I took my place at the 10-minute-mile marker in the queue of 7,000+ runners, the last section before “walkers” at the Harvard Pilgrim Finish at the 50 race at Gillette Stadium. I had a lucky bib number: 1999 is the year I was married and also one of my favorite kick-ass Prince songs. Both good omens.
Surprisingly, I found a friend in that massive crowd, and we talked for the 15 minutes or so before the race. She shared a piece of gum which helped me take my mind off the summer heat that was still strong at 6pm.
The starting gun went off–I think. Being so far back, we only assume it went off. But nothing happened as far as I could see ahead of me. After a few minutes, I could see the tiny heads way up there starting to bob with movement. It took me a full eight minutes of walking in a tight crowd to even cross the starting line. Thankfully the chip on our bib numbers started our time only when we crossed the start.
I had my running partner, Jeff Galloway, in my ears as I started that first mile. I passed my kids and husband and tried to look relaxed and not as nervous as I felt.
After three minutes of running, Jeff’s voice said, “It’s time to walk!” and I faltered. I felt great. Did I really need to walk? Oy, people are going to think I’m the lamest thing ever. But, all around me were people like me—running at a modest pace, or walking, or pushing strollers. And I reminded myself that my entire training had been based on this notion of early walk breaks. And, so I walked those 6o seconds.
The first mile came quickly. The 5K runners veered to the right, and I went to the left with my fellow 10K runners, never for a moment forgetting that I was actually doing this! My first 10K!
Every three minutes, Jeff’s voice prompted me to walk, and around 2 1/2 miles, I was so happy to hear it. It was still so hot, and I began to get scared that I wouldn’t be able to do this. I kept getting passed by people pushing strollers. A guy ahead of me stopped frequently to take photos of the flowers on the roadside. A few people near me looked like they might not make it.
But then I passed the three mile marker and the line in the road that someone had painted “3.1 miles!!!” That’s all it took. One 5K done. Just one more to go.
The route through neighborhoods in Foxboro, MA was so pretty and peaceful. Families stood on their lawns and waved. Kids lined up to high-five us as we passed. A few industrious families promoted their businesses. I remember running past a HUGE inflatable water slide with the words, “RENT ME” on a sign in front and thought, “Oh, I’d really like to go down that slide right now.”
Four miles came and I clapped with a few people around me. This was now my longest race.
When five miles came, I felt great. Only one mile to go, which sounds crazy to me even now, since I clearly remember when “one mile” was so, so long. I could tell the road looked to be sloping a bit down, so I decided to just run that last mile and ignore Jeff. I think he’d be okay with this.
We must be getting close. Or so I hoped. The air had cooled and I had no idea what time it was. I knew they closed the route at 8pm, but it couldn’t be that late yet, could it? Then, up ahead, I saw race officials directing people to go down a “restricted road”.
I turned down the road and Gillette Stadium appeared up ahead. It literally took my breath away. I fought back tears and swallowed down a lump in my throat. A few people near me cheered. I would have cheered with them but was afraid I would just start bawling my eyes out.
The race finishes at the 50-yard line in Gillette Stadium. We ran through a short dark tunnel, under a giant inflatable football helmet to the finish. For Patriots football fans, this must be holy ground on which to tred. For me, it felt like salvation of a different kind.
My final time was 1:07 for 6.2 miles. Two days later, I feel great—just a tiny bit sore. But, if I could bottle up that feeling when I crossed the finish line and give everyone a sip, I think I’d have a lot of friends with me at the starting line next year.
Though I run alone, I couldn’t do it without the support of my family or my friends who have been so, so, so supportive and kind. As I told a couple of them, “(you) seem to believe in me more than I believe in myself sometimes.”