It was my first competitive 5K foot race, and I intended to win in my age category. Thousands of runners gathered here every year. Many of them didn't care about winning, or even about running. They came for the after party. But for me, this was serious business.
I adjusted the tongue on my shoe. Noticing the wiry veterans all around me, I thought, These guys are going to trample me if I don't keep up. I didn't belong at the front of the pack with the 7-minute-mile guys, and I knew it. But according to the race rules, whatever time was on the race clock when I crossed the finish line was the time I had to report; keeping your own time was not allowed.
The crowd was huge again this year- if I started the race at the back of the start pack with the 9-minute-mile guys, it would take me five minutes on the race clock just to reach the start line. That's a lot of time to make up. I decided to take the risk, start out fast, and hang on.
May 31st was a special day for me. It was the anniversary of my first marriage. That marriage ended painfully and left an indelible stain of defeat. Every year when May 31st rolled around, that stain resurfaced. I saw this race as my chance to create a new memory, to celebrate a new anniversary, to change May 31st from a day of sadness to a day of celebration.
The starter gun went off, and so did we. The first mile was hell. As much as I'd trained, I hadn't been prepared for how difficult it was going to be, but I kept digging inside, reminding myself that this race was about more than running. It was about rewriting my history and recreating myself.
I turned the final corner, and with legs of rubber and lungs of fire, I pressed onward. I crossed the finish line and handed in my time. Good enough for second place in my age category. I was thrilled in a way I'd never known before. May 31 was a new anniversary.
A few minutes later, I overheard a couple of women handing their times in. One of them submitted a time that was shorter than mine, even though she came in after me. She kept her own time, and bumped me into third place.
I filed a complaint, but the race was sponsored by my company, and they shrugged it off and told me not to make a big deal out of it. (Of course, none of them ran - they stayed in the party tent and watched as we passed.) I escalated my complaint, but the volunteer leader was also my superior at my job. She vetoed my objections, with a strong message to drop it. Enraged, I obeyed.
A couple of weeks after race day, two big beautiful blue boxes were delivered to our office. The first- and second-place winners were awarded exquisite crystal bowls from Tiffany as prizes.
It hit me. My real opportunity had been to change my response to bullying by sticking up for myself. That May 31st, I didn't change my history, I repeated it. I lost the prize not because I wasn't capable of victory, but because I failed to respect and protect myself. There is a big empty space on my mantle as testament to my willingness to obey and to the enduring pain of participating in my own victimization.
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