My Declare It Day goal was to complete my 2nd half marathon. However, as running goals tend to do, it evolved into something much different. It was about redefining my definition of my blue flower.
Part way through my training, my daughter saw me clipping in my flower and said, “Mom, are ever going to buy a new blue flower?”. It was really an eye opening comment. I had never considered it. I took a close look at my blue flower. It was the same flower I had worn for 2 years and hundreds of miles. The rich blue had faded into a paler shade as a result of my many sunshine runs, the edges of the outer petals were frayed, threads were coming loose and draped themselves over the sparkly center, and the once firm petals were flimsy and bendable due to the exposure to the wind and rain the flower had been exposed to over the years. In all of these imperfections, I couldn’t imagine ordering a new blue flower. This flower told the story of my running journey. The imperfections were perfect. It was just like me. “Aware of my faults and loving myself anyway.” I was content with my “old” blue flower.
At that moment, my journey changed. I was truly connected to my goal, content with myself and connected to this challenge. And, it was a CHALLENGE. You see, this race had a time limit. Completing a half in 3 hours may not seem like a lofty goal for most, but for me it was a limit that had me shakin’ in my boots. This particular race finished down the stretch of the Cherry Festival Grand Royale Parade, a national festival that brought 10,000 visitors to a small northern Michigan town every year. Runners had to finish before the parade began. It was a firm deadline.
To make myself feel better, I looked up the race results from the previous year. There had to be others in my boat, I wouldn’t be alone. Other people had to be close to that deadline. But, there weren’t. All of the finishers completed the half the previous year in less than 2.5 hours. Apparently, people close to this deadline knew better than to sign up for this race. I have to admit, there was a fleeting moment that passed where I thought, “No one will think any less of you if you don’t do this race.” But then I realized I was wrong. I would. Bowing out would be denying my blue flower. And I wasn’t about to do that. I was content with this goal, proud of it, invested in it. Withdrawing was not an option.
I felt at peace with the idea that they may take down the finish line before I crossed it. That in no way meant that I couldn’t finish. It wasn’t ever about my time after all. It was about my journey, it was about my goal. I didn’t need a finish line or “official time” to know I had crushed my goal.
When I arrived at the starting line set in the gorgeous vineyards of Traverse City, I soaked in the moment. I nodded to a couple other runners that had flowers clipped in their hair and made my way to the back of the pack. The announcer explained that the race was going to start about 15 minutes late. I couldn’t help but think that I needed every one of those minutes in order to “officially” finish.
It was a really odd feeling. I was starting a race knowing I was going to come in last. If you know me, you know that I am a competitor. I hate to lose. But in that moment, I felt awesome. Running is cool like that. You never lose. You always win. I looked at the awe-inspiring vineyards set with the sparkling Lake Michigan in the background and all I could think was, “I am going to crush this thing.” I reached back and touched my trusty, yet worn blue flower, took a deep breath and started my first paces forward.
The race was a tough one, but I fought. I took in the beautiful views and watched the morning fog magically disappear off the bay. I was so in the moment that it took me until mile 6 to realize that the sweeper on his bike followed by an ambulance and police car were just behind me following me on this journey. Yes, they were right behind me for 13.1 miles. The sweeper turned out to be an amazing inspirer, biking up to offer me his water in between aid stations and letting me know when awesome views were approaching as he was very familiar with the course. I treasured the moments that my dad surprisingly showed up and went with me for miles. I will never forget how I felt when I reached mile 12 to see my husband geared up to run with me. It was the perfect race.
I wish I could say this was one of those stories that ended with me running the race in record time, but it isn’t. I finished 6 minutes late. If you look at the official results from this race, there will be no record of me completing it. But I can tell you, that has no meaning to me or my family. It was the perfect race.
As I got to the last straight away, the official “time chip” recorders had been removed. The misting stations that had been placed just after the finish line on this brutally hot 85 degree day were gone. The line of goodies that had lined the street after the finish had been loaded in a truck. There was no announcer left to announce my name and where I was from when I finished.
In that straight away , I noticed that the street was lined with THOUSANDS of people awaiting the parade that was about to commence. At that moment, magic happened. Those thousands of people started to cheer, clap, and stand…for me. I looked ahead toward the finish and saw a young boy playing catch with a friend in the street as his family was talking. The 8 year old boy spontaneously stopped right in the middle of his game of catch and came out to the middle of the street and said, “You are doing great. You’ve got this.” Not because I was fast. Not because I would have an official time. But because I was doing it. It was as if the crowd understood the blue flower I had clipped in my hair.
I lost my breath with .3 miles left as I saw my two young daughters running down the street to meet and finish me. I looked ahead and saw that two of the race volunteers had stayed for me. They each were holding poles with the “Finish” banner attached to it. While the official line was gone, these volunteers knew I was coming and stayed to provide me with a finish line. I ran past that banner with my hands up and will never forget the embrace my mom gave me as I completed this goal as the tears streamed down her face in pride. I had crushed my goal. It was the perfect race.
Content can sometimes be a neutral description. It can mean calm, a place of no worries; a place of simple acceptance at your place in life. It is a feeling that your flaws are nothing to be ashamed of. This blue flower I had placed in my hair was as loud as I was going to be about my confidence in who I am. To me, my blue flower was a quiet contentment. No one else had to understand, or even know, it was about me appreciating who I am.
In this race, my meaning of content was redefined. You see content doesn’t have to be calm. Content can be exuberant. It can be a fist pump and a “Hell yes!”. Content just means you are where you are supposed to be and are appreciating that moment. In my case on this day, it can mean you are crushing it and exhilarated as a result. When I crossed the finish line, with my family and thousands of people cheering, it was a feeling that I wanted to scream in happiness at the top of my lungs. I was content.
I am a blue flower, complete with peace for the frayed edges that I have gained in my life and full of exuberance for what I have become. I am content.
– Leigh Ann of Michigan