She stands on the sidewalk in front of Starbucks around 8 a.m. Sunday, a couple of miles into Portland’s 9.3-mile Shamrock Run. It’s a chilly morning— she’s wearing long sleeves and pants, her long salt-and-paper hair flowing. She’s not holding a sign, she’s not in green, but she’s cheering. Loudly. At this early hour, she’s enthusiastic and encouraging. “You guys are inspiring!” she yells. To a tutu-clad runner to my left she adds, “You look adorable!”
If only she were inside my head. After an ugly outburst with my family earlier, I trot along with a serious Eeyore complex. “Hip don’t fail me now,” I think, scoping out my surroundings for Honey Buckets along the course, hoping that Nature doesn’t beckon. My sister has come into this race with one goal: beat last year’s time. My goal is far less ambitious: hobble, walk, crawl or drag myself across the Finish Line before noon so that we can make it home to relieve the babysitter. I listen to my sister and her friend/running partner chat easily and nonchalantly about kids and training runs. I instead, go inward, trudging along.
We make it six miles, to the top of the Terwilliger Hill, where bagpipes are playing. This is where I give myself permission to walk. “You’ve made it this far, you can stop. You can walk now and it’s still a 6-mile run. This is where the hip/knee/IT Band (fill in the blank) might start to feel funky…just walk if you need to. You can hang back and let them finish without you. They run together all the time. It’s fine.”
And this is where the switch is flipped.
“No,” I scream to myself. “Your sister has a goal and you are going to be a part of it. You are just running. You can do this. Keep going.”
This is where I start to believe.
The course starts its downward slope and I know that the last three miles have a nice trajectory. Our pace picks up. With two miles to go, I call to mind runs at home and say out loud “To the church and back.” I know I can do that.
With one mile to go it sets in that my sister is about to reach her goal.
Our pace quickens again.
We are sailing, soaring.
We are running, together.
The ghost of races past seems to show up, replacing the ho-hum Eeyore from before. I remember that I’m the mom of a determined 9-year-old boy who practices dribbling and lay-ups over and over again before and after school to improve.
We are doing this.
My sister and I cross the Finish Line hand-in-hand. I hit the stopwatch. I look down at the time—it’s a blur without my reading glasses—but I can see it: 1:28 something.
She’s beaten last year’s time by five minutes.
I’ve beaten mine by three.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Sometimes we don’t know how far our words of encouragement can go, even to people we don’t know. Sometimes our words are just what someone needs, right when they need it. Sometimes we might be rooting for a donkey who’s just lost his tail, and we might help him pick himself up again.
So, thank you, Starbucks lady, for standing outside on a cold St. Patty’s Day morning to shout your simple words: “You guys are inspiring!” They gave me some extra oomph when I needed it.
Seeing you on the sidewalk Sunday, encouraging and cheering for strangers, was inspiring, too.