The First of Many Races

It was a brisk, November morning, about 50 degrees and perfect for running.  As I approached the park where the race began and ended, I heard music playing.  People were talking excitedly and passionately on the sidelines as runners jogged in place or stretched one last time.  As the emcee announced that the race would be starting in one minute, I felt a rush of excitement, followed by an old familiar tingling sensation at the back of my skull.  Thinking it wouldn’t be a good time to have a cataplexy attack, no matter how small or large, I quickly put my excitement aside and turned to the runner behind me, an elderly gentleman wearing red shorts and a shirt celebrating a past run to benefit arthritis research.  We exchanged nods of good luck.  The five second countdown began.  The moment I’d been training weeks for was right there.  I closed my eyes and took a deep breath before the horn sounded.

Because there were so many participants, it took some time to cross the starting line.  Once I did, I started jogging, hanging at the back of the crowd so as not to burn out too quickly.  Soon after the first mile, we approached a steep hill.  I heard groans from behind me and giggled to myself, happy for all the times I’d run stairs.  I sped up a bit and used the momentum to make my way up the hill, passing several others in the process.

As pavement made way to gravel, I wondered why in the world I had left my arm band at work.  Running with no clue as to what my pace was, how far I’d gone, or music to help keep my focus on something else other than the actual act of running was a little challenging.  But I finally made it to the halfway point, where volunteers were handing out small cups of water and instructing the 5K runners to turn around.  I declined the water, focusing instead on increasing my pace to finish the second half strong.

The second half seemed easier than the first.  I passed a woman firefighter on the way back and remembered that I was running the race for her family to have benefits in case the unthinkable should ever happen to her.  I stuffed the emotion and sped up a little bit more, begging my muscles to stay strong.

As I went down the hill, I passed a girl who I’d started well behind.  I urged her to “Come on!  Pick it up!”  The thing about events like this is that, although there are awards to be won and times to beat, everyone cheers on everyone.

I hit the paved part of the course and knew I was close.  I continued to concentrate on breathing steadily, which was a little difficult that morning since I had been battling a sore throat and congestion all weekend.  Someone behind me yelled, “We’re almost there!  Keep running!”  I kept running.

When I turned the corner and could see the clock, I was behind about four other runners, a couple who I felt I’d been playing leap frog with the whole time.  I caught a glimpse of the clock – 35 minutes and some odd seconds.  Excited about the prospect of beating my personal goal of 37 minutes, I broke out into a sprint.  I straight up booked it the rest of the way to the finish line, tired as hell, but determined.

Determined to make it to the finish line, as unflattering as I may look

The timing chip beeped at 36:17.2.  I had done it.  I had finished my first 5K, and I’d done it under the goal I’d set.  Holy crap.

I looked around to see if my family had made it.  They hadn’t, but it was ok.  I was proud of myself and took some time to enjoy the feeling.  Tears streamed down my face and my legs wobbled beneath me.  I thought, “Hello, cataplexy.   It’s ok that you’re here because it means I feel especially awesome.”  And I totally did.

I wish I could find the words to describe how much this race meant.  I wish I could tell you how it felt to do something so physically demanding while fighting extreme tiredness after a normal narcoleptically-fragmented night of sleep.  In some ways, it’s the same way I feel on days I “win” against my narcolepsy symptoms.  There’s almost always a small victory dance in my head on an evening that I manage to make it through the day without dozing off or sitting in a mental fog or reaching for another dose of stimulants.

It is likely that I will never win a race.  (Let’s be realistic here…some of those people finished the whole thing in 17 minutes!!)  There will be races where I don’t beat my fastest time.  Just like the fact that it is likely I will never be free from narcolepsy, and there will be days that are more of a struggle than others.  However, the good races and the good days are worth the fight to keep on stridin’.

 

 

Thank you, www.seekcrun.com for the photos. Without you, there would be no photographic evidence that I completed this feat. :)

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  1. […] eventually prevent me from participating, so I figured I’d better enjoy it as long as possible.  Crossing the finish line of that race was one of the proudest moments of my life, coming in just behind marrying my husband and surviving […]

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