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This weekend I ran in the Reindeer Run, a local 5K.  There were no reindeer and I usually don’t call what I do running, exactly.  Yet, at 8 a.m., I joined about 130 others who thought running 3.1 miles on a chilly (read 38-40 degrees) Carolina morning was a good idea. I have to admit it was odd not to have worried that it might be too cold, snowy or slushy to enjoy the race. I knew from the day I signed up that the weather would be tolerable for running, even in mid-December.

A coworker was volunteering and I thought it’d be fun to run somewhere other than my very hilly neighborhood.  And frankly, I’m a social exerciser and I miss my running partner from Michigan.  I usually run three to four times a week with my dog, which makes running alone tolerable with his eagerness to be outside. But I was ready to run with people, even if it was a group of strangers.

So for my first (and last) organized run of the year, I put a headband over my ears, threw on my jacket and running gloves and joined the others at the start line. One man was positioning himself toward the back (where I was) and seemed a little nervous.  He started talking to me unprompted.  “I just want to finish,” he said.  “This is my first 5K.  I lost 160lbs.”  At which point I gave him a high five.  And then the starting gun went off and we all moved in a herd down the parking lot toward a trail.  The first part of the run was on a narrow, winding, paved trail.  It was quickly obvious that we had sorted ourselves into those who were serious (they were already three curves ahead of the rest of us and were more spread out) and those that were out for some Saturday morning exercise.  That included a foursome with knit hats covered in Christmas bows.

I brought my Ipod and listened to music throughout the run.  It made time go by more smoothly. Toward the end, a young boy ran passed me, grew tired and started walking.  As I passed him I said, “You’re doing great!”  A few seconds later he was flying by me again.  Further along I passed him walking.  He looked tired.  I made sure to cheer him on.  “Good job…it’s not far now,” I said.  And, as only kids can do, he found renewed energy and sprinted by me.  I like to think my encouragement helped inspire him, rather than the probable case where he couldn’t bear the thought of being passed by an “old woman”.

I finished the race in an acceptable time for me and felt the right amount of tired.  I could have pushed harder, but my goal was to enjoy the race and not be the last runner.  Both were achieved.  I headed inside for some water and a banana.  I waited 15 minutes for them to start calling out door prizes.  Most of the way through, I gave my uncalled tickets to my coworker and told him I was heading out.  “I never stay for the awards,” I said with a smile. Later that day, he called me.

“You placed,” he said.

“What?” I replied

“You placed.”

“I never place,” I said.  “How many women were running in my age category?  Three?”

He laughed and said that his wife heard my name called, but they weren’t sure what place it was.  We agreed that the odds of placing increase with age, but surely I’m not yet in the minority bracket.  I hope I have another 10 years or more before that’s the case.  However, perhaps there’s something to be said about running in small town races…especially during the winter… in the south where many feel it’s simply too cold for movement of any kind.  I could start a collection of awards, I thought, simply by showing up.

When my husband, daughter and I knew we were going to move here, we started joking that everything would be better in the Carolinas.  We’d be rich, tan, skinny, warm and happy.  It’s only been five months, and I’m no richer, tanner or skinnier.  But, we have been warmer (it’s supposed to reach 70 this week).  And…I’m now an award winner.  And maybe that was just a reminder that I do need to keep showing up.  Since moving we’ve taken classes, attended events, met coworkers’ neighbors and friends and made our own “let’s get coffee” invitations to people we met randomly in the community.  Sometimes it feels awkward, but we keep showing up and we’re starting to feel more comfortable.  Plus, we’re meeting some very interesting people and having fun.  It’s an adventure.  Like the Reindeer Run, our new life is surprising us with unexpected rewards.