My calves ache. My heart beats at a tremendous rate. Breath escapes my lungs in hot, ragged blasts. The soles of my feet feel as if they’ve been bruised black.
Heartbreak Hill is somewhere behind me and down below I can see the blessed white sands of Bondi Beach and a seemingly infinite stretch of blue that does nothing to alleviate the raging thirst that has been consuming me since the last water point. My hurriedly gulped libation did little to slake the thirst that running 14k conjures up.
I wish I’d trained.
My entire body aches, but there’s a kind of serenity in it. My feet slap asphalt and my eyes focus not on the crowd of thousands sharing my journey – but on the distant smudge of red that indicates the finish line.
The path winds down out of the hills and ever closer to the finish line. Soon enough I am surrounded on all sides by a crowd of spectators. They cheer each of us on as we pass as if we’re somewhere near the front of the pack. I don’t doubt thousands of people have finished before me, but I don’t care.
The wind whipping in off the ocean feels delicious as I round the final corner. A red banner flutters in that breeze and tells me that I have 400m to go. Despite my exhaustion, there’s a surge of energy that floods through my limbs and taps into reserves I didn’t think I still had. I break into a frantic mad-man’s sprint over the last hundred meters. The sound of cheers and a man’s voice over the PA are drowned out by the sound of my breath and the knowledge that I’m almost there.
14.2km and I’m done. I cross the line and feel that dizzying emotional cocktail wash over me. Over the last kilometer I’d been fighting the urge to cry. Not because I was exhausted (although I was) or because I was sad – but because I was so fucking proud of myself.
My time wasn’t anything remarkable. I didn’t do anything that thousands of other people had done before me. The history books aren’t going to say anything about my race.
But I did it on my own.
There were no friends waiting for me at the finish line. No girlfriend ran alongside me urging me on when I wanted to quit.
And believe me – I wanted to quit.
But as the distance to the finish line was dwarfed by the distance from the start, it became easier to silence that voice of doubt that tried to tell me I should just duck into a train station and ride to the end. As Heartbreak Hill came and went I ignored the desire to stop for a moment and rest.
Standing at the finish line with my medal around my neck, I’m keenly aware that I am going to cry.
I duck away from the milling crowd of finishers and make my way down to the cool sand of Bondi Beach. Not because I’m embarrassed, but because those tears are for me and nobody else. I finished the race and I did it all on my own. I earned those tears.
Some of you might be shaking your heads and wondering why that means anything to me. There’s two reasons for that.
Firstly, there’s the fact that I’ve long dealt with being seen as an unhealthy person. Two years ago that might have been accurate. But since July 2009 I’ve gone from being somebody who got winded over 100m to somebody who could run and finish a pretty damn tough course.
“You’re actually running?”
Some of my co-workers and friends scoffed at me on the morning of the race. As if it was somehow rude of me to want to do that. Truth be told, it was those looks of incredulity that pushed me on when my entire body screamed at me to stop.
But more than that urge to prove people wrong, I finished the race because I needed to.
2011 has been a hard year for me. It started with saying goodbye to my best friend and a girl I’d once though I’d marry. I went to Korea with the plan in my head to make ESL teaching my career and had it all fall apart. I met a girl who I thought might just be somebody special and that didn’t work.
I came back to Australia broke, heart-broken, and completely directionless. I spent four miserable weeks licking my wounds at home and basically questioning everything I knew about myself.
It got so bad that my family (and I’m so grateful for their support) almost checked me into hospital for observation. I was a wreck. I spent more time crying than not and wasn’t sure I even wanted to bother getting better.
Finishing this race and finishing it on my own was something I sorely needed. I needed to prove to myself that I was able to do it and I needed to prove to myself that I didn’t need anybody else to help me get there.
I could have run faster. I could have walked a little less of Heartbreak Hill. But at the end of the day this wasn’t about a time – it was about doing it all on the back of my own determination.
As I wiped away those tears – a mix of happiness and six months of pent up frustration – I knew I wasn’t yet fixed. I’ve still got a long way to go.
But in spite of everything and how hard 2011 has felt, I knew I’d be ok.
And that’s what races like the City 2 Surf are about. Sure, there are those who are chasing a personal best and aiming to win it for pride and glory. But the vast majority of the 10,000+ people involved are chasing smaller victories.
They’re doing it to raise money for a loved one. They’re celebrating losing that last 10kgs. Maybe they’ve finished the Couch to 5k program or maybe they’re just like me.
Maybe they want to prove to themselves that they could do it.
The sands of Bondi Beach played host to over ten thousand small victories and personal achievements on Sunday morning. In the grand scheme of things mine was hardly significant, but it meant the world to me.
Sometimes, more than anything else, we just need to prove to ourselves that we are capable of more than the world expects of us. Whether it’s throwing yourself off of that bungee platform or looking up at that mountain and thinking “I can do this” – sometimes travel isn’t only about seeing something new.
It’s about pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones.
It was moving to South Korea without a single friend in the country or the faintest idea of what to expect.
It was putting aside self pity and laziness and pushing myself until my body hated me for it.
And it was totally worth it.
What have you done in your life just to prove to yourself that you could? And how did you feel when you finished?
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