Loud music reverberates from speakers, attempting to overpower the lesser noises of runner small-talk, the pounding shoes from warm-ups and dynamic stretching, and the overall din of athletes preparing themselves to race.
The crowd of people gathered under a banner with “START” blazoned across in bold letters are a sea of colors and characters. From the professional looking elites with cut muscles and the simplest of attires to avoid any extra distractions, to the enthusiastic beginner decked out in all the latest running gear, with gels, water bottle backpacks, and phone bands to contain the necessary musical inspiration, to young kids dressed in their race shirt with faces filled with excitement and nervous anticipation.
What is it that draws all these people together of all ages, places, and walks of life? For some maybe it’s the thrill of competition or the satisfaction of achievement. Perhaps for others, it’s just an easy way to get in their quota of exercise for the week. It may be a forced event by a coach or parent for other runners. But for most people, I think it is the connection.
That’s why I love it, anyway.
I started running the Coke 10k when I was eight years old. Clay had gotten too old for t-ball so he and Daddy began to run, and I did not want to be left out. We ran a local 5k to get our feet wet; then we started to anticipate the Coke race. We had watched Daddy finish in years past, and he always took turns giving his finisher’s medal to different children. I still remember the feeling of awe when I considered the accomplishment of running a 10k. Six-point-two miles.
So in 2006, our family began our tradition of running the Coke 10k. Every year we looked forward to lining up at that start line with all the other fellow runners and running the familiar course throughout Corinth, lined with friends, family, and enthusiastic supporters. Music plays along the route and volunteers are always eager to hand you a cup of water, a cold towel, or give you a smile and word of encouragement.
The finish line emcee announces the names of the finishers as they cross the line, letting you know you are known, and you have completed the course.
Year after year we made our way back to that start line. Friends and family began to join us, and the tradition grew. We ran in the rain. We ran in the heat. We ran in the cold. We drove through the whole night to get from FC graduation on Friday night to the Coke 10k start line on Saturday morning. Our friends from Florida began joining us, and our Coke 10k tradition family grew even more.
The only year I missed the race was last year when I was six months pregnant and in Romania. But the only thing that stopped me was being over five-thousand miles away. I certainly would have waddled my way along the course if I were there.
Perhaps missing for the first time in twelve years built up my anticipation even more for this year. Or maybe it was knowing I would get to share this tradition for the first time with my daughter. It could be because this race has been my fitness goal ever since I was pregnant. I knew my postpartum running goal would be to run the Coke race without walking and maybe even try for a good time. Perhaps it was just everything wrapped up in this family tradition that boosted my spirits and filled me with excitement.
The morning of the race I was nervous. I hadn’t run a competitive race in almost two years, and two years ago I was at my peak fitness. I was also excited and confident. I was not able to train as much as I would have liked, but I felt like I could still get somewhere close to my previous capability.
Sam offered to run with me and pace me, and Mama pushed Mae in the stroller. We started strong, and I felt like I would be able to keep up the pace, but as the miles went on my confidence began to fade and disappear. By the last mile, Sam asked me if I wanted to try to pick it up, but I didn’t want to. And I was okay with it.
I finished nine minutes slower than I did two years ago. Before, I would have been incredibly disappointed. I would have been discouraged with my lack of training and lack of discipline during the race. Instead, I was happy to be in this stage of life, with a precious baby and little time or energy to train. And I was delighted to be with my family and dear friends.
We were all dirty, sweaty, and exhausted. But we were together. I am thankful for the Coke 10k for bringing us together. And I already can’t wait for next year.