Oh Say, Can You Sing: an unexpected challenge at the Across the Bay 12K

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With mini flat Dani, Emmalouise. Ashley and Dani pre-race.

This year, I was very excited to get to run the 12K at Represent Running’s Across the Bay race as last year, I was pregnant and chose to stick with the 5K instead.

Part two of their three part “Run the Bay” challenge, I had put a lot of pressure on myself to do well after my surprisingly speedy San Jose 408K. Despite all the anticipation, I will fully admit that race day crept up on me. One thing had lead to another, and work and life became easy excuses for skipping out on training well.

Little did I know come race day, running fast — actually, running, period — would be the least of my worries.

To say that I enjoy being part of the Represent Running ambassador team is an understatement. Their small but mighty run series has serious heart and passion behind it, and I love being able to be part of it all.

It’s not just about promoting events, volunteering at packet pick-up, or wearing official team gear. It’s about sharing Bay Area love and running love, celebrating victories with every finisher and uniting people. It doesn’t matter that it is an individual sport: we are all in it together. Without all the other runners, the timing folks, the volunteers, those who come out to cheer, we wouldn’t be able to revel in the joy that is crossing a finish line and having a hard-earned medal draped around our necks. I love running, and race day never fails to remind me of that. With love for it all, I am willing to go above the call of duty.

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Before the nerves set in. With Jennifer pre-anthem.

 

When I heard the lead man himself JT on the loudspeaker announcing that there was no one to sing the national anthem, at first I thought “I should do it!” followed immediately by, “Oh someone else will do it, surely there’s a singer here.” The first wave of the 12K was preparing to start and the thoughts began to churn. We could have a race without the national anthem, but it’s part of the tradition, like drinking coffee at an ungodly hour, complaining about port-o-potties and refusing to remove one’s hat during the song whilst fidgeting in the corrals. I told my fellow ambassadors I would be right back and that I was going to check on the situation. Next thing I knew, I was running up to the small platform and telling JT, “I know the words. I can do it.”

Famous last words right there. In that moment, I knew the words.

Pacing, I considered trying to warm up. See, I’m not a singer, per se, but a long-time band geek and someone who does some serious “car-aoke” in her Prius. I  figured I would be fine.

NOPE. It was like an out of body experience hearing JT announce my name and that I was going to sing. As I reached out and grabbed the mic, it was like someone turned off all the sound around me. No leaves rustling, no cars in the distance, nothing. Radio silence–worst of all, radio silence in my head. I remember apologizing in advance for forgetting the words and noting I was nervous.

Nervous was definitely an understatement. Suddenly, I felt petrified.

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…

I didn’t die. Okay, keep going. I can’t hear myself. Why can’t I hear myself? Oh geez, I’m already on the wrong key. Keep going.

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming…

At this point I was looking to JT for reassurance, who was mouthing the words too, like a human teleprompter. To be frank, I don’t even know that I got the second line right. I am fairly certain I instead sang “what so proudly we hailed … gallantly streaming…” but I can’t say for sure. My brain blacked out and decided to not participate, leaving my body to function on its own.

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight…

Oh, that’s definitely out of key.

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming…

At this point I recall regaining consciousness. No one was booing. No one was running away. I wasn’t sounding like anyone you’d hear singing “the Star Spangled Banner” at any national event, but I was upright and I had the mic still. That’s when I realized: my performance didn’t matter. Hitting all the notes didn’t matter. Hell, to an extent, whether or not I messed up the words, like hundreds upon thousands before me, didn’t matter.

We were all there to run, and what do runners want? For the anthem to go quickly so they can go have a good time. And who is more popular with the crowd at karaoke, the person who has the voice of an angel, or the tone deaf person who belts it out with soul and heart? In that moment, the nervousness of running had faded, the idea of performing musically at a caliber that wasn’t my best faded, the thought of making an ass of myself in front of hundreds, no, thousands of strangers faded. I decided to be present, in the moment, and just go for it. Years ago, my band teacher at Homestead High School, John Burn, taught us that “If you’re going to make a mistake, make a big, loud, confident mistake and just keep going.” So I owned it. I went for it. I belted it out.

And the rockets’ red glare…

I heard a whoop. I think I started smiling by now. I was owning it with gusto. Just finish strong, I told myself. It’s like a race. Just. Finish. Strong. Give it your all. Enthusiasm. Fun. DO IT.

The bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there…

By this point I saw my fellow Represent Running ambassadors running at me along the side path to the platform, phones at the ready. They were smiling. People in the crowd were smiling. That was just the boost I needed to close it out.

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave?

Really? The crowd gave up a hoot, maybe because it was almost over. YES.

O’er the land of the free…

Home stretch. Finish strong. DO IT!

And the home of the brave!

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Thanks Emmalouise for capturing my escape from the platform.

As polite applause and cheering broke the radio silence in my head, I could feel myself breathing properly again. It was over. Thank goodness we only sing the first verse as our anthem! The real, complete “Star Spangled Banner” is very long.

As I scampered away from the platform, a wave of relief washed over me, and there was a certain bounce that had found its way into my step. After conquering a challenge that I had not expected on race day, tackling a 12K that I was undertrained for seemed like a piece of cake. While it wasn’t planned and definitely wasn’t my greatest performance vocally, it was hands down a memorable moment that will stay with me till my memory begins to fail. If my awkward warbling with abandonment in some small way helped make the Across the Bay 12K a complete event then it was well worth my while.

If duty called, I would do it again — but I might consider some practice, a solid warm-up and a cheat sheet for future endeavors. And, wherever you are, thank you Mr. Burn. Your teachings have served me very well.

As Represent Running ambassador, my race entry was comped, but all thoughts and opinions about the event and company are my own.

7 thoughts on “Oh Say, Can You Sing: an unexpected challenge at the Across the Bay 12K

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