Barry Manilow isn’t known for making music that spurs athletic enthusiasm, but “Mandy” was booming out of the speakers in Copley Square when I showed up to run last weekend. Around me, 6,000 others slowly gathered to pound out their five kilometers. The next day, the most elite runners in the world would come across the same roads after running 26.2 miles in 85-degree heat, but that morning was for non-elites. Non-elites and Barry Manilow.
Well you came and you gave without taking, and I sent you away, oh Mandy…
I started “running” right after New Year’s. First 60 seconds at a time, then 90 seconds, then three minutes. All of it felt ridiculous. Victories such as, “I ran for five minutes in a row!” are hard to brag about at parties. By the time I felt thoroughly foolish, though, I had already registered for the Boston Athletic Association’s marathon weekend 5K. So, I kept at my 5-minute runs. Then 15 minutes. Then 30.
I was nervous that I wouldn’t finish my first 5k without embarrassing myself. Maybe I should have been nervous. In front of the State House, a 10-year-old wearing a tutu raced past me. A woman yelled at her pre-teen son, “Accelerate! Accelerate!” An obese man carrying a giant toothbrush went about his run with apparent confidence. And all around me, marathoners were using my race as a low-pressure warm-up for their own event.
In the end, none of those potential slights hurt me. I had a plan. I eked out it one step at a time – quite literally – and the finish line wasn’t as hard to reach as I had anticipated. For reaching that goal, I earned the cheers of kind strangers, a bottle of water, an energy bar, a medal, and the knowledge that many, many small steps can take you where you want to go.