There are a few races out there that are causes that are very close to my heart. When I heard of the Heroes in Recovery 6k series, I knew I would have to run this race at some point. According to the Heroes website, 23 million people suffer from addiction and mental health issues, but only 3 million seek help. That’s 20 million people not seeking help. Addiction has hit close to home in my family and with friend and I’m proud of my family members and friends who are fighting every day to keep from returning to their addictions. On the mental health side, I suffer from anxiety and I’ve seen depression overtake several people close to me.
Despite having pretty decent health insurance, I find the mental health side of my benefits so much harder to navigate. It’s harder to simply find a doctor or therapist with the search function and when I do find someone, there are a lot of hoops to jump through. I had post partum depression and anxiety after I had my daughter, and I think that helped me see that I had been an anxiety sufferer longer than I could ever have admitted before. I went on medication for my post partum depression and anxiety and it wasn’t until went off that medication that I realized how much of a difference it made. I think back to so many times in my life I would let a situation not in my control take over my thoughts and how hard it would be to get those anxious thoughts out of my head. I thought this struggle was normal, but it was not. Medication may not be the answer for everyone, but it has worked wonders for me. After the rough past couple of months I’ve had, I don’t want to know how much worse it could have been without meds. As a friend recently said, we all lift up people fighting cancer, but we rarely lift up anyone battling addiction and mental health issues. That’s why this race was so important to me because I want to break the stigma. No one should ever feel alone for having addictions or rough times with their mental health.
The other interesting thing about this race is that it’s a 6k, as opposed to the traditional 5k distance. The extra kilometer is to signify the extra steps anyone recovering has to go through. The Atlanta race is done at Brook Run Park, mostly taking place on the outer trail around the park. While I’m not the biggest fan of courses that are loops, or laps, this cause was worth it. Also, the shade of the course was going to be a huge plus of the day. Race day ended up being one of the hottest days of this summer and I felt every bit of it. I arrived at a nearby elementary school to park a little later than planned and headed over to find a rather massive line at bib pickup. I hate stressing to get my pre-race routine in as I still had to visit a porta potty and get my stuff back to my car, all in about 40 minutes. The line moved more quickly than expected and soon I was receiving my 6k themed bib along with a reusable bag and tech tank top. The swag with this race was incredible, as finishers also received a finisher medal. This bag may be just the right size to hold my race essentials that I pack the night before.
Thankfully there were no major lines at the porta potties, so I was able to get back to my car and back to the starting area about ten minutes before scheduled race time. I also was able to take advantage of True Speed Photo‘s race photographer for some nice pre-race shots. While I may not be the prettiest runner, I love races photographed by True Speed Photo because the photos are free. As there appeared to be no organization by pace, I put myself a little closer to the front as this was a run/walk, so knew walkers would be a bit more prevalent. After a short delay, which I was assuming was to get the last bibs handed out, the national anthem was sung and the serenity prayer was said and then we were off. 579 finishers plus a bunch of dogs and strollers made for a bit of a crowded start, especially as we went from parking lot to four wide sidewalk. Even the trail seemed pretty crowded for the first half mile or so until we got spread out. I focused on getting to the front entrance of the park and around the playground following my intervals as I knew good downhill sections awaited. I remember one of the few non-shaded patches and thinking how rough that would be on lap two. Little did I know…
I took advantage of downhills after the playground by skipping my walk intervals and soon I was passing a 1 kilometer banner. The course was marked off in kilometers, although I did find mile 1 in chalk on the trail. It wasn’t too long after this that there was a small section of trail added off the circular trail and I became lapped traffic as some super speedy young men came through. I did my best to let them pass without an issue. I was also very thankful for my handheld that I carry during warm weather races as the water stop seemed like it was almost never going to get there even though it was a mile and a half in. I have to guess the temperatures already felt like they were in the 80s already, so fluids were necessary.
The course volunteer right after the water stop was the most encouraging person on the course shouting encouragement and giving high fives. I was happy when I could hear the music at the start-finish area as I knew I had almost survived the first lap. I eventually got passed by the women’s leader before finishing lap one, too. And at least I was doing better than one of the dog participants, a schnauzer that was being carried on his owner’s shoulders. It was hot for those of us who can sweat, so the pups running were tough pups. The heat and humidity was doing a number on me as I made my way through the second lap and the only thing getting me through was knowing how hard those in recovery work, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other and concentrated on finishing. I even took a few of the walk breaks on the downhills and my run interval paces slowed as well. I slowed down and took an extra water break leading up the hill to the water stop, but was re-energized when one of the volunteers called it “happy hour.” Talk about perspective. One of the guys that I would pass and be passed by, because of running intervals, had the same thought that the shade was the best thing about the course. I was passing super happy volunteer and I pushed up the last hill and made the turn off the loop. On my way to the finish, some people not paying attention got in my way, so I had to evade them all while saying excuse me rather nicely. I kicked it up a notch and finished strong. It was far from what I wanted, but considering the weather, I’m happy with a strong finish. Let’s just say it was a small medal that was very hard earned. My time for over 1/4 mile less the week before was only 22 seconds longer. A few extra degrees can make a huge difference.
I collected my bottle of water that I downed more quickly than I ever have, made some new dog friends as I walked to bring my heart rate down then I went off in search of food. I only found oranges and apples, which aren’t ideal fuel to me, but while I was eating an orange slice, a vendor was handing out bread samples, making him the most coveted table at the moment. Before I headed back to my car, I stopped at the balloon booth to get a balloon to surprise her with. The balloon guy was creating some pretty cool balloon hats, so my animal request seemed pretty tame, but he put it in a heart. It was a fun morning for a great cause and despite the hot conditions, I’m looking forward to running for this cause and doing this unique distance in future years.
Do you run races that have causes that are special to you?