"Did you win?"
In the 18 months since I started running semi-seriously, that's all my kids ask when I call (or crawl) home after a race.
You can't blame children for obsessing on victory. Everything they do is some sort of contest.
Until yesterday, I dutifully reminded my tiny inquisitors that I'm neither Kenyan nor a whippet. Real winners run more than twice as fast as I do; they earn a living with their legs.
This time last year, I'd never clocked more than an hour pounding pavement. I've since completed two Broad Street Runs, two half-marathons, and am registered for two more.
I'm faster, but not speedy by any definition. I'm stronger, but still squishy in all the annoying spots. I have yet to experience the euphoria, but I hear it's lovely.
After 10 hard miles from North Philadelphia to the Navy Yard, an admiring stranger placed a medal around my neck, and the necks of 39,900-some other runners smoked by the actual winners.
None of us, technically, triumphed. Or did we?
A non-jock gets moving
A jock I'm not, which seems biologically unfair given that my father once held a national high school relay record and won championships as a track and cross-country coach.
All you need to know about my absent athletic prowess is this: In 1989, I made the all-state academic tennis team, a resume-builder for smart girls with lousy serves.
As an adult, I joined gyms, exercising as duty or until I'd burned enough calories to justify a Snickers.
Tracing my transformation, I blame a spooky stranger.
Jogging alone one morning in the dark near my house, I spied a guy walking toward me wearing, of all things, Latex gloves.
I gulped, then bolted up a hill and around the corner. A Facebook post about the close encounter caught the eye of a Mom acquaintance suddenly rethinking her solo outings. A 5:15 a.m. running partnership was born.
I credit my friend Marci for infecting me with the racing bug, because if she hadn't suggested we tackle the Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge over the Ben Franklin, I never would have.
If I could run six miles mostly uphill, I could survive 10 down Broad Street, or so my marathoner pal Regina promised. By the time we finished hugging after that finish, she'd already signed me up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon.
Everyone's a winner
Last year, I got beat on Broad Street by a shirtless 300-pound yeti covered in hair. Last month, at the Atlantic City April Fools' Day Half Marathon, a man wearing denim overalls and rubber boots stomped past me gleefully. On the Boardwalk, as I huffed toward the finish line, an elderly nun blessed me. I'm still not sure whether she was cheering me on or taking pity.
When you're running for fun, competing only against yourself, every step resonates. Senior citizens, homeless men, and inspired youngsters showed Philadelphia their grit on Broad Street. People who never thought they could learned in one morning to rethink everything.
In April, I shattered my meager half-marathon record, proving that it always makes sense to try something twice. Yesterday, I shaved nearly 10 minutes off last year's Broad Street finish, running at a pace the old me would call sprinting.
"Did you win?" the kids ask on cue when I'm through.
Yes, I did, if you count a victory over gravity, history, and low expectations. Just don't expect me to wear the medal outside the house.