— I did it!
I have been waiting two years, two weeks and three days to write those words.
I woke up Sunday — my 30th birthday — at 5:45 a.m. I was set to run my first 5K at 8 a.m. on Fort Mountain.
When I stepped out of my house for my first run on July 5, 2010, I never believed it would take me this long run that long without stopping to walk. Scratch that. Change it to “without stopping to drag my feet while panting at a pace that would shock a Newfoundland dog in Mexico in July.”
I have always hated running. As someone said on Sunday as I joyfully drank a bottle of ice-cold water while trying to find the strength to stand back up, “Running is a punishment for other sports.” I remarked that, growing up, it was the only part about softball I hated — the running.
Running was a punishment. I played catcher, and if I ever missed a wild pitch, I was forced to run bases.
I still don’t know what possessed me to take up running in 2010. We’ll call it positive peer pressure. A lot of people in my life at that time talked about running. I had dreams of a flat belly, slimmer thighs, losing at least 50 pounds, lowering my blood pressure, and mostly, eating all the chocolate I wanted without gaining an ounce.
Instead I got shin splints, fought sicknesses, got pregnant, miscarried, got pregnant again, had a baby and learned running in the winter while caring for an infant was almost impossible.
But running has lowered my blood pressure. I weigh 30 pounds less than I did when I got pregnant with my daughter. I don’t get out of breath as easily. I can walk the steps from Dalton High School’s track to the top of the hill, carrying all my gear, in the summer heat without needing to stop and catch my breath. I can treat myself to chocolate on occasion without worrying that it will go straight to my hips.
More importantly, it helps me maintain my sanity and gives me a place to escape the pressures of working full time while being a mom and a wife.
There wasn’t a formal 5K Sunday, but I was able to run Murray County High School’s cross-country course, thanks to my friend Mandy Ledford, who is one of the coaches for the team.
She gathered a few cross country runners and Murray County head coach Sam Young to run it as well. I originally had about 15 people tell me they were coming. But when 7:50 a.m. rolled around, we realized only seven would be running — me, coach Young, three high schoolers and two of my co-workers. Mandy was keeping time, and my husband had to stay with our daughter. There was no way we were taking her in the jogging stroller on this course.
The cross country course takes you from the beach parking lot, around the lake, back across the dam, to the base of the trail that goes up to the tower, back around the lake, through part of the campground, the parking lot at the playground and back to the beach parking lot. The course takes you across dirt, rocks, roots, pavement, roadways, through mud, over bridges and back again.
Though I’ve walked the trail around the lake before, I never realized just how many roots, rocks, mud holes and small steep hills there were until Sunday as I tried to dodge them to prevent falling or twisting an ankle. I had a fleeting image of me falling into the lake on a bad step.
As I exited the lake trail and hit pavement I felt relief. I was doing this. I was actually going to finish.
Then I saw a hill in front of me, and my hopes sank. I was going to have to run up this hill not once, but twice.
I knew if I made it up this hill without stopping, without walking, on the second time through, I would finish. I don’t know precisely how far into my run I was the second time I met the hill, but I think it was somewhere around the halfway point.
I don’t back down from hills while running through the streets of Chatsworth. I reminded myself “if you can run the hill on Chestnut Street up to Sixth Avenue, you can do this.”
I leaned in, shortened my stride and kept the expletives to myself.
Other than the hill that caused me to curse every step I took and my decision to become a runner, I didn’t have another moment where I thought, “I’m not going to make it.” Tackling that hill halfway through my run just reassured me I was finally going to do this.
I made it back around the lake with ease.
Wait. Strike that and change it to “made it back around the lake without dying.” It helped to hear my husband yelling across the lake on behalf of my almost 9-month-old daughter “Go Mommy! Go!”
The cross country runners, who had long finished their run, met me and announced plans to run with me while encouraging me. They ran about 10 paces with me and said a few encouraging words before I lost sight of them again.
Coach Young met me to tell me there was only one hard part left and that I was going to do this. He ran several yards ahead of me, shouting encouragement back over his shoulder as he went, “Don’t give up now, Misty!” “You’re almost there.” “Come on. You can do this.”
There was one hill left, but I wasn’t going to let one hill at the end of my run defeat me.
I slowed down as I reached the top to give myself a minute to regulate my breathing. Then I sped up. As I rounded the curve and saw everyone standing there cheering me on, I sped up a little more.
The weekend before I ran 3 miles in just under 51 minutes. Yes, it’s extremely slow. Sunday, my time for 3.1 miles was 49:34. It was still extremely slow.
But I did it.
And once I can lift my knees without groaning again, I’ll be out there running again.
Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.