Well, no, it’s not exactly my first race. I have been running the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler [almost] every year since 2005 — this will be my seventh year. So, counting the 10k I did in December 2010, this will actually be my eighth race.

At 2008’s race, which in my memory was very hot and humid …

The 2012 four-miler is next Saturday. Last year, we skipped the race because it benefits the UVA Breast Care Center, and thus has a tendency to be a sea of pink-shirted women squealing about how breast cancer is a sisterhood and if we all stick together we can “beat” cancer and all kinds of other crap like that. Not in the mood to spoil everyone’s fun by wearing shirts with MEMENTO MORI emblazoned on the back, my sisters and I opted not to attend. I don’t remember what I did instead that morning (I have very little memory from August until mid-October of last year), but I know Leah ran eight miles rather than four and then said, “Take that, breast cancer.”

So this year will be a little different. The reality of breast cancer has been hitting us for quite some time but now that we are on the “other side” of it (i.e. the side where the earnest “we can beat this, girls!” is something we just kind of snort at), I think the atmosphere around us next Saturday could be a little strange. I’m no longer in a place where I feel like everywhere I go I just suck all the hope and positivity out of the room, but at the same time, I feel like I know too much. I know that no matter how positive you are, no matter how upbeat you stay, no matter how much you keep insisting that if we just stick together we can “stand up” to cancer (like it’s a bully?) — those things aren’t enough. All the positive thinking in the world won’t cure cancer. If you’re a survivor, you didn’t “beat” cancer through your own strength and efforts. You were treated for it, and the cancer went away. Likewise, dying of cancer doesn’t mean someone “lost” her “battle”: she had a disease that couldn’t be cured. And as much as we want to believe otherwise, running four miles — or running any distance — ultimately means very little in the face of the kind of crippling destruction cancer can wreak on a family. Let’s be real; none of us is going to cure cancer by running a personal best.

But on September 1 I am going to line up at the start and run as hard as I can for four miles. I hope I can do it without running out of steam. I have a time goal in mind that’s way faster than any of my previous times for this race, because I’ve never actually raced it before, and in fact I’ve never raced, period. I don’t think it’s going to be easy and in a lot of ways I don’t even think it’ll be a lot of fun. But I do think it will be necessary. Because despite the fact that my running, no matter how fast or how far, means nothing to cancer, it means something to me.

Cancer makes you feel so helpless. And running makes me feel powerful. It’s as simple as that.