by Meg Boushie
"On your marks. Get set..." Then the sound of a gun.
These are cues far too familiar for most runners. However, no matter how many times one competes in any race distance, it seems they are also some of the most anxiety provoking words one anticipates on race day.
I cannot recall the actual call outs prior to the 2017 Brooklyn Mile. Nor can I recall if we actually had a gun, or a horn, or even a kazoo. All I recall is my heart pounding in my throat, my breathing suddenly residing in my brain, and my legs feeling like Jello. Everything in my body seemed out of place as the rat race started for the iconic distance even non-runners can conceptualize.
Let's back it up for a second. My relationship with running has had roller coaster ups and downs over the past decade. In high school, I ran track to keep in shape for soccer. Track workouts gave me stomach aches just thinking about them. Confidence in my abilities was non-existent. How could my coach see so much potential and believe in me when I could not even believe in myself? Every single race, I knew where I would fall: second to last place. The Mile, in my mind, was something that would never be conquered for speed or time goals. It was something I just "had to finish". I had no idea this mentality was what set me back at the time, and that this caused me to be my own worst enemy.
Flash forward. The first time I stepped onto McCarren Park for Thursday Night Track in June 2017, the heart palpitations started, just as they did eleven years before. Even though I had been running (and actually enjoying it) for about six years (after a three-year hiatus post high school, of course), standing at that starting line was like staring my biggest fear in the face.
This time though, something was different. Having fellow NBR-iors by my side, I no longer felt alone in my running relationship. I had support, advice, cheers, and smiles that pushed me, but also taught me what I was lacking in the past: to trust myself and my abilities.
Soon, speed workouts became a part of my weekly routine. I found myself looking forward to these workouts, and to giving everything I had for each and every sprint. Because this time around, it was not the track that was crushing me, but me that was crushing the track.
At bib pick up before the race, a race sponsor encouraged all participants to take a Polaroid, write their name on it, along with their goal time. Then, after the race, racers would cross out the goal time and write the actual. Internally competitive (and probably more externally than I care to admit), I knew that writing that goal time was something serious. It meant I had to commit to it.
A fellow NBR-ior and friend had convinced me to sign up for this race in February. He also was picking his bib up, and writing his goal time. He was not only a seasoned runner, but a seasoned Mile runner; literally the complete opposite of me. Still, supportive human he is, he asked what goal I would be setting for myself.
Not batting an eyelash, I told him exactly where I thought I should be on race day. "6:04," I told him. "But in my heart, all hopes and dreams point to maybe, just MAYBE getting closer to 6 minutes flat."
He looked at me like I had two heads. "No", he told me. Clearly a hard "No", too. "5:59", he said.
The alarms and firecrackers and bells and whistles started going off in my brain again. It was my turn to return the raised eyebrows. In my mind, I was still 16-year-old Meg who would never be able to fathom getting that kind of time.
Then, something just clicked.Twenty seven-year old Meg had that light bulb DING DING DING moment. I had worked for this, I had the capability, and HECK YES I was going to break 6. I grabbed the black Sharpie on the table without a second thought and wrote the famous last words (number): 5:59.
"On your marks". There I was, steadying my breathing, quickly visualizing in my head what it would feel like in just a few minutes when I would cross the finish line and break this goal. Here, on race day, things were no longer out of reach. Here was the opportunity 16 year old Meg had always dreamed of, and reality set in, where 27 year old Meg was going to take it. Full speed, no regrets, and hey, if I crashed in the process, it was only a few minutes of crashing and burning. What was the worst that could happen?
The gun (or whatever noise machine it was) went off, and the rat race began. Before I knew it, I was already at the quarter mile mark: 1:23. Wait, I'm sorry; what? Then, the half mile mark: 2:44. Come again?
Now, from this point on, I am pretty sure I blacked out, but I do remember one thing: the screaming cheers from the NBR cheer section (because they are awesome and amazing), and keeping two specific runners within a few strides of me. Then, suddenly, it was over and I stopped my watch. It was over. As quickly as the rat race began, there we were at the moment of truth. I glanced at my watch. 5:50. Fighting back tears of joy (and pain), I had done something I truly never thought possible, and I could not have done without the overwhelming support that NBR is.
When the final times were released, I knew my time would be slightly off, so I was ready for anything within about three seconds of the time I had clocked. I also would have been happy with any time I received at that point. I waited for my smartphone screen to load the results, and almost fell off my chair when I scrolled all the way to the right for chip time: 5:48.
Even though Meg at 16 is a very different human than Meg at 27, one thing has stayed the same: running will always be something that challenges me. NBR entered my life at a very specific time for a very specific reason, and I will be eternally grateful for that and all it has given me. With that, I may now be a Mile-loving convert, and may even fall in love with running all over again.