Then I availed myself of a piece of pizza. Holy gahd, it was wonderful. I soon availed myself of three more. Hey, I just ran for 2:46, you're lucky I didn't grab the entire box.
Anyway, very full of pizza, water and downright pride, I found a shady patch of grass on the other side of the start/finish line to do my cool-down stretches and apologize to my quads.
After stretching out, I sat up and watched the 5K portion of the running festival start. I relaxed and watched the runners stream over the starting line to the amusing strains of The Lone Ranger Theme Song.
Then, the second-coolest thing of the day caught my eye. No. 1 was seeing my medal in a volunteer's hand just beyond the finish line. No. 2 was a runner, a woman who very much resembled me size-wise in my Before photo.
There she was, running with the crowd and heading out confidently for a 5K. I caught myself smiling and thought, "You go, runner! You go!"
Before I considered myself a runner, I deemed runners an elite fraternity of fast, toned cool-kid types (think John Hughes '80s movie villains) who looked good in tight clothes, did impressive things like race and looked down upon us non-runnerly types, especially if we were overweight.
I could not have been more wrong.
One of the best surprises about the running community is how supportive and diverse it is.
Go to a race and you'll see runners of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. You'll see bikini-model types who you will pass and older folks who will leave you in the dust. I've learned never to judge runners by their appearance because it may well belie their abilities (a decent rule for life in general, as well).
Never go to a race feeling you won't fit in because as long as you have a number safety-pinned to your chest, you do, welcome aboard. End of story.
The running community is also incredibly supportive. Last fall, when the thought of training for a half-marathon first entered my head, I had met some runners at a race (friends of a friend) and mentioned the idea in passing.
They had just met me and they all said the same thing: "You can do it! Go for it. You'll do great."
Now, I had just met these people, they didn't know me from a hole in the wall, but immediately and sincerely were giving me encouragement I needed.
I've talked to friends who run and bounced countless injury and training questions off them. They've been incredibly generous with their advice and support. When I first developed my neuroma (but before it was diagnosed), I called my dog's vet (also a veteran marathoner) for advice.
That was a fun message to leave: "Hi, Marianne. It's Melissa. Umm, Scully's fine, but my foot is bothering me and I have a question, would you give me a call back?"
She called right back.
Runners love three things: gadgets/gear, flat courses and other runners. We are a crazy breed and I'm convinced we love other runners because it's proof we're not the only insane people we know.
I get so excited when friends become new runners. It may be for them or it may not. But I love that they try.
And it doesn't have to be running, it can be anything new. I love seeing people tentatively step foot outside their comfort zone. It's scary, for sure, but the potential for amazing growth, excitement and opportunity are limitless.
As I watched that woman strike off into the course I was so happy for her. A complete stranger, but I saw myself in her in just those few seconds I watched her pass.
I flashed back to a year ago, at the beginning of my running life and a very brave, exciting new world that has gifted me with much more than I ever expected of it or myself.
You go, runner.