The morning of the race, our entire family (eight total) loaded up the minivan and drove to Loudon, Tennessee. My brother insisted on running in his jeans, t-shirt, and ball cap, while I put on shorts for probably the first time this spring. My dad made a show of averting his eyes “because of the glare.” (The picture above is not of me. My legs are much whiter. Like Elmer glue white.)
After a cup of tea, a glass of water, two stops for the restroom, and several Veggie Tales songs performed by the youngest and possibly most-precocious member of the Carrier family, we arrived at Loudon County High School. I had already managed to offend my father about his driving multiple times when he finally put the van in park, and I bolted from the middle seat and power-walked to the registration table.
In addition to not being the most athletic, I’m not the biggest fan of crowds—or large dogs that don’t belong to one of my brothers. Of course a 5k means both. There were young guys with more leg hair than leg, curvy girls who looked like more like they belonged in a Zumba class, moms and dads with kids in running strollers, several runners with their dogs, and, here’s the kicker, older men and women who looked like they ran on a regular basis. One lady in her sixties or seventies wore a tank top that said, “This is my gym shirt.”
It didn’t help that we were fifteen minutes early, which was according to plan, but my stomach wasn’t appreciating it. My brother just stood there, hands in his pockets, while I paced, stretched, and wondered if they could just start early so we could all go home. Finally, a man announced for everyone to scrunch together for the start of the race. I stood in the back and told my brother to not wait on me.
People didn’t start off as fast as I expected, but I knew I needed to pace myself. Still, I passed some of the walkers, and even some of the slower runners. (We actually traded places a few times.) After the first block, my brother finally took my advice, and I didn’t see him for the rest of the race. But I keep a slow but fairly consistent pace. So far, so good. I ran up most of the hills, and I only walked a couple of short stretches to catch my breath and stop an early stitch in my right side. I skipped the water station, only because I didn’t want to throw up. I figured we had to be halfway through, when I finally asked someone how much further we had. I wasn’t sure how much more I could keep running, but I wanted to have enough in me to finish the race running.
“We’re at 2.4 miles right now.”
“Oh! Good.” I could make it. It would hurt, but then it would be done.
I finished, red-faced and calves tight, but I finished running, and I had surprised myself by running probably 95-98% of the race. Slow running, but still running. And no major cramps, wheezing, or throwing-up. Thirty-six minutes for someone as inactive as I’ve been couldn’t be too bad. While Dad kept telling me I needed to eat a banana, we watched the rest of the participants cross the finish line—a little boy about four years old, an older man with a Marines t-shirt, a grandmother with a sleeping baby in the stroller. My mom told me about the guy who finished first—ran a fifteen minute 5k. He left early to run another race. Good for him. That wasn’t what got me. I didn’t care about times or placement until the end of the awards, in which I learned that a 78-year-old man ran it in twenty-five minutes.
Then I felt like a wimp. Next year, Papaw, next year.
 Despite being the oldest of seven, I define crowd as any mass of people numbering at least 20. Needless to say, I wasn’t too fond of gatherings in college. My first year roommates would kindly invite me to their friend’s parties, and after a few hellos and grabbing a cup of tea, I’d find myself looking for a corner to put my back to, wondering how early I could slip out without being rude. Soon I began taking along a tiny notebook so I could surreptitiously jot down anything I saw that might make interesting material for a story or character, and eventually, I realized it wasn’t rude to drop by or simply not attend at all.
 As I waited in line at the registration table, an ugly labra-doodle sprung up, placed his paws on my shoulders, and licked me in the face.
“Oh, he’s happy to see you.” A man with a broad smile, tugged on the leash, and I made myself smile back. Well, I’m not too happy to see him.
 Although my brother, who won second place in his age group without even trying, complained that he “had” to wait on me at least two minutes so we could cross the finish line together.