As I stood in the corral waiting for the 2014 Army Run 5k run to begin, I wondered if it would be my last time at the Army Run. This year there were 13,000 people registered for the 5k and crowds make me anxious. As much as I like this race, I do not love being in large crowds.
Then the cannons went off and six minutes later I got to cross the start line. Too fast, at first. Well, not just at first. I couldn't find my pace. I'd run, overheat, and then walk. Rinse and repeat. My pace times, including walks, show me I was really running too fast. Some of that was trying to find space. Thousands of people running means lots of people trying to find their pace and failing. People going from a run to a dead stop directly in front of you. People jumping off the sidewalk to directly in front of you. People bumping into you. So many people. Everywhere.
I mostly run alone. On my weekday runs I only meet a handful of people on the trail. It's busier on the weekend but except when my run overlapped with the Terry Fox Run, or the odd Sunday I'd bump into a Running Room group, there is always plenty of room on the trail. Lee ran with me a few times this past month, which was nice. But most of my runs are just me and the trail.
I run for the need to move my body. I run for the need to clear my head. I run because I can. I'm not athletic nor have I ever been. I struggle with Imposter Syndrome, feeling like I shouldn't call myself a runner. I don't run fast and I really have no desire at this point to train for a 1/2 marathon or full marathon. Race day compounds that feeling. The pressure to go faster than my usual pace. The pressure to personal best. The feeling that I'm "just" doing a 5k (and you all know how I feel about that word).
I was thinking all of this while I ran. I was feeling like all the people around me and the voices in my head were too much. Then as I ran beneath an overpass cheers started to reverberate off the concrete. At first I thought it was just people enjoying the sound, until I spotted the man in the wheelchair. We were on a slightly incline. He was working way harder than I was and there was still more than a kilometre to go.
In the last kilometre I took my final walking break. The humidity was hurting me and due to my faster than normal pace I was concerned about getting an asthma attack. Then off to my right I saw him -- a runner on two prosthetic limbs and he was down on his knees. I wondered if he was the same runner I saw a two years ago, the one that reminded me I had no excuses. I think of him often when I run. This runner had someone with him and was in the process of getting back up to finish.
He reminded me why the Army Run is my favourite run, despite all the people. There are no ordinary runners. The distance you run doesn't matter. Whether or not you personal best doesn't matter. Walking breaks don't matter. Your pace doesn't matter.
Showing up and doing the work? It's the only thing that matters.