Why do we keep going, focused only on the finish line or doing a good job? What is it in you that drives you on? I made it to the finish line of the Brussels Half-Marathon but not before a difficult walk.
The race started at 10:30 am. The EMSP Run for MS Team met at Schuman, to meet one another, take some photos and go together to the starting line. I’d trained, was feeling really good, had my lucky pink shorts on and was all set for a gentle pace along the course. Into the middle of the pack I went and, as any runner will tell you, we slowly shuffled in the crowd until the road opened up.
And I was off! A good pace, not pushing things yet getting good coverage. At the first kilometre there is a hill where we see the brilliant sight of runners stretched out before you, multi-coloured warriors claiming the streets for a short time. Then we ran through an older part of the city with cobble-stoned streets and gorgeous squares. I was a little nervous with the uneven surface but it was going well. Maybe a little niggle so I eased off as we went down and up through the tunnels.
Then it started. My foot wasn’t landing like it should and I started stumbling, almost falling at times. I slowed to a walk, drank water even poured it over my head and started off again. I nearly tripped. I couldn’t run. The muscles in my leg just weren’t working. I was starting to limp and still had 15 km to go….
For hours I walked the route, with police who were lining the way asking a concerned ‘Ça va?’ every kilometre or so. I said I was okay, I wasn’t injured and wanted to keep going. When I looked behind me… the white vans that were coming up the back of the pack were just a few hundred metres from me. I was almost the last person. I started to cry, overwhelmed, stumbling, it was impossible… then a man who was cycling the route started chatting with me. He was nice and cool, said he would cycle alongside me for a while. We chatted and he told me his name, Damien. I told him about Ireland and he gave me strength. It was then time for Damien to turn back; he wished me well and left me by high-fiveing me with a dose of inspiration and “You will do it, I know you will”. On another hill, when I was again doubting, a woman out walking her Schnauser offered to take me home so I could rest (!), while a bin man, clearing the streets after the run, offered me a lift on the back of his truck!
There was then the final unforgiving hill where I stopped briefly to rest and ask the Universe/God why this was happening now of all places? I nearly stopped, I was so tired. When I eventually made it through Grand Platz, close to the end, I asked someone with a medal around his neck where the finish line was? He asked if hadn’t already gotten my medal?? I shrugged and said because of my leg I was only making it there, then. He directed me “just around the corner, 70 metres”. I walked to De Boukiere and found the finish line where workers were dismantling the stage, the finish line. There were no runners left as it had closed at 14:00. It was a lonely space. Then, as I walked towards it I heard cheers. The man with the medal and his friends had followed me to the finish line to cheer me on. Surrounded by the good will of strangers, I finished what had been the toughest walk of my life.
I sat down, shaky, overwhelmed and sobbed. Another “Ça va?” as a young woman put her arm around me and asked if I was okay. I told her yes, just emotional and I had just finished the race, absolute last. With the best smile she left me with yet another gentle gift of human understanding and connection. I had walked, dragging my foot, my doubts and my fears for 10 miles and while I thought I was alone, I walked with the gentleness of strangers propping me up every step of the way.
As I write this, I don’t know why I kept going to cross the finish. I didn’t know I had this part of me, in me and there is no name for ‘It‘, but ‘It‘ is there.
Don’t ever stop doing what you love. You will always find a way. The impossible just takes a little longer (Art Berg).
© Emma Rogan 2014
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Edited 10th October