I put one foot in front of the other, forcing myself to breathe in and out in a steady rhythm. I put one foot in front of the other, again and again, for five kilometers. Other runners–skinnier, more muscular runners–passed us on either side, creating the illusion we were moving backwards. But no, we ran forward on the trail, the creek beside it swollen and muddy with rainwater, rushing faster than even the fastest runner.
I ran in a purple brain cap with the Miles for Migraine logo stitched on one side. I ran despite the fact that my head throbbed faintly under the cap, the beginnings of a migraine making itself known. I ran because it’s a minor miracle I could.
We passed the mile mark, and then the halfway mark. A man in a gray t-shirt directed us to turn around in front of him, and we leaned into the u-turn, still running. Half way, half way, I repeated silently, too out of breath to speak. My pace was off, two minutes per mile too fast, and it had winded me to the point I needed to walk.
No matter. I still put one foot in front of the other and drew long, slow breaths. When the tightness in my chest cleared, I picked up my feet and ran again, now dodging the walkers doing a 2-mile loop. The effort of maneuvering winded me further, but I kept running.
Two miles. Two and a quarter miles. Two and a half miles. Two and three-quarter miles. Finally, the finish line in sight. One final push, still going too fast, still winded, but too close to stop now. People in purple tutus and feather boas cheered when we cross the line, and someone handed me a bottle of water and a medal.
And that’s it. Sweat poured down my chest and my back. Even my fingers were slick with it, and twisting the cap off the water bottle took three tries. With the adrenaline running through my bloodstream, my legs feel as though they could run the distance a second time, but my asthmatic lungs disagree.
Thank you legs, I thought. Thank you, lungs. You carried us through to the end. You ran the race, and you finished. You were not the fastest, and you were not the strongest, but you were as fast and as strong as you needed to be, in spite of chronic, crippling illness.
You ran, and that is all that matters.