Seconds before the gun went off to start the runners at the France 8k, I could feel rain drops tickling my skin. The scent of a rain shower lingered in my nose. The air was humid and sticky, but the temperature cool. I thought a few sprinkles could only save us from the unbearable summer heat and make this race an exciting challenge. As our corral began lightly jogging to the start line, I could feel the rain starting to downpour.
It was exciting and with every step, hill, and mile, my clothes and shoes became heavier. The cell phone I held in my hand, was only usable on speaker phone by the time we finished the race. I wasn't sure if I was tasting rain or sweat running down my forehead and into my mouth. I pushed on and fought for a consistent time.
I felt nostalgia creeping, while my mind wandered to my family in Kentucky. Most races, my boyfriend is patiently waiting at the finish line to congratulate me with warm clothes and affection. With his new job, I've gotten more comfortable going to these events independently. I'd be lying if I told you it isn't a bit heartbreaking to finish a race you've been training for and walk away by yourself. But I was very much looking forward to sharing a picture and phone conversation with my Momma as I made my way back to the train.
As I looked around, I hoped to find someone who could take a picture of me with my race bib on as a memory for myself and to send to my family who always asked for updates. I noticed two girls, about my age, standing on the side. Both wore bibs and it appeared they had recently finished as well. They didn't seem in a hurry or to be doing anything other than just standing and talking together. I made my way over to see if they could help me out.
"Hi, excuse me. Would you mind to take a picture of me in my race bib?" I asked.
The girl on the left quickly turned her head to roll her eyes at me and shouted, "REALLY?!! FINE! Here, give it to me! Argh!"
As she reached to jerk my phone out of my hand, I reassured her, "That's okay. Thank you."
When I turned around to walk away, I could feel a hundred eyes looking in our direction. Behind me I heard her friend say, "Gosh Jessica! You didn't have to be so mean."
Not only was I humiliated, but I felt like an idiot for asking her to take a picture of me. This happened in front of many other runners who had just finished racing as well. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
A man who wasn't too far from us spoke up, "Hey I can take your picture! I don't mind."
Too embarrassed I let him know, "That's okay. Thank you though. I appreciate it."
I kept walking and before I knew it, tears were pouring down my face as I made my way through Central Park. As many of you city dwellers know, almost always when you need a good cry, there's no where to go and your left with all of your emotions in a public place, exposed and alone. Accepting that this would have to be a race with no picture, I was looking for an exit.
Wiping my face, a woman came up to me in scrubs, looking as though she was headed into work, and said, "Do you know how to get to the D Train?"
I told her I didn't, but I'd be happy to look it up for her on my phone. We talked and laughed about how easily you get turned around in the park when you're in a hurry to get somewhere. She thanked me for letting her use my phone to look over the map and find much needed train and bus directions. Before she walked away, I asked her a question.
"Hey. I'm by myself here today. Do you mind taking a picture of me in my race bib?"
"Yeah! No problem."
I could feel the lump in my throat going away. I stood by a tree, posed, and she took a few snapshots of me. You can see those here:
It took me a long time to realize why this incident had hurt me so deeply. After a long talk with my Mom, I explained in all of my years of running, I had never been treated this way by a fellow runner. Any runner, male or female, that I had met in a training group, for a brief moment at a race, or in another setting where the topic of running came up, I always felt encouraged, uplifted, supported, and understood. Running is the type of sport that is inclusive and welcoming and celebrates all victories, big or small. This moment disappointed me.
I couldn't understand why the woman had just not told me something like, "Sorry I can't right now," or "I'm in a bit of a hurry," or even, "I don't feel comfortable doing that." Her aggravation with my question did catch me off guard and left me feeling hurt, embarrassed, and self-conscious; sort of that feeling when you're in middle school and there's no seats at a table in the cafeteria, but you finally find one, and as you make your way over, the girls at the table tell you, "You can't sit here."
I hope in writing and sharing this experience, we as runners can step up to make a change. I hope to see us include others, support and encourage them, and most importantly to love them. Something as simple as taking my picture meant so much to me because my family was not there. Running should bring people together and offer a safe place of celebration and joy. If the guy who spoke up to offer to take my picture or the woman in scrubs ever get the opportunity to see this, I hope they know that both of them made my day with their kindness.
In a time when the world can be so ugly, runners, let's be each other's strongest support system.