Over the weekend I ran a holiday 10 mile race. I was a little concerned because I’ve been sick on and off for almost 2 months and my training hasn’t been where it should be. I was also concerned about the chilly weather and my aversion to all things cold. But I got out there with a positive attitude and some butterflies in my belly and vowed to try my best without putting too much pressure on myself.
The first half of the race was awesome. I felt great, the cold wasn’t bothering me at all, and I loved looking around at the runners dressed up in festive costumes. Then the course changed directions, and suddenly it was a different race. For the next 2 miles I fought brutal wind and felt the familiar twinges of an old hamstring injury. By the time the course changed directions again and I had the wind at my back, I was mentally drained and unsure of whether I’d be running across the finish line or crawling.
It must have been around mile 8 when I first heard my name during the silence in between songs on my iPod. “Go Roller! You can do it Roller!” I looked at the sidewalk where people I didn’t know were calling out my name and cheering me on. (It took me a second to remember that my name was printed in big bold letters on the bib pinned to my shirt.) I felt like I had my own personal cheering squad. It was just what I needed.
My feet felt a little bit lighter, and I realized I was running with a smile plastered on my face. I checked my GPS watch, and sure enough my pace had picked up. I found an upbeat song on my playlist and pumped up the volume. There was no longer any doubt about how I’d be crossing that finish line.
Before I knew it I was at mile 9 and a half. The line of spectators was growing thicker so I took off one of my headphones. I couldn’t even hear the music in one ear as onlookers clapped and cheered and clanged cow bells and hooted and hollered and yes, called out runners’ names. I rode the wave of their enthusiasm for the next half mile until I sprinted my way across the finish line.
If you’ve ever run a big race, you know that the finish line is not the end. Despite the fact that you probably want to collapse and/or puke, you have to keep walking through a secure area before you can stop and get your bearings. As you catch your breath and try to find your way to the end, volunteers hand you a medal, bottles of Gatorade and water, bananas, energy bars, and maybe even a surprise gift. Then when you reach the end of the barricades, you find your loved ones, smile for the camera, and commence the celebration of your accomplishment.
I had no loved ones greeting me at the finish line, no one snapping pictures, no one sharing the celebration of my accomplishments. But as I walked through the secure area of finishers accepting goodies in my post-race delirium, I had those personal cheerleaders. “Good job Roller! You did it Roller! You rock Roller!” I hung that medal around my neck, clutched my banana and Gatorade in one hand, and with my other hand, I high-fived those strangers who chanted my name as if I had just won an Olympic goal medal.
I truly believe that those cheerleaders were the reason I sprinted across that finish line instead of crawled. And as I walked to my car with my medal around my neck and my runners’ high wearing off, I thought about how nice it would be to have personal cheerleaders clapping and cheering by our side to get us through those hurdles in everyday life, both big and small. A million things on your to-do list? Tackle the easy ones first Roller!!! Kids throwing tantrums? Let them work it out themselves Roller!!! Questioning the direction your life is going? Follow your heart Roller!!! Yeah that would be nice.
But I guess I do have my own personal cheerleaders. They might not be chanting my name or clanging cow bells, but my friends and family are always there with encouragement when the course changes directions and I hit a brick wall. I don’t need to run a 10 mile race to know who my cheerleaders are. And for that I am incredibly grateful.