A couple months ago, I was out for one of my regular jogs. I looked forward to running alongside the Willamette River and set out at a comfortable pace toward the Springwater Corridor.
Running along the familiar streets of my neighborhood, I was surprised to see a man standing on one of the corners wearing a bright orange vest. He looked out of place, as though he should be directing people along a race course. But I didn’t see anyone coming, so I figured he was involved in some kind of construction.
When I turned my attention from him though, I realized I’d joined a few other joggers. I tried to see if they were wearing numbers but couldn’t get the right angle because they were ahead of me. So I looked back at where the man stood in his bright orange vest, and then I saw more people coming around the corner.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d run straight into the 199-mile Hood to Coast relay. This was no small race.
There weren’t any indications I couldn’t still run along the path, so I kept going.
A little ways ahead, another man in a bright orange vest flagged us toward him. He was cheering all of us on and I swear he made eye contact with me as he said, “Great work! Keep it up.”
I felt guilty, as though I should tell him I wasn’t in the race.
Another twenty yards and a guy picking up cups as fast as he could hand them out tried to get one into my hand. I felt like an impostor who couldn’t possibly take the water intended for others.
Meanwhile, I was fast approaching the woman in front of me.
Part of me felt like I should slow down so I didn’t make her think a competitor was passing. But I wanted to keep my pace, so the gap between us kept shortening.
We came to an intersection with a road and a group of young guys cheered for both of us. For the first time, someone acknowledged the discrepancy of my situation.
“You’re not wearing a number!” he yelled as I passed him. It was an accusatory statement, like I’d been found out.
I overheard one of the other guys say, “She’s wearing a collared shirt.” He made it sound like I was dressed for the office just because I wasn’t wearing some sleek Lululemon top. And I wasn’t even in the race!
Bikers started passing and saying, “You’re almost there!” Everybody was cheering me on for a race I wasn’t even running.
I finally passed the woman in front of me. I almost told her I’d only been running 10 minutes so she wouldn’t be discouraged.
At the 15 minute point, I turned around to go back home. I’d reached my halfway point and I was done.
As I ran in the opposite direction, I made eye contact with the woman I’d passed minutes before. We both smiled and kind of laughed – hers seeming to be a bit out of relief and mine like, “yeah, I’m not in the race.”
Bikers started doing double takes to make sense of my running in the opposite direction. One of them actually turned his head and yelled to me, “You’re going in the wrong direction!”
I wasn’t. I knew I wasn’t going in the wrong direction.
I wanted to yell, “I am not in the race, people! I am not going in the wrong direction!”
People keep telling me I’m going in the wrong direction. I feel like I’m going in the wrong direction as I watch everyone pass by.
But they’re on a course I’m not on right now. I really do know where I’m going and there’s a reason I’m not wearing a number, people.