My running ambitions ended abruptly on a hot and humid July day in the 70’s. My family’s annual summer trek from Alabama to Iowa to visit grandparents and cousins included the Fourth of July celebration in a farm “town” with a population of 900, where July 4th celebrations have been held since 1861. Each July 4th, thousands of visitors from neighboring towns and rural communities gather to enjoy activities, including foot races, carnival rides, and a morning parade with more tractors than cars.
This year, as a nine-year-old, the kids’ foot races were the highlight of my morning. Runners lined up by age. We wore the typical outside play clothes -- a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and the sneakers that we wore for every other activity of a preteen. At the starting line, I looked from left to right at my competition, waited for the starter’s gun, and as the loud bang rang out, I ran as fast as my long spindly legs would move. It took only a few seconds in the warm Iowa breeze to realize I was in last place. Dead last. My racing career ended before it even started. But, I finished the race. I kept moving. I’m glad I did.
Realization hit that running would not be a part of my life… or so I thought. Moving forward about 40 years, my gem of a new husband, a runner and racer of half and full marathons, decided that his very first Christmas gift to me would be the entry fee into a half-marathon. Yes, that’s right, a gift to his new bride who had not run any distance in over 40 years would be an opportunity for her to run 13.1 miles. I would enter this half-marathon at age 50. On the bright side, I would no longer be wearing sneakers from the 70’s, I’d be wearing “running” shoes. Because my last-place memories from 40 years ago had dimmed -- slightly -- I embraced my gift. I trained for several weeks. On the big day, besides my running shoes, I wore an official bib number, making me an official runner. Yep, me, a runner. As I did 40 years ago on the small Iowa town square, I waited for the starter’s gun. When the bang rang out, I was off on my slow and steady pace. Some runners were in front of me, others were behind me, but that was okay with me. I kept moving.
Locals lined the streets and intersections to cheer us on. Young high-school students gave us hi-fives as we passed. The crowd cheered, encouraged, and told us what a great job we were doing. They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them, but their encouragement was one of the highlights of my day. Their cheering helped keep me moving. After 13.1 miles, I could see a crowd encouraging runners over the finish line. I will never forget one lady, whom I didn’t know, yelling my bib number at the top of her lungs, telling me what a great job I was doing, telling me “Keep going! You’ve got this!” Her words still ring in my ears. I will never, ever forget her encouragement. As I stepped over the finish line, someone put a finisher’s medal over my head and around my neck. I did it! I didn’t finish first -- I didn’t finish last -- but, I finished! I kept moving.
Since my first half marathon at age 50, I’ve run two more half-marathons and plan to keep moving. Who knows, maybe I’ll run another race, maybe I won’t, but I’ll definitely keep moving. I don’t want to finish first and I don’t really want to finish last. But, I want to finish. I want to keep moving. Whatever it is that you want to do, do it. Move. Swim. Walk. Dance. Lift weights. Just move. And keep moving - no matter your age, you can move. And, I hope you do.