Cheering for Womankind

I’ve run my fair share of races over the years.  From 5k to 50k and everything in between.  When I first started running, my goal was just to finish.  Over the last few years, I’ve gotten faster and started running to beat my previous times.  But, this summer I had a first ever experience of winning!

     First, I won my age group in a 5k in Highlands which was an amazing wake up call.  For years, I had always resigned myself to the fact that I’d never be competitive in running.  This is a whole different blog post that perhaps I’ll write later.  But long story short is: never sell yourself short.  Later in the summer I was gearing up to run a race called the River to Rock Challenge that was in my hometown.  My mom actually sent me the link, and I thought why not?  It was a 10-mile trail race from the Dan River to the peak of Hanging Rock.  It would give me something to train for and look forward to.  So, in late September we made the couple hour trek to Stokes County to run the race.

     It was a warm fall morning.  We had stayed with my parents the night before, so we were able to relax on race morning, drink coffee, do some warm-ups. As always, I felt some pre-race jitters.  I love that adrenaline, but hate it all at the same time.  Why am I nervous?  All I’m out here to do is have fun and run.  There was a mixture of runners and walkers at the small race, but pretty soon it was time to line up for the start.  

    5-4-3-2-1 GO!  The race started in an open field and continued down a gravel road for about half a mile before entering the rough terrain of the forest.  I have a bad habit of starting races really fast (for me), and this was no different.  “I’ll just go fast to try to get in front of as many people as I can before we get to the woods” I thought.  The single track trail would make it harder to pass people.  So, I hauled butt to the entrance of the woods and then settled down a bit.  I noticed that I was the first female to make it to the woods and instantly suspected I had probably gone out way too fast and she (whoever she was) would soon catch up.

     The race was an out-and-back, meaning we ran up the mountain to the peak, and then back down the way we came.  There were several creek crossings in the first few miles which made for wet feet, but I didn’t care.  There’s something about running through the woods that is so freeing.  Something that makes me feel connected to the Earth in a deeper way.

     I had settled in with a few other runners and was trekking along quite nicely.  I noticed that we had separated from the rest of the pack, and nobody was in sight at the moment.  As the terrain grew steeper, I knew we were getting closer to the peak.  With about a mile to go until the summit, I saw Charlie flying back down.  He was in first place and absolutely crushing it!  I screamed encouragement at him with the little amount of oxygen I could devote to the cause, the rest being reserved for what was at this point power hiking.  As I approached the rock garden that would lead me to the peak, there were some volunteers that yelled “you’re the first girl!”.  Holy guacamole!  I was in first place!  At least I had made it to the top first.  That was something to be proud of, but I went ahead and told myself that this meant I had probably done something really stupid and wasted all my energy on the ascent, only to be passed by the entire field on the way down.  Damn it.  Good try though.

     I reached the peak, grabbed the wrist band from the volunteers to prove I made it all the way, and started back down.  After a few minutes of descent, I saw a couple of women that were almost to the top.  “I’ve gotta move” I thought.  No time to spare.  I hooked up with two male runners that were going at what I thought was a good pace.  I fell in behind them and it seemed as if we were flying.

    As we continued down the mountain, we started passing a lot of the people that were still on the way up.  The first group of people yelled “first female” with such enthusiasm I couldn’t help but smile larger than the Cheshire cat.  We passed an all women’s group and again, they yelled and applauded for seeing me!  “You’re the first female!  Way to go!” they yelled.  The more people we passed, whether male or female, the more cheers and encouragement they threw my way.  So much so that the guys I was still running with said something about how cool it was!  No kidding fellas!  I’ve NEVER had this happen, but I’m going to live it up while I can!  And for the next 5 miles, nearly every person we passed yelled, cheered, high-fived, applauded for the “first female” coming through.  

      As I got about a mile from the finish line, my body was getting really tired.  I had slowed down and lost the guys I had been running with most of the way back down.  I was all alone in the woods at this point, and just trying to keep putting one foot in front of another until I could get to the finish line.  I rounded the last corner and saw Charlie standing there.  Actually, I heard him first.  “Come on, let’s goooo!” he screamed.  I had nothing left to give.  No kick.  Just enough to get my tired, wet body over the finish line.  My Mom was snapping pictures as quickly as her fingers would allow with a huge smile on her face.  I was the first girl over the finish line!  I WON!

     Although winning is ALWAYS fun, I found myself more impressed and reflecting upon the experience with the other participants.  I had felt so amazing as everyone cheered me on.  Like I could do anything!  And, as I received the praises, I found myself wanting to praise others as well.  Exchanging the positive message felt amazing.  I know we hear this message all the time, but this time I actually FELT it.  And something about being a “girl” made it that much more awesome.  Other women were cheering for me, a total stranger to them, because we shared perhaps just one common trait.

     Over the next few days, the experience remained with me and had me thinking in many different directions, a couple of which stood out to me.  First, as women, we hear that we are to stick together and cheer one another on.  Girl power, right?  It’s almost like a “us against them” mentality.  It’s no secret that in the corporate world men make more money than women of the same position and experience.  That men dominate certain areas of our world and country.  That we are not treated equally.  I’m not knocking men or standing on the proverbial soap box here, just stating what is.  And honestly, I don’t give that much thought, or hadn’t anyway, until this experience because it just is what it is.  But, this has me wondering if as women, we are only cheering for those that are leading the pack?  And if so, why?  I mean, I know why…because winning is fun!  But, what if we cheered for the last place individual as hard as the first?  We’re all out here running the race of life.  And as a woman in today’s society, I think it’s safe to say there are a few more obstacles in our path.  

      This one experience completely shifted my thinking of my fellow women.  I could be going out on a limb here, but I’ve unknowingly been thinking of women as competition.  Anyone else ever felt that way?  Of course I’m not talking about all women, especially ones I actually know….but often times I can get pretty judgmental and make stuff up in my head about those I don’t know.  The takeaway here for me was that I need to start cheering for my fellow women like those women cheered for me during the race.  But not because of the place they’re in, but because they’re out there doing the damn thing.

      The other lesson that I keep running into, which probably means I haven’t fully learned it, is believe in yourself!  It’s like that meme “If you can believe in Santa for eight years, you can believe in yourself for 5 seconds”.  Why am I always the last to believe in myself?  This has happened time and time again in my life.  Most recently with leaving my corporate job to start my own business.  This was a HUGELY scary thing for me, and something I wasn’t even sure I could do.  But, everyone around me said “you’ll be great”, “you’ll be hugely successful in whatever you do”.  While I told myself all the “what ifs”.  What if I fail?  What if I don’t know what I’m doing?  What if. What if. What if.  It still baffles me that we are usually the last ones to believe in ourselves.  Maybe I’ll learn the lesson this time.  Maybe not.  

Jessica Hauser