As the older of two siblings, I like to think my younger brother Bill looks up to me. Not just because I was literally taller for the 15 years before he got his growth spurt – but, you know, because I am so wise and worldly, what with my six additional years of life experience and all.
It doesn’t seem like so much anymore, but when we were kids, a six-year age gap was a huge deal. As a toddler, Bill (then “Billy”) used to follow me around everywhere, which I endlessly whined about but secretly found delightful. As we went through school, much to his chagrin (and my satisfaction), Bill was “Jessica’s brother” to all my former teachers, and as he hit each new milestone that I had already passed, I relished getting to share my infinite wisdom about what to expect on the first day of middle school, at the first Homecoming dance, first football game, etc. The VERY best was when he didn’t believe me about something, and then, of course, I’d turn out to be right and I’d get to say the most satisfying thing there is to say in the whole world: “Told you so!”
Then Bill took up running. To say he did not get the idea from me would be a massive understatement. As the girl who used to have my mom call me out of gym class, and who had a doctor send a note about my “exercise-induced bronchospasms” so I could get out of running the mile in freshman P.E., running has always seemed like a special kind of hell to me. I could not comprehend why anyone would want to subject themselves to that on purpose.
And yet, as Bill got faster and faster, and got more and more “likes” on Facebook photos of himself posing in race bibs at various 5ks … well, I guess I started to feel a little left out. So, after watching my baby brother triumphantly cross yet another finish line last summer while I sat munching on an energy bar from my perch on the sidelines, I decided to give following in his footsteps a try, literally, and – with his permission – signed up for the Make a Wish Foundation 5k last September.
Although running had come pretty naturally to Bill, whose advice for me was to “just, you know… run,” I knew I was going to need a little more preparation. With about two months to get into shape, I decided to do the aptly named “Couch to 5k” regimen, which gently starts you off in small running bursts mixed with super-long walking breaks.
To my great shock, the program actually seemed to work. By the end of the third week, I was up to three whole minutes running at a time – and feeling like a baller. Always one to get a bit ahead of myself, I immediately spent an absurd amount of money buying special running clothes and gear online, sure I would soon be surpassing Bill and his measly 5ks and headed straight for marathon championships.
Alas, Week Four, disaster struck. I woke up one morning with a sore throat, sniffles, and zero desire to get out of bed and pound the pavement. With WebMD’s blessing and a couple of loud, dramatically professed lamentations to Bill and anyone else who would listen that “my health just has to come first,” I took a few days off training.
And then something miraculous happened. My cold cleared up and I found myself wanting to get back out on the trails. I never would have thought it possible, but I missed running. In just a month, I had come to enjoy the feeling of accomplishment I got from watching my lung capacity improve with every session. I felt antsy without the release of running along the lakeshore, watching the waves crash and taking selfies in front of the skyline (what, they came out amazing). Maybe Bill was onto something after all.
With renewed resolve, I fell back into my rhythm of running three times a week. I even made it through the dreaded Week Six, when the program suddenly challenges you to run a full 20 minutes with no walking. I thought I would surely pass out and die, right up until the very last second, but I did it! (Does that make me a #legitimaterunner or what?)
To no one’s greater surprise than my own, when race day came, I was ready. It was a costume race, and Bill and I picked out the perfect outfits: Thing 1 and Thing 2 – with Bill as Thing 1, since, for once, we were doing something he had done first.
Clad in our DIY red t-shirts and bright blue wigs, we lined up side-by-side at the starting line. The horn blared, and we were off! I had been nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the crowd, but with Bill literally running circles around me and good-naturedly taunting me to run faster the whole time (little brothers, amiright?), I managed to clock in at a slow-but-totally-respectable 35 minutes.
I still kind of can’t believe I’m saying this, but it felt amazing. After we exchanged a sweaty high-five for the cameras (aka our mom's iPhone), I turned to Bill and gushed how I couldn’t have done it without him, he was such an inspiration, etc. etc. etc.
And what did he have to say in response to my heartfelt, emotional sentiments, at the conclusion of my long journey to self-actualization on the race course?
“I told you so, I told you so, I TOLD you SO!! AHAHAHAHA TOLD YOU SOOOOOO!”
Fair enough – I guess he’d been waiting to say that for a while.