I gauge myself to be somewhere between the ages of 10-12. Too young to remember any really vivid details but old enough to be trusted with the task of running a 5k by myself. Only I was not by myself. I was with my cousin K who was, and still is, 18 months older than me. Along with her older brother we were the first three grandchildren on my mom's side of the family and were very close. She was more like a big sister, in all the good AND bad ways. K was not what I would call athletic, in fact looking back I am not sure how we came to the conclusion that we would run the race together.
The 5k was in Shelburn Falls MA, which is about an hour and a half drive from my parents house in southwestern MA, and was smaller part of a 10K race as the main event for the day. It was called the Bridge of Flowers and mid race there was this nasty vertical wall of a hill that my mom can still tell stories about. She had run the 10k for a few years, and thought it would be good for me to run the 5k at the same time. That was my mom, always trying to get me to come run along with her. Clever that one. So the night before Mom, K and I drove up to Shelburn, spent the day sightseeing and such, and spent the night in a nearby motel.
I have no memory of waking up and getting ready for the race. Or what it was like to be on the start line. I don't remember what I wore, or even any actual running. But I do remember at some point in the 3 mile course, which felt like 12 miles to our young inexperienced legs, stopping. K, like I said before was not athletic, so needless to say she did not make it very far with out needing to stop and walk. That is the only thing I remember about being in the race course. I remember wanting to keep going, wanting to just get to the finish, but being a loyal cousin and staying with her.
And then I remember as we took our final turn down the main street towards what was supposed to have been the finish. There were crowds lining the streets still, cheering on the 10k runners who sped by. We were two lost little girls walking down the street with numbers pinned to our chests. And we wanted to cross the finish. We approached someone who looked official, man or woman I do not remember, and how we knew he could help I also cannot recall. But when we proudly told him we had finished the race he looked at us quite confused. The 5k race? we persisted, in case he didn't realize which we were talking about, we could understand.
"Oh," he said with still a hint of confusion in his voice, "I thought everyone was done with that race"
It was a simple statement, and he was right, but that memory will stay with me forever. We took so long they forgot we were still out there. Granted it was a very small race, and there were no chips, no timing devices, all they did was take a piece of paper off your bib with your number on it and put it on a string. I couldn't really blame them. Now that I am much older and have experienced many other races just as small I can understand how someone who walks the 3 mile course can get lost in the crowd, especially with another main event going on. But I was 10 (or 12) and I have been forgotten, and that is something that never leaves you.
In the end we found my mom, who was again running the 10K, and we partied with the best of them through all of the post race festivities. We told my mom the story and I'm sure she just shook her head and laughed. Now no matter how slow or bad a day I am having, at least I know I am well past the pace of being lost in the crowd.