wife. mother. teacher. recovering scaredy cat
I've heard it's been said that running is like the opera; you either love it or hate it.
I’m obviously on the love side of things as I’ve been a runner for almost thirty years. I started in junior high with track and quickly became addicted to the runner’s high (yes, it’s real) and haven't stopped since.
I love the way that running makes me feel both physically and mentally but I definitely have a few quirks about the way the whole thing goes down; I have to run in the morning, I don’t listen to any music, and there is no way that I would even consider stepping one foot out the door without at least one cup of coffee under my belt beforehand.
Running a marathon had been on my bucket list since my twenties, but life events and lack of gumption kept me from doing it. By the time my mid thirties rolled around, I had done a couple of smaller races and felt like it was time to tackle the biggie. I registered for the Rock N Roll Marathon in DC and still remember the surge of nervousness when I clicked the submit button on the online form.
I downloaded a training guide and followed it religiously as the weeks rolled along and the miles started racking up. As the countdown grew closer, I was pounding out two to three hours of running a day. I was so proud of the hard work that I had put into the process. I hadn’t taken a single day off unless the protocol called for it and I honestly felt like I had this whole marathon thing in the bag.
The long awaited race day quickly arrived. I remember nervously walking to the starting line as the DJ cranked up the tunes and the emcee counted down the minutes until the race would be set into motion. The excitement was overwhelming as the starting gun soon fired and I was ushered into a sea of bodies all moving in the same direction. I was able to shake off some of the nervousness as I got into a running groove and enjoy the spectacular sights as we ran through some of the most beautiful parts of the city. The first ten miles or so seemed like I was gliding on air and while I knew from my training that I needed to pace myself, I remember thinking that the next few hours weren't going to be that bad.
At mile thirteen, the momentum shifted. Because the race was designed for both a half and full marathon, the large group that I was running with suddenly took a turn. These were the half marathon runners and they were headed back to the finish line. The first mental hurdle of the marathon hit me as I struggled to work through the sudden drop in people that had been running beside me moments before. I was beyond envious that my former racing cohorts were wrapping this up and heading back to the tents for a massage and some food. I took a quick look beside and behind me and realized that I was suddenly alone. And then, another terrifying thought quickly presented a wave of panic throughout my body. I had to now run this entire length all over again.
You know that saying about the rubber meeting the road? Yea, that was happening in every way.
I decided to put in my ear buds and listen to music (thanks to my husband who insisted that I have some just in case) in an effort to try to overcome the self defeating conversation that was taking place in my mind. I cranked up the song and determined that I was going to finish this thing no matter what. I quickly reset my pace, dug in my heels, and soldiered on.
And then, around mile seventeen, it happened. I hit the proverbial running wall which is the inevitable event that occurs for many in a marathon when your body suddenly starts shutting down. You become excessively fatigued and begin to cramp as a result of your body using all of its carbohydrates and switching over to take energy from your muscles. And when I say that I hit it, I mean that without the slightest warning, everything that was working moments before came to a screeching halt.
The desire to finish was gone, the limbs of my body didn't work, and my mind and heart began to justify every single reason why laying down on the pavement and being picked up by the garbage truck, despite all of the training that I had put in, was the best solution to ending the madness. With my husband, friends, and children waiting for me at the finish line, there was no way that I was going to quit. I quickly determined that it was going to take everything that I had in me to finish and I spent the next nine miles struggling to lift my feet and telling myself a thousand times each minute to put one foot in front of the other in an effort to make it home before dark.
Just keep going. Don’t slow down or you will quit. Just finish the race.
The rest of the experience was really a blur aside from seeing people holding signs and feeling desperately defeated by the 23 mile marker as I tried to comprehend that I still had three more miles to go. Eventually, as if a siren had gone off for a four alarm fire, I heard a woman’s voice from somewhere alongside of the road finally declaring that I only had a quarter of a mile left. I somehow managed to pick up the pace as I rounded the corner. The applause of the spectators along with the hopes of seeing the familiar faces of family and friends were inevitably what somehow managed to hurl my lifeless body over the finish line. I remember someone placing a medal around my neck, officially dubbing me as a marathoner as I reached for a bottle of water and scarfed down a banana. I was both elated and exhausted afterwards as my loved ones gathered around and congratulated me on this monumental achievement.
Looking back, the entire experience seems very surreal. And while the race itself certainly required a lot of doing at the time, there are also a few don'ts that I have gleaned since taking that 26.2 mile trip through the capitol...
At the end of the day, the marathon of life is really no different than lacing up your shoes for 26.2 miles of pavement pounding purgatory. The race is tough and painful, the voice in your head insists that you give up, exhaustion takes over, and everywhere you look it seems that others are taking the easy way out. But eventually, the finish line is in sight and it’s better than you ever dreamed. And when it's all said and done, you can say that you finished well, even if you did have to be carried to your car when it was over.