This was my third year running the Achilles St. Patrick’s Day Race. Having become an Achilles regular, March has come to mean a new green t-shirt, a bowl of chili and a fun and supportive 5km race! This year was no exception.
I wasn’t really training in any specific way for the 5km distance. After having achieve my goal of stretching my distance to 10km, I wanted to work on extending my run endurance so I could run more and walk less during my runs. This was a work in progress. Some weeks I could do more laps on the track, and other weeks I couldn’t, making me feel like I was running in place and doubting if I was gaining any ground on my run endurance. My guides and fellow athletes were always supportive and told me I was making progress. I focused on just showing up and putting in the mileage no matter how much running versus walking there was on a particular day. My guide Kathy has a favourite saying: “look at us, we’re getting it done!” and that kind of became my mantra.
The week before the race, the talk at our post-run/walk brunch was about everyone’s expected times and goals for the race. The past two years my goal had been 45 minutes. I got close the first year but still hadn’t made this goal yet. In “getting it done” I had never timed my runs and didn’t have a clear idea of what my time was. I secretly hoped it was faster than 45 but thought this was a realistic time to aim for, especially since just getting to 45 min would be a personal best.
The day of the race held a great spring day. There were lots of runners walking around in shorts instead of the multi layers and frozen hair of the past two wintery years. I made it to the race site with my guide Heather, her partner Daniel, my sister Sandra and her guide Iola. We quickly found the Achilles gang and chatted with everyone before the race. I managed to squeeze in just that one extra plumbing maintenance break before making it out to the start line. Heather and I made our way into the pack, trying to be near the middle. There is always such a buzz of energy at a start line. I did my warm-up wiggles to the fun music while waiting in anticipation. We cheered on the wheelchair start and then yelled out our own start countdown. Heather had told me that the game plan was to start by running. I agreed and after slowly making our way to the start, we finally crossed the time chip and were off!
That first run section I tried to keep running as long as I could. I definitely had more motivation to push a little harder than in my training runs. I let my legs and breathing tell me when it was time to walk. I think one of the main differences was that I didn’t let the walk breaks get to be more than what I needed to recover. Heather was also a great guide and coach, encouraging me the whole way. It helped that I was familiar with the route, I remember on the way back we passed Simcoe street running and I thought okay, let’s just run to York. Taking the race in little bites and chunks made the distance easier to swallow!
There was lots of cheering on the route, from the marshals as well from the other runners. Heather kept an eye out for all our team mates. With her being a part of both Black toe and Achilles, we had lots of people to cheer for! Those little shout out moments were like little bursts of supportive fuel. Though apparently if you want to coordinate a blind hi-five, I need a bit more verbal info to actually make it happen.
Finally, and yes even in a 5km it still feels like finally, we were making the turn into the home stretch. My legs felt pretty good and the race had held more running than walking which had been my goal. I got my wires crossed on how far away we were from the finish line. I took off at a dead run a bit too far away from the finish line. I then needed to take a short walk break to put a bit more fuel in the tank for the real final stretch. I did manage to cross the finish line running but I could only get one sprint section out of my legs!
I was standing there huffing and puffing while Heather exuberantly congratulated my effort. She said the clock had said about 42 minutes when we crossed. I wasn’t able to absorb my time right then and went to have our recovery food and catch the awards and speeches. It wasn’t until I got home and saw my chip time of 41.46 that I really felt the impact of my accomplishment. This was more than I had hoped for. I e-mailed one of my regular guides who hadn’t been at the race with the subject line, you won’t believe it! Her response back was, Yeah I can! It meant that all that hard work and those sore muscles and getting up early on the weekends had made a difference. “Getting it done” had gotten me past my goal to a new personal best!
I have always liked the Achilles’ slogan of “running beyond disability”. It means running beyond all that ablest negativity that is so often heaped upon people with disabilities. For me, there has also been the meaning of running beyond body shaming and having been that kid who was made to sit on the bench in gym class. It was like with each step my body was healing my heart and teaching my mind what I can do. That is the power of Achilles. And it is mighty!