Angie Frese, left, completes the 5K with her hands held high. Laura Sievert and her husband Justin at the finish line.

Sievert and Freese pose before the race with Olympian Jackie Joyner Kersee.

Fleet Feet of St. Louis automatically texted race results.

It was probably the combination of the cannon blast that started the race, the QHS Marching Band’s drumline beating a cadence, the bagpiper playing along the side of the route, and the cold, steady rain falling from the gray sky, but as I charged up the Hampshire Street Hill with a battalion of nearly 3000 other runners of the Bridge the Gap to Health Race, I felt as if we were going to war.

Completing my first 5K at Bridge the Gap was a challenge that I’d set for myself six short weeks ago. (Read about it here)  For many runners, 5K (3.2 miles) isn’t very far, but for me, it would be a mental test as much as a physical one.  I never liked to run, and the many years of not liking to run had cemented themselves into a mental barrier that told me that I couldn’t run.  So that was my battle: knock down the “Great Wall of Can’t.”

I wouldn’t say that I got off to an amazing start. Once the dreamy feeling of charging the hill was past me, I turned the corner and promptly stuck my left shoe in a deep puddle of water. Fantastic. Then, not 100 yards onto the Memorial Bridge, a faster runner tripped someone who, in turn, tripped me, and I sort of bounced into the side barrier in an ungainly manner. I was embarrassed, red-faced, wet-socked, and already winded. Quitting didn’t seem far behind.

I credit the British Invasion with saving my run.

Just as I was asking myself why I’d come out in this awful weather to do something I didn’t enjoy, my iPod brought up the song, “I Can See for Miles,” by The Who. The song made me look up and I realized that I could see for miles and miles and miles, and it was really cool to be where I was. I was running across the Mighty Mississippi River, and I wasn’t the only one in this group who thought it was tough. Things that are worth doing are always tough. The wind was whipping and the rain was falling, but I could finish this. I just knew it.

The Who and then Queen carried me across the first bridge in no time. (The Queen song, if you’re curious, was “Bicycle Race.” A friend thought it would be ironic if I put songs on my playlist about driving or biking.  I also included “Drive My Car” by the Beatles.) The wind really picked up when I turned the corner in West Quincy.  I was slowing down considerably on the Bayview Bridge, so I picked points out in front of myself that I knew I could make it to, and broke the run into pieces.  If I had to walk, I only walked to the next lamppost, then I ran to the next.  The course volunteers clapped as we ran past, and their support really made me smile and put a spring in my step.

It wasn’t long before I was back on Illinois soil headed down the hill to Bonasinga Drive with the finish line in sight. The song “Sweet Inspiration” by the Derek Trucks Band, propelled me toward the end of the race.  I was smiling ear-to-ear and raising a fist in the air as I crossed the line. Jackie Joyner Kersee, seven-time Olympic Medalist and Sports Illustrated’s Greatest Female Athlete of the Century, placed a medal around my neck, and I jumped up and down, giddy with the thrill of crossing the line. My husband, who also ran the race, was waiting at the line and we shared a victory hug.  My friends Angie and Sara crossed the finish not far behind me, and the atmosphere was just electric.

My finishing time was 37:44. The time put me a little more than half-way down the list of finishers, but I wasn’t really trying to beat anyone or anything except my own expectations. My friend Jeremy talks about “a runner’s high.”  It’s when you forget about how hard it was to get to the finish line, and just enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.  I don’t think I’ve turned into a great lover of running from this experience, but I did feel wonderful about accomplishing something I didn’t know I could do, and I got a small taste of that runner’s high. I’d encourage everyone to give Bridge the Gap or another run a try.  It was something I’ll certainly never forget.  I’m already looking forward to next year, where I’ll be charging along with my fellow warriors past the ruins of the Great Wall of Can’t.

Laura Sievert