6 July - Storming the Bastille

Sometimes the best thing for me to do is to walk into a situation blind. Cold turkey. Depending on the situation, of course. The annual run of Storming the Bastille was one of those situations. It is a 5K (3.1 mile) run that marks the opening of my favorite Milwaukee festival, Bastille Days. It is a manageable walk around Cathedral Square, with live music, interesting characters and a 43-foot Eiffel Tower. Give me my "Chicken Kebab Sandwich" from Aladdin and "Mosaic Crepe" from Cream and Crepe, and I'm good to go.

And for as many years I had been enjoying this soiree, I never participated in the run. No desire. I almost did last year. I was packed and ready to go...until I joined my friends for a beverage at Umami Moto's opening. As most of them left for the starting line, my friend Amy and I, engrossed in great conversation found it necessary to head to Cubanitas for my favorite Cuban sandwich and a Caipirinha. And it was necessary.

So, I figured this year was the year. I do not run like I used to, so I had not "trained." I even had to ask my girlfriend what people wear running -- the last pair of athletic shorts I purchased was over 10 years ago. So I at least updated the wardrobe in that arena with an athletic tank and skort. I walked up to my friends who were perched in a prime spot outside of Singha Thai. Dishes galore, tempting me with Pad Thai and Basil Fried Rice. They were laughing, teasing me in my nonchalance, snapping photos while watching these serious runners do their calisthenics. "Joy, shouldn't you at least be stretching out?" The two who initially encouraged me, Yvette and John, had already done their light five to 10 minute jog to warm up. Uh...for real? Is that what I am supposed to do?

There was a team stretch by a group called the "Pink Panthers." I asked friends for some quick tips, as runners were approaching the starting line. I heard things like, "be sure to inhale deeply and exhale it all, otherwise you may cramp" or, "last year, I thought I was almost done with the race, then realized I wasn't even close." Or "the incline on the last stretch was brutal." So going into this run, I made mental note to manage my own expectations. I tried looking at the map and asked myself "Why bother?," as I am a poor judge in distance and am pretty certain the last time I ran a mile was in high school gym class.

As the host started counting down to start time, my hands began to sweat. I looked back at my friends having a cultural feast and giggling at my expense, raising their glasses. I finally realized with four minutes to go, that I had an "on-the-go" option on my iphone, which allowed me to create an updated playlist. Yes. Yvette said the run is only 14 songs long. 14?! I plugged in 20 and looked up to the sky for a last call for help.

So started the timer. And the run. I pressed play and listened to my own inhale and exhale to "1, 2 Step." Bodies jumping, adjusting and readjusting for an open space; other bodies trying to set their pace. I checked to see if Yvette and John were still to my left. Song two: "I'm Good, I'm Gone." We traversed up a hill by the lake. There is something magical in traveling as a group of strangers with the added element of nighttime. Everyone was in a great mood. And some were quite serious, beginning to concentrate harder than before.

I actually felt peaceful while being comfortably aware of being unaware of where the path will lead. Dee-Lite's "Smile On" passed the time nicely as I looked around to see people giggling and talking...something I simply cannot fathom while running. It not only adds to the physical exhaustion, but tests my mental fortitude. Nice change in attitude as "Lips Like Sugar" chimed into my personal stereo. As the fleeting chagrin of "I thought I was almost done" dawned on me, I could tell we were more than halfway there. I see the people on the side cheering...young families, empty nesters, friends out at The Wicked Hop raising their mugs and Bat Man standing on Broadway... That was a welcome sight. Bat Man. Mask and all.

I am thoroughly enjoying this camaraderie until I realize my left ear bud stopped working at "Mayor of Simpleton." Shucks. The mental support started to hinge and sway. I kept telling myself that if I stopped, then I would be done for the rest of the run, so I at least kept the trot. The crowd continued to pull and lead. I still have no idea when this will end. Then came that dreaded final incline to the finish line. I kept the pace and looked up at the clock. I saw the number 28:29.

28 minute 5k. Again, sometimes the only way to prepare is to not, and just go with the flow. Check in with me next year, though. Now that I know what to expect, you might find me back at Cubanitas for some Ropa Vieja.