an essay by Anna Gosman

Running for Heroes

It is my first time.  Well, not exactly my first time, but my first half-marathon.  I was up early, worrying about how many clothes to wear, what to fuel myself with pre-run, and whether I will manage to go to the bathroom so I won’t have my usual gastric emergency mid-run. When I woke up, the thermometer said thirteen degrees.  This is insane.  It’s too cold to run.  Am I wearing enough layers?  Seriously, though, how many pairs of leggings can one person wear?  And am I even going to be able to eek out of all those leggings in a half-sweaty, half-icicle mess, rushing to urinate in the middle of the race?  At all costs, avoid the port-a-potty.

I’m standing in line for the bathroom before the race, a line that reaches around the block, and I’m trying to focus on the fuzzy voice, not all my leggings.  Muffled instructions, too many thank-you’s, something about veterans.  I don’t want to think about patriotism right now, even if it is a Veteran’s Day race.  It’s too cold, and I’m about to run in twenty-two-degree weather for the next two hours.  This is crazy.  What do I know about thirteen-point-one miles?  We hustle to the starting line, where I start jumping up and down to stay warm, not to warm up—not a good sign.  I’m standing in this mass of runners, all of us jumping, like some bubbling mass of humanity.

The shot goes off, and I make sure to start my GPS so I won’t be lost, my timer so I won’t be slow, and my music so I won’t be bored.  I slowly start out, losing slower runners in the crowd and heading out of town with the mass of other runners.  We’re all in this together, I suppose, though I’m convinced I’m the only novice in this group of slimmed-down, geared-up racers.  Ah, the camaraderie—runners freezing together, sweating together, wiping noses together, pushing legs together.  These are my people.  We run together, yet we run alone, each to beat his own time, each to win his own race.

Random thoughts while running, Miles 1-5:  Making good time!  I’m totally going to finish in the two hours I’m aiming for. . . . I like her outfit.  Do you think I could fit into leggings like that? . . . Toby Mac’s “Eye On It.”  Great song.  Thump, thump, thump.  My feet are pounding to the beat.  Or maybe that’s my heart.  Best day ever. . . . These people are all running in groups, chatting as they go.  What is this, a club?  Don’t speak to me.  I don’t want to socialize while I run; I’m on a mission.  I need to pass them. . . . Look at those nice teenagers, handing out drinks. . . . Port-a-potty.  No.  Avoid that. . . . Hello, neighborhood people.  Hello, cute Midwest town.  Hello, man older than my grandmother, running ahead of me.  Will I be running when I’m that old?  I’m passing this old guy; surely I can beat him, right? . . . I’m sweating already.  Great.  Too many leggings. . . . My foot doesn’t hurt.  I love racing!  I’m so glad I agreed to this. . . . GPS in my ear: I’m right on schedule, running at my normal pace.  I’ll finish in no time!

My GPS says I’m at six miles.  I’m already tired, and I’m not even half way there.  And I’m not sweating anymore.  I think my sweat is freezing to my skin, if that’s even possible.  Every time we turn the corner on these northern Indiana country roads, rounding massive fields with white farm houses and silver silos in the distance, the wind bites my legs, nips my fingers, and numbs my chin.  Today I hate farmland.  I might hate running.  I definitely hate half-marathons.  They’ve marked the miles with red-white-and-blue stripes.  Those colors should make me feel patriotic or desire to salute veterans or do something proudly American.  Not now.  Not this cold.  I’m beginning to think I never should have done this.

Random thoughts while running, Miles 6-9:  What is this guy doing?  Where are you going, running off into the corn field?  Seriously, dude?  Didn’t you see the last port-a-potty?  Man, I wish I was a man. . . . Passed again.  Passed by the teen in the cute leggings.  Passed by the group of running club socialites.  Passed by the old guy. . . . Haven’t I heard this song before? . . . No, I don’t want a drink of water.  No, I don’t want your goo.  No, I don’t want your bathroom.  No, I don’t want your smiling face and your hands out for a slap.  No, I don’t want to run anymore. . . . Mile eight.  That’s 8/13.  That’s about 2/3 done.  That’s about .666666 . . . 7 with a line over it.  So, mathematically, how much longer do I have to run?  Why am I thinking about math?  I hate math. . . . I think my other foot hurts. . . . My GPS in my ear: I’m slowing down.  Oh no.  I might not finish.

At this point, I’ve hit mile ten, and I’m not doing well.  I’ve tried to eat some raisins to give myself some energy, but my fingers are so cold and stiff, I can’t grasp the dried fruit, and when I attempt to clumsily stick them in my mouth, my face is so frozen, I can’t chew.  My leg muscles are tensing up from the cold, thighs with vices on them, tightening their grip with ever thump of my foot on the ground, while at the same time, calves shooting piercing pain into my knees.  I’m almost crying, and I seriously think I might have to call my husband to talk me through the next mile.  Or maybe to come pick me up.  Is that another red-white-and-blue mile marker?  I’m quietly cursing this stupid town and their dumb patriotism.  And I’m cursing myself because I’m walking.  WALKING.  I don’t ever walk when running.  EVER.

Random thoughts while running, Miles 10-12.5:  What is WRONG with me?  I’m walking.  I promised myself two hours! . . . Did that sign say, “Last port-a-potty”?  Who needs the bathroom at this point?  I think it froze a few miles back—froze right in my body. . . . I hate this song. . . . Sure, pass me.  I’m just walking here. . . . Pass me, middle-age mom with the giant fanny pack.  Pass me, yuppy lawyer who never changes his speed—not at the beginning, not at the end.  Pass me, group of ladies wearing red and purple over your not-so-appropriate leggings. . . . God, help me.  I can’t do this.  I can’t go on.  I can’t finish. . . . Please, God, I’m begging you.  Bring mile thirteen. . . . Railroad tracks.  I’ve seen those before.  Is that the town in the distance? . . . Jogging again.  My legs are broken.  BROKEN. . . . GPS in my ear: Two hours.  I won’t make the goal.

I see houses, businesses, traffic lights.  We’re headed back into town, and I’m running again.  I refuse to cross the finish line walking, so in tears and almost stumbling, I force my knees up.  One at a time, my legs shriek with pain as I jog into town.  I focus on the number “457” on the back of the person in front of me.  Four.  Step, step.  Five.  Step, step.  Seven.  Step, step.  Four . . . five . . . seven.  Another few steps.

I look up to see people lining the street, clapping and yelling and holding signs to encourage their loved ones.  No one is screaming for me, but their cheers drive me on.  I can do this.  Finish.  It wasn’t a waste.  Keep going.  I see the timer—the dreaded timer.  Not as bad as I thought: two hours, ten minutes.  I’m on carpet now, crossing the official finish line.  There’s a lady at the end, holding a medal and yelling at me, “You did it!  How do you feel?”  I mumble something strange, stumble oddly into a tent and grab a drink of something hot.  Dizzy, I grasp a light post and notice the flags lining the square, displaying more of that small-town patriotism.  It’s over.  I finished.  And today, I’m my own hero.

Anna Gosman is the administrator of the Christian Academy of Madison, a Prek-12th grade private school in Madison, Indiana, where she also teaches a dual-credit senior English class.  She obtained a bachelor’s degree in English education from Cedarville University and a Master’s degree in educational administration and supervision from Liberty University.  She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. from the University of the Cumberlands in leadership with a focus in English.  Born and raised in New Hampshire, Anna now writes from a family farm in Southern Indiana, where she lives with her husband, three daughters, and four other Gosman families.