‘No… not yet…’ I looked at my alarm with bleary eyes. It read 4.45am. Out of sheer habit, I snoozed it and rolled over. ‘Just five more minutes…’ I said to my conscience.
Fifteen minutes later, I scared the Husband when I sat up with a shout.
‘Darn it! The run is today!’
My warm-ups began then, as I ran to the bathroom to wash up, out to the kitchen to make a healthy oatmeal-banana meal, back to the bedroom to change into my running outfit and pack my bags. By then, it was already 5.45am, and Pale Beauty was waiting downstairs in the car.
I was almost out of the door when I remembered my race kit so I charged back into the bedroom, grabbed the still-unopened bag and dashed out of the house. Panting, I entered the car and sighed. It didn’t bode very well for my virgin run.
I tried to read the instructions for tying the electronic sensor onto my shoes when I realized that every girl in the car was dressed in green – the official running attire for the day.
‘Wait, are we supposed to wear the tee-shirt they gave?’ I asked them.
‘No, I don’t think so… but since they gave it to us, why not?’ Pale Beauty answered.
Right. Back to tying the sensor and pinning my number tag onto my purple top. I surreptitiously eyed the other girls in the car and they all looked fit, tanned and experienced. I looked back at my legs and could have sworn they glowed under the lights of passing streetlamps.
‘Umm… am I the only one here who hasn’t run before?’ I asked.
‘Well, the last girl we’re picking up hasn’t run before so I don’t think you’re alone,’ Pale Beauty answered as she nearly swerved into another car. ‘Oops, sorry. I can’t multi-task when I’m driving…’
‘I did a biathlon this year and a half-marathon last year,’ Ms X replied. ‘But I don’t think I’ll do too well today because I got a cold.’
‘What about you?’ I asked Liz, who was sitting beside me.
‘I’ve run before, nothing competitive, just to finish the race. Did you train for this?’ she asked me.
Snapshots of my mid-night practices and trails flashed across my mind, as did images of me gasping for breath.
‘I ran a little… but have never actually completed running 10k,’ I answered.
‘Oh you’ll be okay. It’s not that hard. Just walk if you can’t do it,’ she smiled.
We finally reached the start point 15 minutes before flag-off and there was a scurry to find an empty washroom. While the girls lined up, I stood at the side, watching the thousands of girls in green, feeling intimidated. I didn’t even dare stretch in case I looked like an inexperienced fumbling idiot. Every girl just looked so… good. I quietly hid myself behind some women and snuck in a few ankle rolls and calf stretches.
Over at the starting line, the deejays were warming the crowd up with exercises, while some performing cheerleaders did their stunts. As each minute passed and the girls weren’t back from the washrooms, I felt more and more vulnerable. I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally saw them walk over to where I was hiding.
‘They’re starting!’ Pale Beauty exclaimed. ‘Ooh, let’s take some pictures!’
‘Umm… let’s not?’ I gave a wry smile. ‘How about after the race? Then it’ll be more meaningful,’ I suggested, thinking of offering to be the photographer then.
‘Ok, that’s a good idea,’ she said as we started jogging to the start line.
‘Do you want to keep pace with each other?’ I asked her. I was actually a little worried that I might not find her at the end of the race. The place was akin to salmon laying eggs on a river bed. There were too many people who all looked alike, clamouring for a space in our tiny running stream. I didn’t have a phone and my bag was in her car.
‘You don’t run fast do you?’ she looked worried, ‘I didn’t train for this at all.’
‘Trust me, I don’t,’ I smiled.
We set off and I’ll be honest, it was easy. It didn’t feel any different from my usual practices. I had to ease into my stride and by the 2k mark, it was pure rhythm. It was also extremely fun, weaving in and out of people, overtaking them one by one (ah, such infantile pride!) and the usual warnings to not go too fast at the start? No problem. Like I said, I don’t run fast.
Helpers were lined up along the roads to direct the human traffic and we both skipped the 3k water break. At the 6k water station though, we grabbed a cup each and tried to drink while jogging. Hopeless. The liquid sloshed everywhere except into my mouth. I finally stopped to gulp down the water and then with a nod, Pale Beauty and I continued to slowly overtake the runners, one-by-one.
I finally hit a mental wall at the 8k mark. I say mental because I’m pretty sure my body could have gone on longer but never did so when I trained. Frustrated, I changed music and remembered why I was running.
‘Enjoy yourself,’ I heard the Dream Maker’s voice. And so I did. I watched other runners, looked at the trees, wondered about each person’s history and even had a quick chat with Pale Beauty. Then I saw several runners I’d overtaken earlier on pass me by. Inspired, I began running again. This time, I focused on nothing else but putting one foot ahead of the other.
Past the 9k mark, I started walking. ‘I give up,’ I thought, ‘I don’t think I’ll be the last.’ What fine aspirations I had.
Of all times for someone to recognize me? It was then. I heard a woman call out my name and when I looked up, she clapped her hands.
‘Come on! You can do it! Run!’ she hollered in what I assume was her encouraging cheer.
Right. I gritted my teeth and began a painful, slow jog to the finish line.
‘There, look,’ Pale Beauty pointed at the photographers waiting. ‘Whatever you do, look good.’
I burst out laughing as we crossed the finish line at 1hr 15 minutes.
If there’s a photo of me out there, I’m sure it captured the essence of this experience.
It was a laugh.
The hardest part of the race wasn’t the running though. It was the collection of congratulatory gifts – a bag filled with freebies and a bracelet to say, ‘I did it!’ We stood in line for a really long time, stewing under the hot sun in our juices.
‘We stink,’ I said to one in particular.
‘But so does everyone else,’ Liz replied. ‘They won’t notice.’
It was then that we realized the other first-timer in our group huddled under a tree. She was suffering from nausea and could barely walk. We collected her things on her behalf and then, the day was over.
‘Are you going to run again?’ Liz asked me.
‘Yeah, I’ve got a half-marathon at the end of the year and my sister told me about another 10k run in October. I’m considering signing up for that one,’ I replied.
‘Absolutely no way,’ a tiny voice emanated from the still huddled form of the nauseated girl. ‘I will never run again…’
‘Really? As in never?’ I asked.
‘Well… okay. Maybe for a 5k, I will,’ she replied.
And that’s the beauty about these races. They are highly addictive.
‘I did it!’ I texted the Sister.
‘Oh great! How did it go?’ she texted back.
’10k in 1:15,’ I said.
‘That’s not too bad, for a first-timer,’ she replied.
Hmph, I thought. Not too bad? Hell, I finished! It was a miracle!
‘What’s good then?’ I asked her. I couldn’t resist.
‘Try to keep it under 1hr.’
A new sense of calm and determination suddenly came over me. I do have a competitive streak after all! I am going to beat the Sister at the next 10k. She’ll never know what hit her.
Well, at least that’s my goal. Whether it actually happens, I don’t know.
One thing’s for sure though… I’m perfecting my drinking whilst jogging move. So if you see a girl running with a folded paper cup, taking measured sips every few hundred metres or so, wave.
It might just be me.