It’s a crisp 7 a.m. start to the day on the morning of Christmas Eve, and you begin to wonder if you hate your family. You awkwardly wave hello to your middle school gym teacher and high school acquaintances, making sure to avoid eye contact and unwanted conversation. The starting gun goes off and a little less than half an hour later you’ve run 3.1 miles. As the cherry on top, you don’t even place, thanks to the local cross country team deciding to show up.
We’ve all seen the meme: “One of my biggest fears is marrying into a family that runs 5Ks on holidays.” However, do you know what it’s like being born into one? Specifically, one that has a competitive drive so intense we are incapable of playing Monopoly without tears?
Over the years, one of the things I dreaded the most about school breaks was the “optional” 5Ks in which my family participated on the holidays. It was always cold, and my two collegiate-athlete sisters were substantially faster than my NARP self. Yes, I could sleep through the races, but then the underlying shame of seeing everyone come back in their new t-shirts and medals would give me subconscious torture for the rest of the day.
So what changed? Why do I now show up to the races and immediately start sizing up the competition? Even while in a Santa suit? Even talking about how “fun” my run was and shouting Christmas carols with my mother?
In my 22 years, I never imagined that one day I would be a runner. Yes, I would do my Pacer Test for gym class, but I never saw myself becoming someone that enjoyed the seemingly endless activity of running. Once in college, living in fear of the weight room and Tiger Trail, the treadmills looking onto Pikes Peak welcomed me. This crazy thing called “getting in shape” happened, and soon I could actually enjoy the endorphin rush associated with the activity.
Along with this, my mother, who had undergone brain surgery, was learning to walk and run again. Family 5Ks were no longer “optional,” — I wanted to support her. Attending multiple races also revealed to me that my mother had a huge running community around her. Some members had done track in college and maintained their shape, while others were in their 50s and had not run since high school. Every story was equally inspiring. The races also supported local charities and institutions and made those who attended feel like an integral part of their community.
The 5Ks turned from something I dreaded into something I loved. But the question then remains: Do I now genuinely enjoy running, or is the brainwashing of my 5K enthusiast family finally kicking in? Either way, I will be up at dawn in a Santa suit at some point this break.