When approached by Pacers Running staff to tell my story in my own words about completing the Parkway Classic 10 Miler and 34 races on the road to my 34th birthday, I felt honored. I particularly wanted to share my perspective with members of our Washington, DC running community, of which I am so proud to be a part. Finishing the Parkway Classic, and achieving my personal 34 race goal would not have been possible if it were not for the Pacers Running team.
I am a runner with a type of cerebral palsy that affects my legs. When I run in a race, there are various logistical considerations that come into play. Most notably, those include early starts, and something else that the team came up with on their own— an escort on course. Prior to meeting up with Pacers Running, I had some major apprehensions about racing in the city– being too slow, racing in bad weather, and closing key streets for an extended period. It was the Pacers Running team who convinced me to just do one race (I am sure they had no idea what they were getting into when that invitation was extended to me.) Throughout the season, we tweaked things here and there– start times, terrain, detours, escorts– but not once were my accomplishments or finish experiences diminished. After I ran the Crystal City Twilighter on the 24th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I sat down to talk to the Race Director, Lisa. I believe it was only my second race with Pacers. I tried to express to her how thankful I was that she and her team were so accommodating. I will never forget what she said to me: “You deserve the same finish experience as everyone else.” As it would come about, in terms of the support and encouragement I received, my finish at the Parkway Classic was pretty extraordinary.
When I signed up in January, I was very hesitant. Ten miles was a distance I had never done before, and 10 miles is a long way! I had just PRed at the First Down 5k and done Love the Run You’re With, so I was feeling pretty confident. When I saw that it could be my 34th race, I talked it over with the team, and decided to go for it. I trained…and trained…and trained. I had done a 10k, but never a 10 miler. Several times, as people asked me if I was ready, I would say, “I know I have the first six, I am going to have to rely on my friends for the last four.” That is exactly what happened.
Fast forward to race day. I arrived at 5:30 a.m. in preparation for my 6:00 am start. As usual, my friend and Pacers Running staff member, Stacy, was there with my bib and a smile. “Let’s take some pictures,” she said, “but don’t stand too much right now.” We snapped a couple shots, and decided to go early at 5:50 a.m. Pat Dalby was there to serve as my running escort, and off we went in the dark. As we ran, we watched the sun come up on the trail and enjoyed the perfect weather. As official start time grew nearer and nearer, we started to see more people. One man rode by on his bike and told me he saw me on the news. The start gun went off at 8:00 a.m. for everyone else. Soon other runners were right on me, and I joined the main course at mile four, just as planned. In mile five, it was the time of any race I like most– being with other runners and cheering each other on to reach a personal best (whoever tells you running is not a team sport is not a runner). More and more people were mentioning the news story as they ran by me.
When I reached mile six, I turned to Pat, and said, “We are now in completely uncharted turf.” At first, I did great, but then I got to what I think was somewhere between mile seven and eight. I started to think, “I am not sure I have this.” I got worried because I knew people were counting on me to finish, especially all of the Pacers Running folks, who had invested so much time and energy in my goal.
Just then, I walked by two people holding a sign and cheering loudly. At first, I thought, “Oh that is nice of them to be out cheering.” I gave them the obligatory acknowledgement wave and kept on moving. As I got closer, I realized that the people were there for me! It was the first friend I ever made in Washington, DC. Katie has since become a lifelong friend, and she flew in from Austin the night before to surprise me on course! All of my friends knew, including several members of the Pacers Running staff. Needless to say, there was uncontrollable sobbing between mile seven and eight. I am not completely sure what I said. I just remember that I hugged her tighter than I ever have before and kept repeating, “I am so glad you are here.” It truly was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my whole life.
It was just what I needed to charge through to the end. I have never been so glad to cross a finish line. Everyone was waiting for me— Pacers Running staff, Katie, even my friend Carmen, who I thought was out of town, was able to be at the finish. We usually run these together, but not at the same pace, so I told her it worked out perfectly because we are never together during the race anyway. All that mattered was the finish. The DC running community was out in force. Really, this accomplishment is a testament to them, and the inclusive nature of our running community. It is not about who is out, but how many people we can get to be involved.
So when I say that my friends got me to the finish, that is the absolute truth. If you have been interested enough to get to the end of this article, I will share something personal. Although I am very outgoing as a general rule, I have not always been as confident as I should have been. Running gives me confidence and the ability to stand up for myself– not because I am the fastest, or the best, but because I persevere and I finish what I start. However, as I said, running is a team sport. You don’t have to go it alone and it is extra special finishing among friends.
By Jamie Watts