My father-in-law organizes the race every year, and my husband and friends of ours also run, so each race feels more and more like a really unexpected tradition with people I love. I also appreciate how everyone in the town comes out to watch the race, both on street corners and from their porches. They cheer you on with clapping, water, and even an occasional sprinkler to cool you off mid-race! There really is something about joining a group of a hundred people who are all doing the same thing that feels kind of special.
As with all races I've run, I start off giddy with anticipation. This year, despite not having run much in preparation for the race, I wore my new Will Power! Shakespeare tank top (a birthday gift from my husband) and had the soundtrack of Hamilton downloaded onto my phone. I felt totally motivated. When the starting bell went off, my heart took off pounding in my chest and I grinned like an idiot as I ran with my signature slow and clunky stride and wasted most of my lung power singing along to the music. The exhilaration lasted about 2 minutes before I stopped running and started walking up the first HUGE hill that greets you during the first leg of the race. Ugg.
By now, you might be asking yourself "Why did she put herself through this?" Believe me, at this point in the race, I was also asking myself "Why did you put yourself through this?" At this point in the race, running always seems like a terrible idea. I regret it, I consider stopping, I curse the sweat starting to run into my eyes, and I feel my already flushed face go even redder when I realize that I'm nearly the last person in the pack and it's not even five minutes in. But I keep going.
See, I believe that I'm drawn to running this annual 5K so much because it's symbolic of the artistic race I feel like I'm running when I work on a creative project. Think about it. When I run, I start excited, then I wonder why I chose to do this in the first place, and after that, I ride a physical and emotional roller coaster that lasts long after the race is over.
I realized a few years back that this crazy ride is similar to the one I take when I work on a new play, prepare for a role, or plot a new endeavor. For me, coaching myself through a 5K becomes a physical and mental meditation on what it means to start making something and see it through to the end.
When I sprint at the very start of the race, I am reminded of how energizing it feels to start a new project. I feel excited, thrilled. Walking up a huge hill reminds me that even when the climb gets tough, there's a way to slow down and keep going at the same time. As my legs alternate from burning so much that I think I have to stop, and feel so light and easy that I believe I could run a marathon, I realize how many times the creative process throws us to and fro--sometimes we feel like we could conquer the world and the making comes easy. Other times, we find ourselves having to coach ourselves through the hard moments and avoid quitting altogether. I've also realized that during the whole thing, it's a must to be your own friend. I've traded in my old "Come on, lazy! You think you can't keep going?" for a much gentler (and more effective) "Melissa, you can do this! I'm right here with you."
I came in among the last of the runners, but I didn't care. By that time, the giddy feeling I had at the beginning came back around. And yes, I crossed the finish line singing "I am not throwing away my shot" as the Battle Of Yorktown blared into my earbuds--special shout out to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the company of Hamilton for singing me all the way to the end!
For me, running this race is about proving to myself that we often meet walls in our artistic (and personal) lives that we believe cannot be permeated. Running has shown me that the magic happens when we allow ourselves to feel stuck, tired, and frustrated and KEEP GOING ANYWAY. Yes, it feels good to start off sprinting, smiling and without a care, but it's a whole different brand of joy to experience what it feels like to keep moving through that wall and to come out on the other side.
Here's my favorite graphic of what a race and an artistic endeavor feels like, from start to finish. Do you agree?
Is there a tradition that YOU have that helps you believe that dancing with your struggles can be just as joyful as achieving victory at the finish line? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
P.S: Thank you to everyone who came out to Trident Booksellers and Cafe on July 12th for my Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It book talk! I had an absolutely glorious time with the small but generous group of readers that came out for the event. We had a such good conversation about why stories give us permission to accept and be our true selves, the power of sharing your own story and what it means to be curious about yourself and the world. I hope I get the chance to do a similar event again soon. So. much. FUN! Below is a photo of me with The Perpetual Visitors Theatre Company Co-Artistic Director Kate Marple and I after the event. She was a wonderful co-host!