Saturday, March 31, 2012

Oscar Winning

Oscar and me
   This weekend I am running a local half-marathon. I participated in this event for the first time in 2007, although back then I ran the 5k distance. At the time, I had been a nonsmoker for only five months, and was only able to run about two miles. I was plodding around the same local track where I had taken my first steps toward running, and a man with a runner’s physique approached me. His name was Oscar. I am sure he sensed my awkwardness when he spoke to me. “Do you want to be a runner?” I laughed disparagingly between huffs and puffs and told him that I thought I was quite far away from being anything that even resembled one of these runner people.  He looked sternly in my eyes and continued: “I can help you,” he said eagerly. “There are two things you need to do: Keep coming to the track and sign up for a race.” I was self-conscious of the thought of running in front of others, especially at a local race. I thought: “I cannot do that! This is bad enough alone! What if I come in last?” He wrote down the name of a race and said: “Okay, it is in a month.You will love it. We will run it before race day. You will do great!” 
I was nervous and excited, though the thought of running three miles without stopping seemed daunting. I began researching races. I had no prior knowledge of  road racing, and had not even been a spectator to one.  This was most likely a result of my night owl lifestyle. Race events were already packed up by the time I ventured out into the world on any typical late morning. I had common first race anxieties, and a nagging worry about whether my new found sport would make or break me. It offered me a reconnection to an athletic childhood and to my natural, youngest child competitive nature. I nearly skipped the race for fear that perhaps it wasn't going to be for me, and that maybe I would hate it.
   I met Oscar on the Thursday before the Sunday morning race. He coached  me as I slowly ran along, reassuring me that I was going to make it, and going to love it. After I ran those excruciating three miles, I drove to the local Sports Authority store. I decided I needed a real running shirt. I scoured through every shirt to find that perfect one;  a Nike white top with solid white down the middle and  black and pink thick strips under each arm. It was expensive and certainly not a necessity. I thought to myself: “I am really running a race, I earned this.”  I thought I just might be able to use it for a very long time. 
It was race day and I had a full entourage of friends to support me for my first big race. My mom also happened to be coming through town, and this made the day even more special. I pushed hard and finished with a time of 27:19. I was, to say the least, exhilarated. The race had inspired me and I immediately began looking to see what the next racing event would be for me.  
I have made a steady progression in the last six years, becoming the competitive athlete I think I was always meant to be. I have taken my 5k time down to a personal record of 21:10 to date, taking off almost one minute per year. I began competing in triathlons, and completed my first marathon in 2010. I followed that up with completing the NYC marathon in 2011. I was interviewed during the NBC coverage of the event as a featured runner at mile nineteen.
I would like to write that I often think back to that first 5k, and to those days on the track, but that is not the case. Running has become second nature to me, and it is hard to imagine my life without it. I ran that 5k route the other day, and I was blasted with memories of that not so far-off place where I struggled in so many ways in my life. I still struggle, only at different times. I still make plenty of mistakes running and otherwise. I often compare life to running: the push, the drive, the pain, the determination to finish when the finish is not at all glorious, but rather humbling. I remember my son, ELijah, at those first few races. I would come to him afterwards, and he would say: “Did you win, Mommy?” I would explain to him every time that, no, mommy did not win, but she did her best, even better than that. This was a difficult concept for a young child to understand. When I did finally win a race the first thing I did was to run to my phone and call Elijah. He was older at this point. I said: “Elijah, guess what? I WON the race!” Of course by then he understood that for me I win every time. 
Today I see how my love, commitment  and perseverance for running has influenced Elijah. He has remarkable determination. We remind each other that things require patience, practice and, often times, rest. Oscar continues to run with me despite our busy lives. He continues to praise me with: “You can do it!” When he sees me run now I can tell he feels a sense of pride and love. He inspires me to dig deeper, to be confident, and to just let go of all that is negative. For years he would run back to coach me across the finish line until the day came when he said: “Heather, you don’t need me anymore. You are strong and fast.”  I looked at him and said: “Oscar, I will always need you.”
  I will run on Sunday, and it will be five years after my first race; five and a half years after quitting an over two pack-a-day smoking habit. When I am running on Sunday I will not focus on why I am running in that moment. Instead, I will remember where I have come from, how far I have come, and how much farther I will go.
First 5k, 2007. With Mom, Michael and ELijah.


  1. Love it, Heather - enjoy the race. You will rock it!!!!

  2. Goose bumps!!! Run heather run!!! You are amazing!! Ooxx h1

  3. I've joined your blog. Thank you for telling me about it. Always, your #1 Groupie <3

  4. You were definitely born to run, Miss Chickadee!

  5. What a great story! Love reading your blog... Inspiring :)

  6. I love your Blog Heather! And yes keep running, the high is so worth it. xo