I’ve been thinking about time.
It might be because my birthday is tomorrow, and that’s always a good opportunity to reflect on where the years went and the next one is going. Or, maybe it’s because I ran the Falmouth Road Race on Sunday, and my time was slower than usual (much slower). I tried blaming my fancy new watch’s display screen, which is hard to read. (How could I know that I was running like a hippopatumus… through mud… after being hit by a tranquilizer dart?). I wish I could say it was due to my worn out sneakers, but, in truth, it’s simple. It’s not a new watch or aging sneakers. Time passed, and I wasn’t at the finish line… till later. The sport of running is honest and unforgiving that way. The clock rules.
The Falmouth Road Race and I were born on the same day, August 15th, in the same town, albeit several years apart. (For the record, she’s older). I started running the race in high school. I think I was 17 the first time. I sprained my ankle weeks before at field hockey camp but insisted on running anyway. That ankle has made disturbing crunching noises ever since. (Take note, teenagers; hubris can hurt your ankles).
Each year, the race hovers on or around my birthday, depending on when the second Sunday in August falls. So, it’s more 7.1-mile birthday party than standard running event. Dozens of buses shuttle thousands of runners to the starting line on race morning, and which bus do I get this year? Number 34… the age I’m turning. My mom, who ran her first Road Race while I attended Baptiste Teacher Training in Mexico in 2002 (one of the few years I missed) and my boyfriend, a running coach and former Boston College track star who came out of “retirement” to pop off 5:30 miles the whole way, both turned to me shrugging and laughing, like “There you have it… happy birthday,” their faces said.
After the initial and admittedly petulant sting of being not-so-speedy, I thought about the span of time between last year’s race and this year’s. It was a big year with a lot of personal transition (and less race preparation). I think I’ll know it down the road as a year that both broke and built me. I signed a book deal, weathered the end of a 7-year relationship, found an apartment to myself where I write and cook and decorate to my heart’s content, and found new love. I didn’t run as much because, for a time, I didn’t have an actual address, much less a training routine. I crashed with friends, often storing and schlepping the bulk of my belongings in the trunk of my car. It wasn’t fun, but in the scheme of things, it offered a valuable reminder of what matters most in life, which basically boils down to this: with whom and on what do we spend our precious time? I also had some niggling health issues, and I’m never naïve enough to think that physical ailments are separate from emotional stress. Once I was on the other side of all the transition, I alternatively wasn’t naive enough not to notice that maybe I wasn’t running as much because I was finally at peace with standing still.
Before heading back to Boston on Sunday night, I stopped by the New Balance VIP post-race party, planned by my mom and attended by elite runners, like winners Micah Kogo (32:09) and Joyce Cheprukui (36:42), keynote speaker and Boston Marathon bombing victim Jeff Bauman, race director and New England running living legend Dave McGillivray, and, yes, even my first track coach, John Carroll. But not before pausing on the beach outside the venue to catch a perfect blazing orange disc slip beneath the steely blue horizon, a familiar chill in the air that arrives in mid August evenings causing me to tuck closer into Dan’s side.
We all know what it means to move too slow or fast, to want our pace through a race, life transition, year, or moment to be different. In the end, the clock rules. How will we spend our time? On what? With whom? We can only do our best in each moment.
At the end of yet another Falmouth Road Race day, I had the feeling of reaching a different sort of finish, and for this one, I was right on time.