Decades ago, when I toed the line at various 5 and 10ks, I really wanted to win the race. Not overall, though that did happen a time or two. I wanted instead to be the first woman, or at least win my age group. Sometimes I did. Mostly, I didn’t. This later morphed into racing against time. It didn’t matter so much what other people did anymore. I just wanted to reach or beat a certain time. 

I still remember that combination of nervousness, fear, and anticipation as I mingled around the starting line. Some races are indelibly burnt into my memory: The 13.1 race to Robie Creek, up and over a huge mountain, staffed aid stations with whiskey and chocolate. The Napa Marathon, feeling strong and trained. The Prince of Wales marathon, in the rain all the way, not so much rested. The first half marathon in the redwoods, when I fought back tears as I crossed the finish line. But there were also times when I berated myself fiercely for not performing as well as I could have.

Now I just “run for fun”, a practice I scoffed at for years. I’m grateful I can run at all–decades of wear and tear from all sorts of activities means that I certainly have arthritis. My knees are clunky; I spend hours doing exercises supposed to help them. The best I can do is manage it, and I don’t compete anymore. Friends try to entice me into local races, saying it doesn’t matter what time I end up with, but no. That isn’t for me, not anymore.

I just found out that Last Layer is a finalist in the Oregon Book Awards. The winner will be announced as I am sleeping in a tent on the Pacific Crest Trail; it will be days before I learn the winner. There are some excellent books included in my category and I am telling myself that it doesn’t matter, that being a finalist is an honor itself. And it is. But here’s a secret–I really would like to be chosen. I’m in a time when things seem sort of grim. Family is suffering. I am working with colleagues in Moldova, and they definitely are facing real fear. It seems silly to want to win an award. But I do. 

I’ve been writing for years. Sometimes I wonder why. It’s like all of the long distance runs I used to take, hours in the rain, the wind, the snow. For what? That sense of achievement as you cross the finish line. I wish everyone in my category luck, but I still find myself wanting to win, for my little book launched during a pandemic to reach more people. I want that for my publisher too, who took a chance on it. 

Well, the hay is in the barn, as we used to say. The training for a race has to stop sometime. You are ready to go. You eye the starting gate. The rest is up to you.