Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our First Race

The neophyte is a legend in her own mind” - Me, 2010
I was asked to join the team. I can’t remember ever being asked to join a team before, at least not in my adult life.  Well, actually, it was more like ‘we need 4 people to qualify for the team discount admission price for the local 5k fun run and one of the staff just had surgery so we’re short a person. Do you want to run on the chiropractic office team. You’ll save 5 bucks?’
Yes! Yes! You can count on me. I’ll be on the team. I may not be a chiropractor, but I’ve been to one.
Only days before the big 10 km goal race, in Ottawa, this was the perfect practice run for my neighbour, Heather, and myself.
Since I was on the team, I volunteered to pick up the number bibs and timing chips ahead of time and deliver them to the office. I was disappointed, though, when I learned that ‘bibs’ and ‘chips’ had absolutely nothing to do with eating.
I waited in line with a lot of really fit people wearing an over abundance of spandex and previous racing  t-shirts. Look casual. No big deal. Pretend I belong here. My heart is racing just standing in line. What will it be doing at the start line? I can do this. Then I spotted her, The Lady in Line.
I hadn’t seen her for years. An old acquaintance. I smiled and said hello but I don’t think she heard me. She seemed eager to get to the table to get her bib and chip.  I wanted to warn her, “I wouldn’t rush if I were you. You can’t even eat the ‘chips’”.
Finally I get to the front of the line. I pick up the 4 bibs and bands with the timing chips. I was so excited. I rush over to the office to deliver the goods, then get ready for the race.
Eagerly I walk into the reception room of the chiropractic clinic, proudly donning my bib and timing chip bracelet. People keep staring. A few even smile. How nice is this? A young, fit lady goes so far to really grin and comment, “Is this your first race”?
Why, yes it was. How did she know? Isn’t this wonderful! These lovely people are obviously impressed. I am getting out there and doing something. I am racing. I am a runner. I am on the team.
Then it happens. Mrs. Chiropractor, captain of the team emerges out of the washroom, ready to race. Her bib is neatly pinned on the front of her shirt over her abdomen. I am mortified. Her abdomen? I look at my husband who is sitting beside me in horror. “Why do they call it bib if it isn’t supposed to go around your neck?” I whisper.
I scramble awkwardly to undo the safely pins and lower the bib. Mrs. Chiropractor casually walks by to introduce herself and say hello.
“Oh, that’s an interesting place to wear your chip. I always put it around my ankle.”
I force a smile. “I sometimes wear it on my ankle too. In fact, I think I will today.”
My hoarse voice matches the sound of the Velcro ripping as I reattach the inedible chip to my ankle from my arm. My naivety is reflecting through like a bald head on a sunny July day.
Soon the four of us are on our way to the race. It’s a warm May evening, the sun is bright and the sparkling water on the lake is dancing. Things couldn’t be more perfect. Heather and I look at each other as we join the mass of people at the start line.
We can do this.
Yes we can.
We’re on the team.
The gun goes and we’re off. We are forced to the go the speed of the crowd as we are corralled through a relatively narrow pathway surrounded by woods. This isn’t so bad. Soon we’re on the road and the speedsters break away like...
And, then it happens. Euphoria. Is this what they call runner’s high? For a split second I look at Heather and I am Ian Charleson’s character, Eric Liddell, in the movie Chariot’s of Fire, the theme song singing through my head,
Da da da da daa da
Da da daa da da…
I run with grace and glory. I run with conviction and determination. I run with freedom and form. I run right into the back of a middle aged, short, bald guy.

Shocking, yes. Surprising, no.
Co-ordination isn’t my strong suit. I am a little bit yin and a whole lot of yang: major cities, minor accidents. There was the time I did the British Special Forces roll in a round about just outside Heathrow Airport, London, narrowly escaping being run over by a very expensive looking Volvo. Luckily the Volvo went unscathed.
Then there was the pot hole outside Penn Station, New York City. I went down like a ton of bricks, badly twisting my ankle the day before we were to leave on a cruise to Bermuda. I give credit for my speedy recovery to my fear of un-socialized medicine and a good ice machine in the hotel.
And, then there was the little incident in the subway.  At rush hour. Did I mention Paris? This one is just too embarrassing even for me to relay the whole story. Let’s just say I was stuck on the wrong side of the Metro gate in a country where I didn’t speak the language and had no idea where I was. Lots of tears and a near nervous Anglophone breakdown were involved. On a positive note, I finally did find the Eiffel Tower. It’s the tall building by the river…
Back to the race.
I briefly hold the man’s shoulders in a pretext of keeping him standing. But, in reality, I am stopping myself from falling over.
“Are you alright?”
He is nodding. We’re still running forward. I think Heather might be smiling now.
“I’m…” giggle
“so…” snort
“sorry…” badly suppressed laughter like smothered sniggering after unintentional escaped flatulence in a public place.
I can’t help it. I can’t stop laughing. I’m running, hunched over laughing so hard I’m crying.
So, I do what any responsible adult would do. I speed up. A lot. Partly because I don’t want this man to see me laughing at him and partly because I don’t want to be blamed for any internal injuries I may have caused. Hopefully he didn’t get a good look at my face. We all look 'more' or 'less' the same from behind.
I catch up to Heather.
“I just ran into that guy.” I still can’t stop laughing.
“I know”, is all she says.
Wow, she’s focussed. I’m impressed.
The race is a loop and now Mr. Chiropractor, the fourth member of the team, is passing us, facing us on the way back. Heather gives him a high 5 as he whizzes by with a gait twice mine.
We’re coming up to a small hill, it’s really warm and I need water. I am on the brink of giving up when I spot her.  The lady in Line.  She is laughing, chatting and running with friends. Somewhere deep inside myself I find some strength. I want to pass her for no other reason than I know her.  I’ll teach her not to hear me when I say hello to her in a line-up! I break away like a gazelle.
I’m getting closer, closer, closer. I pass her! Hooray. Victory is mine. Or, was that vengeance? I think that normally belongs to the divine, but I’m getting a piece of it today and it's heavenly.
I’m headed toward the finish line, excited and thrilled. I’ve almost done it. For the team.
I cross the finish line with my non edible chip on my ankle and the bib on my belly. I look into the sea of faces. It’s over. I’ve done it.
I look around, searching. Wait, is that…? No, it couldn’t be. Emotion wells up within me. A lump is forming in my throat. Dehydration. No, it’s more than that. I am overcome with gratitude. It’s my oldest daughter standing there in the crowd of spectators with her dog and friend, Sarah. Candice is in her twenties now, all grown up and lives across town. She must have come to surprise me. How sweet of her! She came to cheer me on. She’s proud of me, her mother! I’ve accomplished something she’s thrilled about and she has taken the time to be there for me. Wow. It’s moments like this that make it all worth while. I can’t help myself, I’m welling up. I want to cry.
Between gasps for air I run up to her and get her attention.
 “Candice!” I yell.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” she asks incredulously. "I didn’t know you were running this race.”
Humph. It was dehydration in my throat after all. I need some water.

© 2011 Written by Heather Down. Illustrated by Jon Larter.


  1. Ha! Thanks for the comment! Colder than here-OUCH! Good luck with the running:)

  2. Thanks Heather... I will definitely try the oil thingy.. ew!
    I hate being sick!!! You have a lovely blog!

  3. Run! Run! I have no to little interest in foot races myself, though.