By Lindsay Chung
Strange, gasping noises, like someone having an asthma attack but scarier, surround me.
I look around to see where they’re coming from when I realise the jagged breaths are escaping from my own grotesquely distorted, red face.
This is what running does to me.
It was one of those cruel Ottawa winter days when a beautiful clear, blue sky and shining sun mask a biting wind that cuts into you and rips out any feeling in your fingers and toes.
Despite the wind (and wickedly early registration time), I joined over 600 runners taking part in the sixteenth annual St. Patrick’s Day run on March 13. Featuring a one-kilometre fun run/walk, a five-kilometre race and a 10-kilometre race, it is the second largest race in Ottawa and raises money for the Ottawa Irish Rugby Club.
When I showed up to register for the one-kilometre fun run — now, really, I’m more interested in being sat on by a sumo wrestler than running five kilometres, and I would probably have suffered a massive heart attack before getting anywhere near the five-kilometre mark — I immediately felt out of place.
It felt as awkward as my first day of kindergarten when I showed up in a cast and wheelchair, thanks to a traumatic fall at the playground a few days earlier.
In a sea of brightly-coloured running jackets and spandex leggings, I stood out in my black Adidas track suit circa 1997. (Luckily for everyone there, I don’t even own running clothes with spandex in them).If that didn’t give away my total lack of running ability, my Pillsbury Doughboy-esque physique sure did.
I was feeling pretty intimidated as I lined up and faced my competition — four young boys and two dads, one of which was carrying a baby on his back. I knew I was in trouble.
The tension built.
A few parents gathered at the sidelines to cheer on their young sons.
I was scared. For someone who gets out of breath running to answer the phone, one kilometer seems like an awfully long distance.
I’d befriended nine-year-old Patrick Nixon-Irwin before the run, so I decided to run with him for moral support. Together we would tackle the journey from Immaculata High School along Colonel By Drive to Clegg Street and back.
As the horn went off, adrenaline surged through my body. And we were off — the wind angrily slapping our smiling faces.
Patrick gave me a good run for my money and I had to “sprint” (this is me, after all) just to keep up with him. My clumsy gait and huffing and puffing must have looked even worse than it felt compared to Patrick’s smooth stride.
In the end, Patrick found a burst of speed, and motivated by encouraging words from his dad, left me in his dust. At least I finished as the top female.
Patrick’s dad, Neil, a 27-year veteran of the sport who competed in the five-kilometre race, later told me that Patrick couldn’t wait to sign up for next year’s run. I’m glad one of us felt happy after their performance.
I, on the other hand, felt shaky and out of breath. While I had fun, I knew I hadn’t fooled anyone into thinking I was a real runner.
Once I recovered from my defeat, I lingered on the sidelines, watching the five- and 10-kilometre racers.
Men and women of all shapes, sizes and ages took off along the canal, some wearing green accessories to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
Theresa Elwood, decked out in a four-leaf clover headband proclaiming “Kiss Me, I’m Irish,” green beads, a ribbon and a clover sticker, and her friend Wendy Benn, sporting the same accessories complimented by a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” garter instead of a headband, ran the race for the first time.
“We’re slow runners,” Benn laughed. “We call ourselves the turtle team.”
Whether they were in it for fun, or as serious training for the season ahead, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Even I had fun — once I stopped crying in the girls’ bathroom.
Between watching talented people do what I wish I could do, and narrowly avoiding a heart attack, I can’t think of a better way to spend my Saturday morning. Except maybe winning.