Woman struggling to run

Pam discovered long ago that she can have a decent time OR a decent race photo

“Pick it up!” came the voice behind me. “We always run the uphills! You can walk on the downhill!”

I took a deep breath, nodded, breathed again, and put my foot back on the gas.

Faltered once more.

“No!” came the voice again. “We RUN THE UPHILLS! Come ON!”


I nodded again. Hit the throttle again. This time, though, I managed to hang on and push into that last gear. 

Make it down the hill to the corner. Pick off that shuffling older woman. HOW IS SHE SHUFFLING THAT FAST?  Pick off that other woman I’ve been leap-frogging. Pick off that–oh, no, can’t catch her. That’s okay. Just. Keep. Running.

Kick. Hard. Keep going. Kick past that dude. Kick across the finish line and–hey! Does that number say what I think it does? Hot damn!

“That’s right,” came the voice behind me. Again. “You made it in a sub-X pace.”

“Thank you,” I gasped to the man I’d later find out was a 72-year-old speedster named Gary. “Excuse me, but do you mind if I hug you?”

He did not mind.


Pam and Coach Gary celebrate finishing strong

Celebrating athletic bravery

At the beginning of the year, I decided to go off in search of my athletic bravery, see if my change purse of remaining f*$ks (n.b. swear words abound in linked video!) contained any performance goals. I put my head down. Trained my body and my heart and my mind. And opened myself up to what was out there.

And OMG, guys. It’s a jungle out there! Did you know that 5k races are REALLY FREAKING HARD? They’re brutal. And amazing. And life-affirming. 

They will strip you down to your very heart and expose who you are and what exactly you have to offer.

I was ready.

I was not ready.

The gun went off and I tried to settle in but my mind swirled: What am I doing here? What am I doing here? Breathe. Breathe. 

The first song on my playlist concluded, and it was time to turn up the effort. 

I ran. I kept breathing and running and passing people. Breathing. Running. Passing people. 

I reached the turnaround. Kept running and breathing and passing people.

And then it happened. I’d missed the mile markers in my race haze and glanced down at my watch to see the distance. Instead, I accidentally saw my pace.

My heart sank and my brain said, “F*$k that. If that’s what your body thinks fast is, you’re not fast. Give it up, loser.”

Facing defeat

I wish I could tell you that that I did not let my watch dictate my race because I know better. I trained better. I am better.

I am not better.

An older gentleman ran by me and yelled out some words of encouragement. I decided he was right and that I could resume racing once more.

I wish I could tell you that I left all my doubts behind me and just ran the rest of the race. But it took two more rounds of “We always run the uphills!” before it took hold for good.

I finished the race with mixed feelings: pride for getting out there and getting after it, for hitting paces I feared were deep in my past, for finishing strong.

Disappointment for giving up on myself. Gratitude for the running community and for Gary, who coached me from behind and saved my race from the disaster it was unraveling into.

Adversity, meet persistence and joy


Face literally frozen into a big grin!

The next weekend, I laced up for another 5K and piled on the layers to prove to myself that I could engage with relentless pursuit and chase my goals, no matter what the day threw at me.

And it threw everything it had: sub-freezing temperatures, gale-force winds that whipped around the corners of the buildings downtown and threatened to literally blow me off my feet. Did I mention the long climbs, snow and ice flurries?


Gale-force winds ripped the bib free of the bottom safety pins

I ran with an inner sense of calm, gratitude, and—above all—joy. I kept grinning, even as I fought to keep my feet on the ground. We always run the uphills, I kept telling myself. We are humans and we are runners and we persist in the face of adversity.

The race felt like a celebration of all we have traversed. Everything we’ve overcome to arrive at this place and to run in the face of the wind and the cold. To carry on, to carry one another, to persist and to embrace the joy and the strength in our community. 

And, of course, to remind each other that we always run the uphills.