It was not the warmest spring morning in 2011 I had ever felt as I nervously entered the race area of my very first road race. It was a 10K that runs down the center of Toronto’s Yonge Street, and I was an hour and half early due to not being able to sleep.
Shivering a little in my shorts and T-shirt I kept rehashing the training runs, hydration strategies and every random thing I had read about running that got me here while standing in a largely empty but closed off Yonge Street.
Being entirely new to road races and deciding to run the race alone fearing the humiliation of running with those I knew. I found a spot by myself on the curb to stretch my legs. Standing there I watched other runners begin to show up, some alone, others in groups, while volunteers began to setup water stations, race corals and rush about preparing for the runners that would arrive soon.
It was interesting and humbling being new to running and overweight as I had a lot of self doubt about if I even was a runner and if I belonged at a 10K race after only a couple months of training. This insecurity only rose in me as the clock ticked closer to the start of the race and I watched the types of runners we have all been passed by fast on the trail begin to show up.
They are in their real Brooks, Asics and New Balance running gear, me I was in my old gym shorts and shirt. Some of them clearly arriving to the races start area having run there… are they nuts, they run to the race… I took a cab here… is this normal?
I took a nervous sip from my hydration pack as I took in the situation further. I saw more and more runners arrive, music started to play over the PA system, I saw the field of runners grow and grow to the point where I decided to monkey see, monkey do and stay warm by doing a little bit of light jogging about the coral area. I was still pretty cold out there but the music and people seemed to be changing my nervousness to adrenaline.
Now only about 20 minutes before the start I was finding it hard to imagine how empty the street had once been just an hour ago. Literally thousands of runners were all around me. It had became hard to move about as packs of happy chatty runners started to position themselves in the various start waves. I pushed my way to the back of the purple coral, the slowest of the running corals for this race.
It was in the purple coral I became confused and reassured at the same time. I looked around as saw people like myself, clearly starting a fitness journey, I also looked around and saw those people I thought were Adonis body athletes and found them shoulder to shoulder with me, the big guy at the back of the pack looking as much of nerves and excitement as I did.
Now just minutes away from the race I found it amazing how I was no longer worried as I had entered the race area as a single lone runner, but had now realized that I was part of a community of something much larger. Runners started to joke about, I found myself at ease as you realize big or small, fast or slow everyone was in the same frame of mind and that fast friends are made when you have something as profound as the qualities to train, improve, be active and brave in common with others around you.
With a few hand shakes, and well wishes exchanged with those standing shoulder to shoulder with me the entire field let out a yell and whistles of excitement as the race officially started and we hurdled ourselves forward towards the finish 10K away.
The race it’s self went by in an amazing adrenaline fueled experience like no other I had ever had. The thrill of the energy coming off so many people all running in a pack. Running down the center of one of the busiest streets in the world like you own it. The amazing support, funny signs, yells of encouragement from spectators and volunteers. The realizing you can run soo much more faster and longer then you ever thought you could because a race creates a certain kind of magic that you just don’t experience on a training run or treadmill.
Then it was over. I had crossed the finish of the first road race I had ever run. Spent by the final push I had made when I could see the finish line I gladly accepted a metal from a smiling volunteer and moved on to much needed food and drink in the finishing party area.
I stuck around for a bit. Congratulated other runners as they crossed the line, others congratulated me and it was a great feeling of community and belonging.
Soon though not moving fast anymore I grew cold as my sweat soaked clothes cooled in the breeze by the lake. It was at this moment I had a big realization and urge that has literally changed my life.
Pulling off my wet shirt and putting on the dry race shirt a volunteer had just handed me minutes before. I grabbed a bottle of water and started to run towards home along the lake front trail the ying to the yang of those “crazy runners” I had been baffled by that ran to the race just hours before.
It was from that very moment I knew, I was hooked. I was a runner and that I could not wait to sign up for my next race.