For Love of the Marathon

This weekend is the New York City Marathon.  A few years ago, I was signed up to cross this magical experience off my bucket list.  I had my plane ticket and hotel reservation, and my training had been flawless.  I was pumped.  I couldn’t believe I had actually gotten in to the New York marathon!

Sadly, a week before I was set to run from Staten Island through the boroughs of New York and cross the finish line in Central Park, I got a phone call.  Tragically my sister in law, my brother’s 30 year old pregnant wife, had collapsed due to a blood clot gone pulmonary and my brother was suddenly left to raise a little girl on his own.  I was on the next flight from St. Louis to LAX.  I couldn’t get to my brother fast enough.

Exactly one week later, on the day I was supposed to fly to NYC, I was flying back to St. Louis to see my babies.  I couldn’t wait to hug them!  I called the airline and the hotel, and I went through the necessary means to defer my registration for the ING New York City Marathon to 2011.  Again, unfortunately, my registration renewal expired during the same week that my marriage fell completely apart, and so it fell by the wayside, forgotten, until it was too late.  Thus, the experience of running into Manhattan to receive a medal remains to be checked off my list.

I did turn around and fly back to Southern California the following week for the Malibu Marathon, that I ran in honor of my sweet sister in law (that full story coming soon).  But this weekend, while my friends are boarding the ferry to the start, and as I receive texts that they have crossed the 5k, 10k, 15k and so on to the finish, there is a part of me that will be running vicariously through them.

I know this race means something different to each of them.  And I also know how they have poured their heart and soul into training for it.  The blood, sweat and tears culminate into that one shining event.  The Marathon.

The following is a piece that I recently wrote for the Fleet Feet newsletter as I prepared for the Chicago marathon.  Many of you may have read it.  But for those of you racing this weekend, read it again.  And know that I will be running along side you, if only in spirit.  Bob, Jodi and Wes…this one’s for you!

For Love of the Marathon

Fall.  This is arguably the most wonderful time of the year.  Apple picking.  Pumpkin patches.  Weekends full of football.  But for a runner there are even more reasons to rejoice.  Cooler temps.  Lower humidity.  Easier breathing.  Trail running at its finest.  And perhaps the biggest and best, the pinnacle of what we have all been working so hard for all summer long.  Race day.

People often wonder how we can get up well before the sun and push our bodies to the extreme distances that we do, before most of humanity has even considered stirring from their cozy slumber.  As runners, we find the rewards in the sunrise, the bragging rights of completing a 20 miler in sometimes brutal conditions, the sweaty satisfaction of a grueling speed work session, and occasionally allowing ourselves to go ahead and eat the entire pint of ice cream.  Because, let’s face it, we’ve earned it.

But with the entrance of Autumn, the real reward of all that training comes down to everything that we’ve been striving toward.  There is an understanding among all the athletes at a race expo.  Whether you will be starting at the back of the pack, leading the way or somewhere in the middle, we are all runners.  We have all logged the long miles to get to where we are in this moment.  We all have a different race plan, but we all share the same goal…to get to the finish line.  We are not racing each other so much as we are out there to compete with the person who we face in the mirror each morning.

We stalk the weather report and agonize about the possibility of changing our planned running attire.  We debate about how many Gu’s to bring with us. We study the course until we know the location of every hill.

Eventually, on race morning, we gather in our assigned corrals and toe the line with a feeling of “Ok, this is it.  Here we go…”  Then we take a deep breath and move forward with the rest of the pack knowing that this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.  Don’t start too fast, don’t start too slow.  And then, the melodious sound of Garmins beeping as you cross the start and get things underway.

We scan the sea of spectators, searching desperately for the familiar faces of people who have come to cheer us on.  We laugh at funny signs along the way.  We read the inspirational messages printed or hand written on the shirts of the runners around us.  We try to take it all in, but sometimes it feels overwhelming.  So we settle in, and just run, because that’s what we came to do.  Perfect strangers clap and call our names like we’re long lost friends.

It’s amazing that all during the same race we can feel like we don’t ever want to run again and just moments later we feel like we could run forever.  We go between feelings of “I love this!” and “Why in the world am I doing this?!” in a matter of seconds.  We have to push through the words “I can’t”.  We realize that we can, and we will, and sometimes we start to hyperventilate at the idea of reaching the finish.  We approach the “wall”, but then we tell it to get the hell out of the way and we run right through it.

There is something about the moment that you see the finish up ahead of you and you pull from every fiber of your being to get you there as fast as you can, but you have already spent every ounce of energy, you’ve laid it all on the line and you’ve got nothing left.  So you dig deep inside and keep going, knowing that a part of yourself is forever left on that course.

There is absolutely nothing in the world like the feeling of crossing the finish line of a marathon.   So much emotion wrapped up in that one moment.  It’s elation.  It’s exhaustion.  It’s disbelief that it’s really over.  It’s closure, you’ve done all you can do. The reality is that sometimes its disappointment.  But it’s important that we have no regrets in the race that we ran.  It’s about reflecting on everything we overcame to be standing there at that moment when someone puts a medal around your neck and says, “Congratulations!  You did it.”

Some days everything comes together and we walk away with a PR.  Other days, we have to overcome the devastation that things just didn’t go as planned.  Sometimes we swear it’s the last time we will attempt this crazy idea of running 26.2 ever again.  But after all is said and done, we ultimately come back to it, because of the feeling of being there, surrounded by all those other sweaty bodies, plodding along, breathing heavily, fighting to prove that we can persevere.  Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, it’s all any of us can really do.

We all have a different journey that brings us to the finish line on race day.  We all have different obstacles.  But we’re all in it together.  And the beautiful joy of the marathon is that we are reminded of all that the human spirit is truly capable of.

It’s Fall.  You’ve put in all the hard work and now it’s time to trust your training.  You can’t do anything about the weather.  You never know what’s going to pop up on race day that will try to stand in your way, but you’ve trained your body to keep going and you’ve trained your mind to believe that you CAN!

Your moment is now.  Get out there and run your race!


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