It’s just a run, I told myself.
I shook out my hands, hoping to lessen the tension building in my shoulders. The cheering, the bright colors of running shoes and the intense sunlight also seemed to be building, as the time before the opening gun of Saturday’s Shelter Island’s 10K trickled down at Wilson’s Circle in the Center.
I had trained for the 10K for months, but it always seemed far enough away not to cause me to worry. Having run cross country with my high school team for two years, I was used to the racing scene, but had only raced 5Ks. Any feeling of normality and confidence I once had were gone at the Center’s traffic circle Saturday afternoon.
I knew that the moment right before the race is the crucial period, when I find myself nervously excited for the challenge ahead. I dealt with the emotion the same way I had before any other race. Deep breath in. Out. In. Out. Remember the training. Remember the power and energy of every run before this one.
Forget specific goals. Do what you can. And then add a bit onto that.
Leading up to the 10K, I had ticked off everything on my pre-race checklist. A large part of running is the preparation; the amount of water, the type of food, enough but not too much warming up, stretching, the right shoes. What scares runners is what we can’t prepare for, such as unexpected weather and side stitches. There is one exception, however, to this general rule.
One thing I had not been prepared for but that I welcomed was the camaraderie of running with a team.
When I joined my school’s team, running became something I did for others as much as for myself. In the moments before Saturday’s race, I thought of my team and how we’ve always encouraged each other.
Where would I find that during the 10K?
Stretching, controlling my breathing as I waited, I remembered Friday evening’s “Pasta Party” at the American Legion Hall. More than the lovely amount of carbs I knew my running would thank me for, the diverse runners I ate with stuck in my mind.
Legion Hall was abuzz with activity when I stepped inside, colored with evening sunlight and red-and-white tablecloths. People of all ages chattered animatedly while they ate together. Although many attendees hailed from off-Island, the event was full of familiar touches, from food provided by Schmidt’s to the enthusiastic local volunteers — after sitting down for only a couple of minutes, three young volunteers asked if I would like something to drink.
I asked Dr. Frank Adipietro, longtime runner and volunteer, his favorite part of the sport. He smiled.
“Good run or bad run,” Dr. Frank said, “it’s always worth it.”
By the time the I finished the first mile, my mind was perfectly clear, my senses sharpened. The blue bays of Shelter Island were more vivid, the padding of my steps sounded louder. I could feel my pulse in my fingertips. My cross country coach’s advice echoed in my head, prompting me to use my arms and power up every hill.
After I passed Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, the halfway point, my initial adrenaline surge started to die. I relied on every mental game I knew, setting a landmark in my sights, saying “keep going” until I reached it, and then doing it again. I divvyed up my mile splits so far, adding and subtracting numbers in my head. I eyed a person or two ahead, telling myself to accelerate my pace just enough to pass them.
Every time I passed a cheering group, whether or not I knew them, I found myself speeding up. The encouragement of so many Islanders, participants or not, reminded me of the camaraderie that’s built into this sport. Shelter Islanders’ sense of community was present in every moment before, during and after this year’s 10K.
They were the team I found and ran with.
Running teaches life lessons: You are capable of more than you think; the only limits you have are those you impose on yourself; and sharing a passion with others only intensifies the reward.
After the race, I remembered Dr. Frank’s wise words. Though there were times I wanted to give up, crossing the finish line made it all worth it.