This day began in the wee hours of the morning. Though not completely foreign to this body, I found myself anticipating the events of the day. As only experience can share, training leads me to today, but it’s not a complete guarantee of running through my “best day”. If it happens, complete gratitude, because as I’ve learned, the body can be unpredictable.
At 5:30 am, I drove to my dear friend Amanda’s home, a short quarter mile away. I ran my first Columbus Marathon with her 5 years ago, 5 years later, we’re traveling together to my fifth marathon. Oh the stories the years could tell. We met yet another friend, and it was smooth sailing all the way to the parking garage. We arrived on time and decided to chat a bit longer in the warm car before heading to the starting corrals. As we began to walk towards the stairs, I hear my name being called. Of all the 20,000 participants of the day, we just so happened to park across from my brother and his lovely wife! Explain that!
Now a peppy group of five, we headed to the start, along with thousands of others. It was a beautiful sunrise, we heard a warming rendition of the National Anthem, heard the sound of a cannon, and witnessed a visual sight of fireworks. While waiting, we spoke with a gentleman that is 77 years old. He will soon be finishing his 50th race! He was witty, he was genuine, he was fascinatingly real, and he was encouraging – such a hopeful glimpse of the years to come and the celebration of health and life.
Soon the gun sounded, and off we went… about 5 minutes later. What can you do? Lots of people, does mean some waiting This is the exciting part – spectators cheering, searching for their loved ones, the rise of warm breath in the air, the sound of feet pounding, and music pouring though ear buds. This is the celebration of the training.
Not too far into the miles, I happened to glance over and see my sister-in-law – fun! We ran together for a few miles before parting at a water stop. Ahead I noticed another friend, this time a Mom from gymnastics, we exchanged a nod and a few words. Up ahead at mile 7, I anticipated high-fiving my buddy Toby, one of the patient champions represented all throughout the course. I ended up on the opposite side of the street, yet I took a moment to pray for this brave child, undergoing yet another surgery tomorrow. Soon after that, I thought about my students who so kindly created supportive signs for the hallway outside my classroom. A friend from high school had commented on facebook. I’m not sure why, but I glance behind me to my left, and there she was! We exchanged a side-hug, a few words, and parted ways.
Not much farther ahead, we reached a water stop, and my friend Kathy so kindly handed me a much needed cup of water. Soon it was mile 10, so far so good! Only three to go and I’d hit the half-way mark! Well, I got “hit” alright. Pain. Lower Back. Not so good. This has happened on and off in training, I knew it was a possibility, and here is was. 16 more miles to go. What’s a girl to do? Take some Advil, and grab some water at mile 12!
To attempt to describe the situation with words is a bit complicated, best I can say is that I went to “that other place.” It’s a separation of sorts. You mentally detach from the body. Call it distraction, call it choice, but it’s a state where I can be fully aware that pain is racking my body, yet mentally I choose other thoughts. It’s part of the reason why someone can “look like” they haven’t run 26 miles. This is a learned skill. It’s practiced in training. You understand the truth a bit clearer. The truth is you’re not dying. The truth is your body is temporarily in pain from induced stress. You recognize different types of pain, and your behavior responds accordingly. In this case, I chose to continue to take in the sights and sounds.
Every mile marker, a child champion was celebrated. I thought about the bravery of those children whose race lasts a lifetime, not just four hours. I thought about the “angels” and hundreds of supporters who donned t-shirts, raised signs and tents, and created an atmosphere of support. I became intentional about thanking those who took their morning to extend a hand in support of my hydration every mile, for those who called out my name designated on my bib, and over the loudspeaker. I appreciated a fellow Ironman champion friend who was experiencing her own pain, yet yelled in support of all those around her, I even heard my name yelled from a passing car as friend drove by (what timing?!)
At mile 17 we ran around the shoe, and then through the shoe! People lined the bleachers, all in support of those who said yes to a silly race over 4 months prior. Bands played, college students and athletes were present, I can say I never felt alone. And then I was nearing mile 20, my heart was gearing up for this. You see, a large part of my heart would be waiting there, and I needed to see them almost more than I needed my next breath. They understand when “Mommy is going for a run”, they make me pasta dinners the night before, and come shoe shopping with me, and wait for my return on a Saturday morning before heading to our family activities. They love to come to my events as much as I love attending theirs. And there they were…
And in those hugs, I felt refueled. I had six more miles to go. And the countdown began. There’s a moment when you believe, in the midst of muscle tightness, heavy legs, and depleted energy, that you will not only finish, but you will finish well… I wasn’t quite there yet, but I would be, very soon.
And then the Lord sent another friend, he ran beside me in jeans, carrying a chair over his shoulder, and then a water stop could be seen ahead, and then I saw a pink shirt. The shirt of my friend Amanda. And we ran together for a mile, and we separated at a water stop, and then it was mile 25. One more to go. All mental at this point. There’s an uphill, and it’s literally a chant in your head – almost there, almost there – and then I see a sign – “You are no longer a runner, you are a marathoner”. And I gasp. It’s truth. The sheer statement of an accomplishment within a short grasp. And I set my sights – one more stretch, one more turn, one more orange sign, around the corner, and a short .2 mile downhill finish.
And the crowd is thick, and the noise literally lifts you up, and I glance to the right and see my Dad waving. I’ve never seen my parents at the finish before today, it’s usually a blur. And I receive another gift. And I cross the finish line. And I see my friend Amanda. And we embrace in emotion. We both ran with pain. We didn’t even need to say it, we knew it. And we rejoiced in our finish time, in spite of pain. I never thought I would break the four hour mark again (3:58.19). And we thank the Lord who gives us the reason to run in the first place. And we take a picture to remember. And we celebrate with family. And we share through social-media. And we take a nap. And we remember… for it is in those times that we reach the complete end of ourselves, that we remember the One who gives us life. Life to be celebrated!
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.