It was at about the halfway point of the 5K where the first water stop was stationed. Runners took small plastic cups of water on the humid morning and disposed of them as runners do — by throwing them on the ground confident in the fact that volunteers will clean up the aid station. But one little girl cut in front of me in order to get to a trash container to deposit her used cup.
“People are littering!” she said.
I laughed out loud.
Such is part of the joy of the annual Girls on the Run 5K.
The national program prepares girls to run a 5K but it’s so much more than just a training program. It’s about finding your personal power through athletics, about taking on challenges and seeing that you can achieve. It’s about doing your best. It’s about making friends and finding support from strangers. It’s a program that I love to support. And so I took Sunday morning as an opportunity to run the 5K, my first run since the Buffalo Half Marathon and a day after doing a 52-mile bike ride with my friend Mary. (More on that in a later post.)
I had planned on running slowly, very slowly, as a way to shake out my legs and ease back into regular training. Since my intention for the race had everything to do with celebrating the power of running, particularly for girls, and nothing to do with time or pace, I decided to stand at the volunteer tent and see if any of the girls needed a running buddy. Part of the program is that each girl gets a “running buddy” for the 5K to help her along and encourage her. I found that many of the girls already have running buddies — moms, dads, aunts, teachers, adult friends. But I waited around until nearly start time to see if any girl needed a last minute buddy. Turns out there were three of us willing to be running buddies who were “extras.” We chatted at the volunteer tent then headed over to the start. We ended up running the entire race together, the extra running buddies. (And the women graciously pulled up in the final mile when my legs were starting to feel a bit achy on their first run back.) Along the course we encouraged girls. “Good job! You’re doing great!” They didn’t exactly know how to take our words and gave us, well, quizzical looks. Apparently this generation is very well versed in stranger danger.
On days when I’m training hard, when I’m wondering if I’ll ever be any good or if I have any business owning a pair of running shoes in the first place, I think back to Girls on the Run. This is the race that reminds me why I run in the first place. It’s not about results. Or improvement. Or even the challenge. It’s the way I enter the world. It’s smiles. And freedom. And friendship. And confidence.
And all those things that I’ll ever need? They’re always there, no matter what my finishing time is.