Once Upon a Midsummer Night’s Run

I ran–and survived–my first 5k last weekend.

When my friend, Rebekah, e-mailed on Friday to see if I still wanted to do it (after backing out of attempting to train for a 10k race in July, I had mentioned the possibility of running this 5k), she bribed me by reminding me that I’d get a T-shirt with a dorky picture of Shakespeare on it. The race, after all, is called “A Midsummer Night’s Run.”

Okay, so she actually didn’t say “dorky,” but it is kind of dorky, and I like it in all of its dorkiness. It resonates with me.

So I hesitantly agreed, wishing I hadn’t decided to pretty much give up on running as a valid part of my life two weeks ago. All I could do now was rest and drink lots of water. One last training run wasn’t going to help anything.

Then came Saturday afternoon and the storms rolled in. The sky got darker and darker, the wind picked up, our chairs on the front porch blew away, and our trees in the backyard were whipping around frighteningly. J and I were sanding drywall mud in the upstairs bathroom during this time, so we had a pretty good view of it all out the window. I called Rebekah to find out what was going on down in Lexington, and she said the race was still on.

Deep breath. Okay.

So I put on my beloved dorky T-shirt, and J, the bard, and I headed to Lexington. We took a big umbrella. The worst of the storm seemed to have had passed, but the lightning was less-than-somewhat-periodic. We got downtown. I found Rebekah. We headed to the start banner and planted ourselves in the mob of runners. Every time the lightning flashed, we could see it reflected on the mirrored buildings downtown, surrounding us, and the crowd would let out a simultaneous “oooooo” groan of wonderment. It continued to rain. We raced. Lots of rain, lots of lightning. We finished.

Okay, so there’s more to the story than that, and though I  know you’re all proud of me for the fact that I raced at all, I am actually writing to talk about [drumroll, right?] community. In fact, as we rounded a corner downtown, still during the first mile of the race, and because of a slight incline, I could suddenly see the massive swarm of people who were participating in this race in front of us. It looked like hundreds, if not thousands of people. This probably sounds like an exaggeration, but I looked it up later and over 3,400 participants completed the Midsummer Night’s Run, though of course some of those were little kiddies in strollers or folks who were walking it–but still, 3,400! It was such an enormous swarm of people, I was awestruck–awestruck and yet quite uncomfortable, unable to breath, hot, sticky, and sweaty, and not able to tell  how much of my dampness was rain or just perspiration. Still, I turned to Rebekah right then and croaked, “I think I have to blog about this.”

It was rather phenomenal to see all the spectators lining the streets, to listen as they cheered on runners they knew who were participating, or to overhear encouragement among the runners, parent to child, friend to friend, and stranger to stranger. At one point I turned to Rebekah and groaned something like, “I’m definitely feeling really sucky right now,” and the guy I was running by turned to me and said, “I’ve been there.”

When I saw J on the sideline with his big blue-and-white umbrella and he cheered for me, waving his phone and trying to take my picture, my heart leapt a little. When I saw Rebekah’s parents and sister with a sign waving her on as we went by them, it was pretty awesome.

We were one big, sweaty, rainy mass of community.

But here’s the best single story from the run that helps to capture why it’s worth mentioning in a discussion of community:

Somewhere between the first and second mile, we caught up to a police motorcycle, with its lights on, moving along slowly behind a man in a wheelchair who was participating in the race. This in and of itself was pretty incredible for me to see–it put my discomfort in perspective, for one thing–and I appreciated the police escort for his sake. As I said, there were lots of us around, some people in crazy costumes, many pushing strollers, some with dogs on leashes. And it was dark and raining. So, kudos to the Lexington PD.

As we caught up to the amazing wheelchair participant, everyone around him began to clap and cheer! For him! And of course we did, too. How could you not? I felt that kind of deep-in-your-gut-powerful-warming-feeling you get when you’re in one of those moments when you think This, this right here is what matters.

But there’s more to the story. We continued running and passed him, but we could hear more people approaching him as we got on ahead–and those people began to clap and cheer for him, too. They cheered even louder than we had. It was just wave after wave of fellow runners cheering him on.

Gosh, it makes my eyes well up just reliving that moment and trying to describe it in words. I have a feeling I’ve made it sound a bit cheesy, but it wasn’t. All I can say, really, is that it was community. And I’m glad I saw it, lived it, felt it my own sweaty, tired, aching self.