Several years ago, I raced the Acura Ten Miler in Toronto on a particularly hot summer day. With 1-2 miles left, I noticed a female runner about 400 metres ahead of me, who was weaving in and out from a group of people. She looked drunk. As I caught up to her, I asked if she was okay, to which she slurred back that she was fine and to leave her alone. I realized that she was dehydrated and didn’t realize it so I did leave her, but I stopped at the next intersection where there was a police officer, told him about her, waited until she was close enough that I could point her out, and he immediately called for an ambulance. I ran off, wondered how many people passed me, and how much time I lost, but I knew I did the right thing. Looking back, I don’t remember my time (I think it was 78 minutes) and it matter any more. What I do remember is every detail of helping that lady.
This Saturday, I raced the Canada Day 5K in Burlington. I’ve raced the course many times; it’s close to home and it’s a great race to kick off my summer holiday. My friend, Monica, and I went together with goals to run competitively; I wanted to finish faster than I did at the Moon in June, where my 5K time was 21:57. This was a flat course, and with my feeling stronger than I did a few weeks ago and pumped up about a few weeks off work, I felt that beating that time was realistic.
When the horn sounded, I went out fast – a little too fast with my first mile in 6:53. I got my pace back under control and found my spot in the pack, and I happened to end up running shoulder to shoulder with my friend’s 14 year old daughter. We spent some time jostling for position until I pulled ahead just after the turn around.
Shortly after, though, I knew something was wrong. My mother senses kicked in when I thought I heard “Somebody please help me” come from behind. My friend’s daughter has a peanut allergy and is asthmatic. She is very athletic, but she is also just learning to run faster with her asthma. Knowing that she had trouble at the Waterfront 10K, I came to a full stop – dead in my tracks – and turned around. “Are you okay?” I called back. She shook her head. “Come on, I’ll run you in.”
So we finished the last 2K together. I wondered if she actually did verbalize “help” or if I imagined it, and I thought about all of those people who just ran past her. It bothered me when the winner of my age group passed me, and I hated having to stop – twice – to walk with her for a bit. But in the end, my time didn’t matter. Doing the right thing was more important. Making sure that she was okay was most important. So I talked her through the rest of the race, we finished together and we cheered for her mom as she crossed the finish line. At that point, I handed her off; she was okay.
In the end, my time was a bit slower than I wanted but I’m okay with that. If I base my time on my age group’s winning time, I would have met my goal time (assuming that I held my pace). Monica later gently reminded me that I chose to stop and she was right. I made the decision to help this girl get to the finish line safely. For me, that was what mattered on Saturday morning. There will always be another race.