Let me be clear at the outset. I did not run this 5K nor did I jog it. Well, maybe I did jog in the briefest of spurts. What I did do, in spite of all the obstacles, was complete a 5K.
The idea of participating in such an event came about not because I am particularly fond of marathons or of any athletic endeavour that requires people to push their boundaries, both physical and mental or compete to set records or personal bests. In actuality, it was the fact that this event was a fundraiser and that an organization that I was personally invested in was participating that bolstered my commitment. Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto had been my safe space during my cancer diagnosis and treatment. I wanted to support them. Mind firmly made up, I set to creating my personal fundraising page and I was away.
As I hit the submit button, I thought, “Holy crap.”
What had I signed up for? I massaged my knees, more out of habit than from any real pain. I took momentary note of this flight-or-fight response, and moved on. The run was a few weeks away yet.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” I reassured myself.
I had been steadily feeling better over the last few months. I could do this.
As the support and funds from family and friends came in, I felt good about my decision. I won’t lie, it also felt good to see that little thermometer fund-o-meter inch surely towards my goal. To my surprise, I surpassed my $1000 goal with ease. There was no backing out now.
One or twice, concerned loved ones cautiously questioned me about this latest endeavour of mine and wondered aloud whether it was the best idea. I understood where they were coming from; my last three years had been a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, fancy machines, blood tests, medications and more specialists.
But, I knew I needed to do this. The timing felt right.
In hindsight, I am in awe of the fact that I didn’t have a contingency plan. I trusted myself enough to know that if there was a serious issue I would deal with it, but I wasn’t going to preemptively anticipate disaster.
I had fully intended to start some type of training leading up to the 5k. In reality, this didn’t happen. But I had been steadily active, albeit most of my activity was relatively low-impact.
On the morning of the run, I woke up in the early hours. I grabbed my pre-packed bag, light but with the essentials. I biked out to the spot where buses were taking runners out to the starting point. It was a cool morning and as I whizzed down the empty streets, I felt an immense sense of gratitude. I felt peaceful.
Shortly after my group set off when our whistle blew, I noticed how hard the asphalt was under my feet. The marathon had closed down city roads for the route, and although I knew this about the route, I hadn’t really given it much thought.
I decided to ignore the hard surface, it was going to be a very long walk otherwise.
I had made the decision not to ask friends and family to come with me, see me off or meet me at the finish line. For reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, this was something I needed to do for myself.
The past few years, I had needed people to accompany me places. Not just for emotional support, but because my cancer and treatment physically prevented me from travelling any substantial distance by myself. My post cancer-treatment symptoms included chronic fatigue, brain fog, nausea, constipation and concurrent diagnoses of depression and fibromyalgia.
It had been a hard road to feeling better, to regaining my independence, to reclaiming my mind and body, but I was doing it.
As I walked along, my thoughts drifted (as they had been prone to do in recent times) and I contemplated all the horrible, mind-numbing, heart-wrenching events of the past year.
Several times, I thought about how ridiculous it was to do this. How would my body respond to this extra and unusual activity? How would I feel tomorrow? Every time this thought popped up, I pushed it gently away.
I noticed other participants, most of whom were in groups of two or more – some older, some very young, some differently abled, some in costumes.
I took a couple of short breaks when I needed to. And then I kept going.
There is something to be said for attempting things before you are fully ready. The fear response does it’s best to protect us and it exists for a reason. But, there are times when we need to be able to distinguish between what will hold us back and what will help us break free. This isn’t always a linear process.
At 1 km to go, I knew I couldn’t stop now. I was accountable to no one but myself, but I needed to do this. If I could do this, it meant I could do anything. Well, not really, but that’s what people say to pump themselves up.
As I neared the finish line, I saw that someone ahead of me had a whole squad of people cheering for them at the end. I felt a twinge of longing – maybe I should have asked people to come with me - and then I smiled.
I thought about what I was doing and brought myself back to the moment. A few more steps to go.
I crossed the finish line, and I was there fully present in mind and body to witness it.
I had done it.
PS. I completed the 5K during the Scotiabank Marathon in Toronto in October 2018. I just might do it again someday.
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