I ran a race on Saturday. It was not the longest distance offered that day, and I did not train much for it. I used to have a pretty singular focus in a race: pushing myself as much as I could, finishing in the least amount of time possible. Instead, Saturday’s race was about many things. It was a relay done as a team effort with my husband Dusty. Rock ‘n’ roll bands played music at each mile marker so the race was partially about quality live music and rocking out. I ran the first stretch, and he ran the second, and during the last mile I met up with him and we crossed the finish line together. We could run our own paces, but still put forth a team effort. Our race was partially about being in it together. I handed Dusty a wooden drumstick at the handoff point and his fresh energy replaced my spent energy as we shared a few strides and then he carried it ahead into the next mile. Isn’t that an accurate picture of the marriage that keeps moving forward? We are running our own races, but we are in it together, carrying the same baton, and our result at the end will depend on both of us.
The race was partially about other people, too. I met and talked with one woman who was ten years younger than me but grew up miles from my me in a neighboring small town. I could only keep her pace for a brief conversation but we marveled together at the slim odds of meeting someone else from rural Illinois at a race in Savannah, Georgia. We reminisced about shared memories of high school sports and local parks. While a part of me longed for her thirty-year-old energy, I strove to appreciate what my body can still do after an eating disorder at nineteen and three births in my thirties, as I now teeter past the forty-year mark. Like the final mile of my race, my fortieth year arrived before I knew it (but not without some perseverance), and in both cases I was still feeling pretty strong.
I observed many other people and I successfully avoided getting to the part of the conversation where anyone finds out I’m a psychologist, which I considered just as much a success as finishing the final mile. I noticed people’s individual running quirks and idiosyncrasies. There were the people who already looked regretful from the starting line, who had surely been talked into the whole thing. There were the focused and purposeful people, doing their serious warm-up jogs and stretching extensively before the race. There were, sadly, the many people with probable eating disorders who I no longer envy. There was the man in head-to-toe running gear, with a smiling cloth pineapple neatly stitched to the back of his hat. He took very neat and evenly spaced strides and I found myself wondering if he is a person who likes to have a very controlled, planned sort of fun. There were many pairs of people chatting as they ran, with varying degrees of interesting conversation (extraverts). And there was me, trying to notice the alterations in the cobblestone and pavement, the squares of Savannah, the canopies of Spanish moss. I squinted at the blinding sun as it rose in the sky and wished I’d remembered my sunglasses. This and other races going forward hold within them rich experiences for me, with many things to notice, many ways to feel purpose beyond the ticking timer.
And I still finished with a pretty impressive time.