7:15 am. Fifteen minutes before gun time.
I parked my car in a garage close to the start and finish of the race. When I looked around at the other cars pulling in, I couldn’t help but stare at their drivers and passengers. We all had something in common. We were all here for the same reason.
We were all about to run a really, really, REALLY long distance.
As I got out of my car and started walking to the start line for the marathon, I noticed that the above statement seemed to be the only thing we had in common. I looked a lot different from everyone else walking (or running?!??!!) to the starting line. The women had no boobs. The men wore tiny shorts on really scrawny legs. This wasn’t a 5k “fun run.” This was a half and full marathon. This was the big league. This was about to be the most intense morning of my life.
At the start there were signs held up with large groups of runners clumped behind them:
- 7:30 Pace and Faster
- 9:30 to 7:30 Pace
- 10:30 Pace and Slower
I scoured the mob but couldn’t find my two friends, Evan and Madison, who were also running the race. That was a bit disheartening, but I quickly shrugged it off and reminded myself that I was running this half marathon for me and no one else. I headed to the back of the line to join ranks with the “10:30 Pace and Slower” runners. As soon as I got in line, I felt a relieved. Back there, I wasn’t awash in a sea of two-by-fours with pony tails. I was comfortably placed among women who still had a womanly body shape (like me!) I was right where I belonged, and I didn’t care if that meant I was “slow.” I kept my focus on my three goals:
- Clock in under 3 hours.
- Don’t be last.
I found peace in those three goals. Based on my training, I figured that I could meet them. But my comfort was shattered as soon as the starting signal sounded and the mob began to move forward. I panicked.
My insides screamed, “No! Wait! I haven’t trained hard enough! My longest run is only run seven miles! I can’t do this!”
But it was too late to chicken out. One step. Two. Three. Four.
And I was off. I was running, hoping to reach the finish line at 13.1 miles without dying.
If it were up to my cardiovascular system, I could have run the entire marathon (26.2 miles.) I didn’t find myself out of breath ONCE. My breathing was always steady, always controlled, and always comfortable. I only slowed to a walk at aid stations (placed every two miles) while I calmly drank water or Gatorade. Slow and steady. Slow and steady. Just finish. Because I was near the back of the pack (albeit not last!) I was usually alone. There were a few rare moments when I was within 30 feet of another runner, and because I wasn’t allowed to wear headphones I found myself immersed in a quiet stillness accompanied by the rhythmic patter of my running shoes on the pavement. Relaxing. Freeing.
For nine miles.
Around mile ten, my legs were done. Everything from my waist down was burning in excruciating pain. I remember thinking that I was feeling the worst pain I’d feel until the day I’d give birth. Every step was harder than the last. But I’d gone too far to give up. I had to keep going.
The last mile was the absolute longest of all of them. By the time I was approaching the finish line, the majority of the racers had already finished. They were walking back to their cars on either side of the road I was on saying, “Great job! Keep going! You’re almost there!”
I didn’t know if I loved them or hated them in that moment. But I smiled and said, “Thank you” regardless of my feelings.
Just shy of the finish line I saw them — a cluster of people jumping up and down and shouting my name. I couldn’t make out the faces as I trudged past them, but those people knew me. And that was enough. I saw the clock at the top of the finish line: 2:59:29! I’d done it! I’d met all three of my goals! I excitedly crossed the finish line with my fists in the air and turned hug the bodies attached to those faces.
Evan. Suzanne. Kelby. Kyle. Wendy. Janice. LeRoy. Shannon. Madison.
I knew that Evan and Madison would be there because they were running the race. But I also knew that both of them would finish before me and I’d just assumed that they’d leave after that. But they didn’t. They waited for me. (Evan waited over an hour!) I hugged all of them so tightly and let them tell me how proud of me they were. That was so special to me. Being that the race was on a Sunday, my husband was unable to be there. So the fact that my friends were there was so incredible. They even took pictures of me and texted them to my husband to show him. I really don’t have any other words for it. My friends are amazing.
I could never have done this without a bunch of people. So I’ve got to dish out some thanks:
- Evan, for being my training buddy and being so unbelievably nice about the fact that I run so much slower than you and hold you back.
- Everyone at the finish line. I know I already said it, but seriously. It meant the world to me.
- My husband, for encouraging me to train even on the days when both of us just wanted to stay in bed and cuddle.
- Tara, for letting me use/commandeer your shin brace.
- Hal Higdon, for having a fool-proof half marathon training schedule.
- Runner friends, for your unending advice and encouragement.
- The Flight of the Conchords, because anytime I felt like giving up I’d just sing to myself, “I’m the mother flippin!”
- Anyone who ever experienced my tardiness to a meeting because a run took longer than I thought it would.
- Zack and Sarah, for letting me use your gym when it was too bloody cold to run outside.
- Florida, for not snowing on February 6th.
- Sliders, for helping my thighs to remain unchafed.
- Gu, for being equal parts disgusting and effective.
- The folks at the first aid station who were blasting Flogging Molly as I approached.
- The police officers who stopped traffic to ensure the runners’ safety.
- The cars the police officers stopped, for being so incredibly patient (except that one guy who laid on his horn.)
- The runners ahead of me who gave me high fives and shouts of encouragement, even though I was behind them.
- Everyone who every prayed for me and this race.
- Everyone who told me I could do it when I said I couldn’t.
And, most of all,
- God. I wish I could say that I’d prayed for something else in my life harder. Finding the right husband. Finding the right job. Loving my enemies. Whatever. I honestly can’t think of anything I’ve prayed harder for before, during, and after. Thank you, God. You are amazing. I hope I could glorify You in this.