The first event I ever ran in was a 5k in the summer of 2008. It was called the “Love Your Body 5k” and was part of a larger women’s only event that held the same title, and was sponsored by a local radio station.
As I pulled into the park, I remember being nervous and not sure what to expect. I had my family with me; my husband and 5 children ages 9 to 7 months.
The venue was Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City, featuring an enclosed looping road with a little pond in the middle, the home for a various assortment of ducks and geese.
As I lined up at the starting line with all the other women, my tiny little air pod started playing Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” and I got a little emotional, as the words seemed so fitting.
“I can almost see it, that dream I’m dreaming… But there’s a voice inside your head saying you’ll never reach it. Every step I’m taking, every move I make feels lost with no direction, my faith is shaking… But I, I gotta keep trying, gotta keep my head held high… There’s always gonna be another mountain, I’m always gonna wanna make it move, Always gonna be an uphill battle, sometimes I’m gonna have to lose. Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side… It’s the climb…”
When I started running thirteen years ago to change my health and improve the quality of my life, I only could see how hard my current “climb” or my changing process was. I actually had very little joy in running… it was really hard; I still felt constantly physically terrible; mentally and emotionally drained, but I knew I couldn’t keep living as I was, because I honestly wasn’t living, just more existing in my roles of wife and mother. I had no idea what made me happy, or what I wanted for my future because I couldn’t even think that far ahead.
My past felt like a separate mountain I had climbed- a nightmare I knew I never wanted to revisit. I grew up in between my parents homes once they divorced when I was two. I was the third child of their original marriages; my biological father was largely absent (except for a couple months a year during the summer when he’d have us visit) and my biological mother was extremely abusive- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I was 31 years old and honestly tired of “climbing mountains.” Everyday I looked into the faces of my husband and children and knew they were the reason I was even at the race. I loved them, and they loved me and I knew they deserved better than my leaving them; because if I died, their lives would be forever changed. So in 2008, I originally stood on the starting line for them, but in the process, I eventually found myself.
The feeling of completing a set/predetermined racing distance gave me a sense of empowerment I never really had before. Growing up in a constant state of fear and terror with very minimal parental support meant I lacked a lot of the confidence that love with consistent nurturing and family stability can usually provide. I really didn’t know what self-confidence and individual worth felt like, so when I crossed that 5k finish line, I was grateful for what I accomplished.
Eventually the 5k (3.1 miles) distance became a 10k (6.2 miles) and in March of 2012, I doubled my distance again and ran my first half-marathon (13.1 miles). It took a long time for my body to slowly adjust and heal, when in this past April 2021, I hit another wildly amazing milestone, my first over-all female race win.
Racing in 2021 has been very different due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. First of all, hooray for even having an in person event. Participants were encouraged to be dropped off at the race start to avoid the need for busing, temperatures were taken and masks were required at the start and finish with runners staged and spaced in order to maintain 6ft of social distancing.
It was a busy weekend in my community between Easter and a local biannual religious conference, broadcast on local TV. I was a fairly last minute sign-up as I decided to use this race as a training run for an upcoming half-marathon a few weeks later.
It was a beautiful morning with sunshine and warm enough temperatures for shorts and a tank top instead of the numerous winter layers I was accustomed to. One reason I love this course is because the first 2.3 miles is completely up hill, followed by some decent and rolling hills to the end. When I train for my marathons, I love to run up and then down this course as the hills are excellent training since I know if I can run uphill, I can certainly earn my run down.
The race began and I maintained a good and comfortable pace as I made my way uphill. I began passing people slowly, confident in my ability to run well uphill thanks to my training. When I finally summitted, I opened up to my full 5’11’ stride and never looked back. I was passed by some fast men, but slowly and consistently worked my way to the women in front of me; matching their paces and seeing if they wanted to race. Eventually, I was up in the front with only the men in front of me.
As the miles passed, I started to feel the effects of my sub 7-minute pace. I was wondering why I was pushing so hard, but I felt like I wanted too and more importantly, that I could. When I crossed the bridge, turned one last corner and saw the finish arch, I was grateful no half-marathoners had lapped me. I finished the race in 1:10 and change, averaging a remarkable (for me) 7:07 average pace, including the first 2+ miles uphill. After a walk for a few minutes to let my heart rate come back down, I made my way over the the timing booth and asked my placing. To my utter shock- they congratulated me as the1st place female over-all, beating every other woman in the 10-mile race.
Running is a great metaphor for life because it’s filled with some amazing highs and equally challenging lows. If I would’ve known in 2008 that 13 years later I would win an event with a decently competitive time, I’m not sure I would’ve believed the prediction, because it wasn’t even on my radar- let alone in my thoughts…. it was literally inconceivable.
I’ve changed and grown so much. Learned and failed and discovered joy and lasting healing in the process. Most importantly, I have a quality of life that seemed nearly impossible so long ago. I had spent 31 years with significant health challenges, mental, emotional, and physical… is it any wonder it took so many years for my body, heart and mind to begin to heal? But the miracle is, that it truly has. Miley Cyrus really had it right all though years ago,
“The struggles I’m facing, the chances I’m taking, sometimes might knock me down but, No I’m not breaking.
I may not know it, but these are the moments, that I’m gonna remember most, yeah, just gotta keep going.
And I, I gotta be strong, just keep pushing on- Cause, there’s always gonna be another mountain. I’m always gonna wanna make it move.
Always gonna be an uphill battle, sometimes I’m gonna have to lose. Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side… it’s the climb…
Keep on movin’ keep climbin’ keep the faith, baby.. It’s all about, it’s all about the climb… keep your faith, keep your faith.
“The Climb” Music copyright: Jessi Leigh Alexander, Jon Clifton Mabe BMG Platinum Songs, Stage Three Music Publishing Limited