jesus in the middle of it. Usually, he’d say something smart back to me like, “don’t worry, honey, I paid the life insurance.” But he didn’t. Instead, he just smiled and told me he knew I could do it. Thanks for having faith in me, honey, especially when I need it the most.
I figured if I went to Jesus doing this, at least I’d be doing it while stepping outside of my comfort zone. So there’s that.
When Henley and I got back to the house, I was quick to pack things up, and my husband and I headed out to the car. The heated seat felt fabulous, and I thought to myself again, what the hell are you thinking? But, I shrugged it off and tried to relax. We were meeting our dear friends in town for this yearly event – with a little change up to the status quo.
As my husband drove, I pinned on my bib, and not the kind of bib to catch my drool or food. I’m not to that point yet – and hopefully not for a long time.
I looked down at my number, 341, now emblazoned on the front of my jacket, and immediately my thoughts started percolating.
Holy wow. I’m doing this. Or am I? It is freezing out! But it will be warmer in town, right? And Suzanne is doing this with you. So, you’ve got this. You’ll be okay.
Soon after that, I exchanged my boots for my sneakers, and my husband and I walked to the main event. There was snow cover on one of the walkways, which only amplified the cold, especially on my sneaker-clad feet. But I’d be okay. Deep down, I knew that.
As we neared the entrance to the event, the music played, and people gathered. Excitement, joy, and hope surrounded us and made the frigid air a bit more tolerable. If you were looking for some holiday magic, then this was a great place to discover it.
The announcement came that the event would be starting shortly. So, I made my way to the runner’s chute, with my dear friend by my side, and my heart beginning to race a bit with anticipation. More thoughts ran through my head, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how damn cold my feet were – even with my wool running socks. But me being cold seemed trivial, especially on this day. My friend and I chatted and laughed for a few minutes while we kept our eye on the clock at the start line, and of course, we encouraged one another.
And then it happened. The countdown. A mass of people. More excitement.
God, help me. Sh*t is about to get real.
And then the buzzer went off!
Before I knew it, my brain switched gears, and I was off and running. And in ten-degree weather! I was participating in my first 5K run ever. Still, I worried that I might not be able to do it, even though I knew I could because I had been preparing for this for weeks. My legs kept going, and I found my pace. People cheered us on from the streets and their homes, music played, and I smiled every time a young kid ran past me – their pace ahead of mine.
But it didn’t matter. All that mattered is that I was doing something important to me, and in the process, supporting a cause that provides safe passage and gives hope to adults and children who are victims of abuse.
As I ran past the one-mile marker, I smiled. One down, two to go. You’ve got this. As I ran, I relished in the moments. I forgot my earbuds, but I didn’t care. Being present and in my zone was the only music I needed for 3.1 miles. And the encouragement from the cheering crews spread over the run was incredible.
Into mile two, and I was still going strong, and then, I saw it. In the distance, it both stared me down and enticed me with its incline. I thought, “oh no,” as a few people passed me on either side. Then, I noticed the man in front of me with a birdhouse strapped to his back and a sign that read “Empty Nester’s.” As I chuckled and thought good for you, I remembered something important: I can do hard things. I’ve been doing hard things. Doing hard things is what led me to be able to do this.
So, I kept going. I felt a joy in my heart that I cannot adequately describe other than it brought tears to my eyes. I felt a fierceness and strength run through me. I knew it was there, but it had awakened anew on this day. With the hill in my past, I rounded the corner and looped back onto the main street with my head held high and the significance of each step leading me to the finish line.
Finally, I saw the three-mile marker, and as I ran down the hill toward the finish line with pride in my heart and tears in my eyes, I heard my husband yell my name and cheer me on. I smiled widely and inside I did a happy dance! My heart swelled with emotion, and at that moment, I felt like a rock star. I had done it.
Not only had I done it for me, but also the adults and children needing safe passage from abuse. I ran to support them so that I could play a small part in helping to give them hope for a better tomorrow.
The significance of those 7,000 or so steps in my first 5K is something I will cherish for a long time to come.
So, I leave you with this. Believe in yourself. Shush the voices that constrain you. And when you run or write, or swim, or walk, or bike – or whatever it is that you long to do – do it with pride. Have hope and faith that the dots are meant to connect, and don’t ever forget to be present and be you. After all, it isn’t about winning the race but rather the steps that you take to get there. It is the best gift that you could ever give to yourself.