It is only appropriate that I finally write about a race since racing takes up much of my time. I train all week, race on the weekends. I am running the Bob Andruilis sweetheart run tomorrow in Litchfield; this race is very special to me for several reasons. I first ran the race 3 years ago. It was the first time I ran 5 miles. I was a ball of nerves and crashed hard at mile 4, and like a new runner dragged myself across the finish line being as dramatic as if I just completed a full marathon. Then, I felt wonderful. The race itself is the epitome of New England. It begins at a community hall. Bob Andrulis, who passed away years ago from a heart attack, clearly was a beloved member of the community. His children run the race. His great grandchildren speak to the shivering runners lined up in a typical pre-race scene parking lot. The race follows a dead end road and takes you a quarter miles down a woodsy path, only to put the runner back out on a large main road, winding and curving past the maple trees. It then enters White’s Woods state park, turns around and circles back, finishing in the same lot. There are usually several older woman with many blankets huddled together cheering on every runner until the last one finishes. The runners are then given a cellophane bag full of different Valentine's Day candy, and are encouraged to go inside to join the masses for homemade soup, a table of fresh baked goods and happy, excited volunteers. When I entered the hall those few years ago, I felt like a part of the community. I felt like a friend of Bob Andrulis. I felt like a runner.
When I drive to Litchfield I am blasted with childhood memories, from the Gooseberry drive-in where I ate my first hamburger with an onion on it; and past the Northville grocery store, that used to be home to many many stuffed animals. My beloved stuffed Ostrich, named Oscar, resided there. I have faint visions of cross county skiing through White’s Woods, of family day on Sundays. Those days are long ago for most of us, but so much longer in my story. Such a brief time of family history that then collapsed into real life, real worries, real pain.
As I think of the race tomorrow, my thoughts become much different. I know who my competition is, I know they will be there. I have been nursing an injury, so am uncertain if I should give it one hundred percent; the biggest reason being that I am afraid of failing. Running five miles isn't like what it used to be. I used to be afraid I would not finish, now I am afraid I won't win. Or rather, if I feel I didn't do as well as I think I should, I will have to deal with my own disappointment. At times, this thought process makes me wish that I never got better, that I never placed at a race, that I was not so hard on myself. Smart training is always looking ahead, and always listening to your body. Smart running is running against yourself, and running FOR yourself all the time, every time. I will lace up my running shoes in the morning and put all the layers on. I will remind myself how far I have come, as a runner, and as a person. I will slow down as I pass the Northville market, the Gooseberry diner. I will take a deep breath when I enter the White’s Woods Memorial Park. I will remember my mother and father taking four children skiing, with a thermos of hot chocolate in tow. I will run, I will finish, I will bring my bag of candy home to my son. Fast or slow, I will cherish the cold February air on my face, I will feel my heart beat with the sound of runners’ footsteps, of runners all around me. When crossing the finish with cheers from old women clad in wool afghans, I will be grateful to be alive.