I am the first one to admit that I’m not particularly athletic. High school involved a year of mandatory sports participation (cross-country running and lacrosse), but beyond that, you’d never find me scurrying up and down anyone’s field or court. I had danced—tap, ballet, jazz—since I was eight and throughout middle school, but when I’d arrived at a New England prep school with field hockey champs and soccer psychos, it was like one big blank stare.
Which brings me to the 10K that I ran this past Sunday.
After graduating from college, I’d made a concerted effort to become physically fit. A big part of that effort included going natural—that is, discontinuing the use of a chemical relaxer to straighten my hair. I let my nappy/curly locks grow out, which meant I was free from the pressure of avoiding sweat to preserve my hairstyles. I took to running in 2010 and recently worked myself up to an actual race.
As the 10K neared, I thought back to the first cross-country race I ran when I was 13. My parents, along with several professional photographers hired by the competing high schools, were stationed along the 3-mile run equipped with their cameras, eagerly waiting to shoot runners around every bend. Once I’d finished the grueling, hilly course, my mother rushed over to me with congratulatory yelling and hugging, plus photographic evidence of my struggles.
The pictures were hideous.
I had never seen myself in such contorted poses: dangling tongue, twisted neck, flared nostrils, chapped lips, bushy eyebrows, and tears—real tears. With those memories fresh in my head, I vowed not to relinquish my beauty regimen for the sake of athleticism. I’d be cute crossing that finish line if it killed me.
The night before the race, I braided my hair so that it’d make for a soft and wavy ponytail the next day. My running mate and I loaded up on homemade chicken fettuccine alfredo and two glasses of wine (because why not), and got to bed early for a full night’s rest. The morning of the race, I applied eyeliner, under-eye concealer, and a very nude lip. My camera-wielding friends and family wouldn’t be snapping my ugly-runner’s-face this time around.
Every time I spotted my rowdy cheering group or a race photographer coming up on the course, I quickly wiped the sweat off my forehead, re-applied some Vaseline to my lips (which was stashed in my fanny pack), blew my nose, and smiled through the pain as I galloped past them.
By the time the finish line was within view, I was admittedly dying a slow death. But then I noticed my boyfriend among the spectators, beaming proudly with his camera phone held high up in the air, waiting for me to get close enough to snap a good action shot.
It was my final chance to redeem my snot-nosed high school torture pics.
I sped up towards the finish line and maintained a toothy smile for the remaining 500 feet. Once I’d crossed, I felt amazing and was instantly immersed in a love fest after I found my way back to my people. When they whipped out their cameras to show me my 6-mile journey, I wasn’t mortified -- I was smiling in every shot.