Last Saturday I completed my fifth 5k, which was my forth as a runner and my first to run in its entirety (no walking). Women Run Arkansas sponsors free ten-week walking and running clinics throughout the state each year. The Women Can Run/Walk 5k is the graduation event. Close to 2000 women walkers and runners participated this year.

Last year, I arrived, parked, snagged my packet, joined my group for a photo, and had plenty of time to chill pre-race. I don’t know if this year was a little bigger, a *little less organized, or both. I know I was a little later getting into town as well. After snagging a not 100% legit parking space, I jogged the few blocks to the sight, hoping to get there in time for our group picture. When I saw the line for packets, I decided I was going to have to skip the picture. It was pure chaos, and I got more and more nervous as 7:45 neared. The guidelines state that anyone who didn’t obtain their D-tag (timing chip) by 7:45 may not receive an official time. I can think of few things more disheartening than starting a race, one in which you hope to beat your personal record, knowing you may not get an official time.

After getting checked in, I madly ripped at perforations to get my tag attached. I glanced around for friends but realized there was no way I could start the race without a visit to the porta-potties. There were, I know, at least three hundred people in line five minutes before the first start. (Wheelchairs start, runners follow 5 minutes later, and then walkers begin.) I stretched and warmed up a bit while in line and helped a first-timer get her tag situated. I finally got in the race line up and was waved down by a few fellow Little Rock girls. A minute later we were off.

My mile PR is fourteen minutes and considerable change. I’m not built for speed. I’ve made peace with being passed by walkers, and I’ve been that person who finishes dead last. But I finish. That’s why I’m there. This go around I wanted to run the entire race, and I wanted to do it in forty-five minutes. I achieved the first goal but missed the second. It’s okay. There will be more races. I was proud of what I did. I was proud of the fact that I used the breath I had to thank every volunteer I passed. That’s important to me. If they weren’t there, I couldn’t be. As I finished mile three, I saw my running partner, who’d finished and come back to check on me. I gasped that I’d run the entire race, and she asked me if I needed gum. (We joke that we run better with gum, and she had it unwrapped and waiting.) I declined, but seeing her gave me a final push, and I’ll always remember her standing there, just like I’ll always remember the races I’ve run with my cousin who comes back and runs it in with me after she finishes. That’s a very special kind of cool.

I’m never going to be the girl snagging the awards, but I show up and finish. I cheer for the fast ones and the ones that finish last, the eight-year-olds and the eighty-year-olds. Everyone should have those moments in their life when others cheer for them, those moments when they conquer whatever it is that they thought they couldn’t do. That is one of the (many) reasons I run.

*This is in no way a slur to the event. I can’t even imagine the time and effort that these volunteers put into this event. I’ll just know to get there earlier next year or try to get my packet before race day.