My first 10K race. The starter's gun exploded,
a kaleidoscope of balloons floated across the wide Texas sky, and over 10,000 sweaty bodies
began pushing and shoving against each other,
creeping into the annual 10K Azalea Run. My sister,
Polly, bounced and stretched,
running in place, acting like one of those rodeo
bulls trapped in the chutes just before the gates are
opened. I eased my body along cautiously, knowing I
would need every ounce of energy I could store up
before this day was over.
As the crowd thinned, we began to jog. Polly
ran beside me for a while, as she should
sinceshe's the one who got me into this
mess.However, before we reached the first
milemarker, she couldn't hold back any longer and
ran on ahead, leaving me behind—just likeall those
other 10,000 people were doing.
Before my sister disappeared into the
distance, she looked back, waved and shouted that
she'd see me at the finish line. She always did have a
sarcastic mouth on her.
I continued loping along, taking time to smell
the azaleas. I had spent over a year increasing my
running distance from three blocks to three miles and
felt pretty good about that accomplishment.
I have never been athletically inclined. All
through school I was the tall, skinny nerd with
glasses who was the last chosen for any sport at
"You have to
take her this time. I had her last time."
didn't. You won last time, and you couldn't've won
if you'd had her on your team."
My sister came along four years later, one
of those kids who did the choosing. She was cute
and tiny and the home-coming queen as well as left
tackle for the neighborhood football team. She was a
track star in school and continued to run every 10K
that came along as well as the occasional marathon.
And she nagged me, incessantly, to take up running.
When I finally confessed to her that I was
actually running 3 miles a day, she was ecstatic!
She said she was proud of me! She said I was ready
for a 10K race. That's 6.2 miles, over twice what
I'd ever run before! I said she was nuts, and
successfully backed out of the first three races she
came up with.Iwouldn't have been in this one if I
hadn't run out of excuses. It's hard to convince your
sister that your grandmother just died again.
The night before the Azalea Run I prayed
desperately for rain.My sister prayed for sunshine.
You see who got her way.
However, if the deed were unavoidable…and
with my pushy sister, it was!...the Azalea Run was
a good one because the entire route was lined with
dense foliage. I figured when I got too far behind
the last person or collapsed on the track, whichever
came first, I could just crawl off under a bush,
sneak around, make my way back to the car and hide
until the whole thing was over.
I successfully rounded the two-mile
marker without having to put this plan into effect.
I was still hanging tough, and I wasn't the last
person in the race. I knew this because people were
still streaming around me from all sides.
By the four-mile marker, those old endorphins
had kicked in, and I was feeling no pain! My
confidence rose exponentially. I wasn't doing
so bad. Fewer runners were passing me. Of course,
that wasn't really surprising. We were bound to run
out of people sooner or later.
Nevertheless, I was certain I could run the
remaining 2.2miles with both feet tied behind my
Somewhere into the fifth mile, those lovely
endorphins gave way to exhaustion, and I realized I
wasn't going to make it after all. . My feet weighed
two tons each. Every muscle in my legs was screaming
in agony, demanding to know what it had ever done to
me to deserve such cruel punishment.
I started to look around for the nearest bush
with a space large enough to crawl under.
What I saw instead was a runner peeling off
the track to stand on the sidelines, panting and
Ahead of me, several runners were walking.
I was passing people!
The race was almost over and I was still
alive and somehow able to put one 2-tonfoot in front
of the other 2-ton foot in some semblance of
I began to hope that I was going to make it
Then at the six-mile marker, only 300 yards
to the finish line, I turned a corner and saw The
Hill looming ahead, taunting me with its knowledge
that I could not conquer it. I considered falling to my
knees and crawling up, but the race photographer
stood at the top, taking pictures as each runner
crested the peak. I wondered if my sister would show
our mother the picture of me having a heart attack
at the top of that blasted hill.
Halfway up, I glanced at the guy running
beside me. He was tall, would have towered over me
had he been able to stand up straight. As it was, our
faces were on the same level. His looked like that
famous painting of
The Scream, just
the way I felt.
Suddenly I heard someone calling my name. An
angel, no doubt, come to escortme out of my aching,
abused body to a better world, a world where there
were no 10K races and no pushy sisters.
"Sprint on in!" that same voice called."You
can do it! Sprint on in!"
No angel had ever been that pushy.
I looked around and spotted my sister's
strawberry blond head bobbing in and out of sight as
she pushed through the crowd, making her way back
along the sidelines in my direction.
on in? Was she trying to kill me? I wasn't sure at
that point I could crawl in.
Blinking the sweat from my eyes, I tried to
focus on her. She was jumping up and down, grinning,
yelling, waving...following me in along the
Somehow I sprinted. I smiled for the
camera. The photographer caught me straight and tall
with the Scream face guy plodding behind. He obviously
didn't have a pushy sister.
Polly jumped and yelled.
My life flashed before my eyes as I sprinted
across that cursed finish line.
My sister met me there, threw her arm over my
shoulders and shared her paper cup of warm water.