Sandy Hook Run for the Families 5K Race Recap
It is hard to put into words how moving yesterday’s race was for me. But I will try.
This race was held in Hartford, which is a good hour from where I live. When the race was originally planned, it was going to be held in Danbury; close to Newtown and not far from me either, I didn’t even hesitate when I signed up. Of course I would run this race. The planners moved it to Hartford when it became clear that many, many more people wanted to run this race than Danbury could accommodate. Even so, the warnings of sparse parking and multitudes of people got me out of bed by 5:30 on race day yesterday.
I think maybe it was something more driving me to want to get up to that race early, to be there, to soak in every moment of help and healing and heartache that would go along with it. I left my house just before 6am, and hit the road. Without thinking, I turned left towards the north and headed towards i 184. Normally I take a different route to Hartford, but today I just decided at the last minute to go the other possible way.
It took me a few minutes to realize this alternative route would take me right past the school where the Sandy Hook students now attend, in my own town of Monroe. It would also take me right through Newtown, through part of Sandy Hook. I suppose my heart just wanted to pause for a moment there, driving through, and really give a moment of thought to what I was doing that day. Why I was up so early, in the dark, driving alone for 50 miles to a race without anyone else, all by myself. I cried a little, and kept going.
The sun came up as I drove to Hartford and I made it there (as per usual for me), ridiculously early. I wandered around the team area for a while, and started to notice all of the different team shirts. So many different ones, all either representing a workplace (Newtown teachers, Danbury Fire, Target, Diageo, etc) or a person who died that day (Victoria Soto, Rachel D’Avino, Chase Kowalski).
Eventually I did see a few people I knew, including one friend who actually was my kids’ kindergarten teacher. She went to high school with Chase’s parents and encouraged me to come over to their team area and become part of their team.
It was very powerful to be a part of that team. I stayed with the team and listened to everyone talk to the group about this sweet little boy, and the purpose they all now have to honor him. What a strong, remarkable family. What an amazing group of people they have supporting them. The love was free flowing and palpable. Smiles through tears, but mostly smiles. Just incredible messages of hope and courage and inspiration. It was indeed everything about why I’d wanted to be a part of this event, suddenly made now much more personal and even more real to me.
Eventually it was time to go to the race area, so I walked with my friend and we went over to the race start. There were 15,000 people registered for this race. So many that they had three different entry points to the race lineup, similar to the corrals they have at larger races. I of course entered (thankfully, with my friends) at the slowest runner entry point. It was chilly and cold, so we were all grateful for the close quarters.
They started the race with a bell tolling 26 times. It’s hard to imagine how quiet so many people gathered together could be, but you could have heard a pin drop. Then a moving rendition of the national anthem was sung, and many of us quietly shed some tears. A moving convocation was delivered by the pastor of Newtown Congregational Church, who likened the race to life: even when it gets difficult, you dig deep and find the strength to keep moving forward. Such stirring words. So powerful to be hearing them there with so many touched and affected and moved by that tragedy.
It took me over four minutes to make it to the starting line, but finally, we were off. With so many people, the first half mile was fairly slow going. This race was unlike any other I’ve done, with so many non runners and walkers involved. I, for the first time ever, found myself weaving and passing.
Eventually I found myself with a bit of room to run. I wasn’t sure of my pacing; if there were mile markers out, I never saw them with so many people around. By the water stop at mile 2 I was tired; I was running fast because the route was so flat. I forced myself to slow down and kept going.
This shot, taken somewhere in the last mile, shows that the crowd was still very thick. At one point I realized I couldn’t see where the people started or where they ended. It was just a sea of people.
Almost too quickly, I saw the finish line. I was pushing myself, so I was glad to see it of course, but alternatively, I couldn’t believe the experience was just about over. I took this shot as I neared the finish; if you look closely you can see the green banner. The crowd thickened here but we were all pretty much at the same pace, so I ran hard till the end.
The timing service posted my race results to my FB page probably before I even had hit quit on my RunKeeper. I was surprised to see 36:02. With how slow I’d had to go in the beginning, I had feared I’d gone slower. Of course there was that nasty negative voice in my head reminding me that it was 30 seconds slower than my previous 5K, but I shut it down quickly. This race wasn’t about time. It was about spirit. Running it at my second fastest pace was nice, but really wasn’t important.
I walked the mile back to the team area alone, got lost a little bit and found my mind remarkably empty afterwards, almost as if I had spent all of the emotion of it pushing towards that finish line. I connected with my friends again, drank a cup of coffee, and quietly left to go back home. I drove again down I 84, going further south and west until I again went through Newtown, past Sandy Hook, past the school where the children now attend. I said a quiet prayer for all of those who were the reason why I’d left my house seven hours prior. It was such a moving, amazing, awe inspiring experience. I am so proud to have been able to be a part of it.