The course wasn't ideal... marathoners had to loop the front section twice before the last turnaround sent us home to the finish line so we'd see the mileage flags for miles 14 - 21 on our first loop which isn't helpful mentally. The last five miles were on an open highway that was mostly a straightaway and almost entirely in the sun. Those were lonely ones.
I never hit a marathon wall in this race, but my lungs were in bad shape a few times. I had strider unexpectedly at a few points on the course feeling my airway suddenly start to shut down and I was thankful for my inhaler. The 24th mile had a wicked hill that's suckiness was appreciated at the top because it actually made the last mile almost effortless. My body felt strong for the whole of the 26.2 miles and I spent most of the last 10K running alone. And as much as running with friends is fun, there is something about a long distance that you just have to own for yourself. People talk about dark places in long runs, and I've always liked the dark so it's home for me.
I found myself settling into the back of the miles and my last six miles were easily my fastest despite the heat and the lack of shade. I'd listen to my breath, the slight catch at the top of my inhale, not quite able to fully expand my lungs, hearing the wheeze in my windpipe occasionally get ragged but never out of control. And I ran on, and the miles fell away behind me and the mile marker flags would pass, and I was one step closer to the finish. I played mental games, trying to remember long passages of my favorite books, I tried to name all the states and their capitals in alphabetical order. I thought of quotes from Prefontaine and Hemingway, Anais Nin and Ayn Rand. I prayed. I thought of some young men and women from Team X-T.R.E.M.E. who I had seen a week earlier take on a 10.5 mile Spartan Race race course in gas masks, three of them amputees and it granted me perspective. At every water stop I thanked the volunteers who were always full of encouragement and the police officers who were there to keep us safe on the course.
And as I came around a bend a little girl yelled, "Yay runner!" and her mom and I met eyes as I smiled at them both and she said, "See that pink banner up ahead? That's the end. You're almost there!" And my feet got light and I let my stride open up as I rounded the corner.
And then I saw my daughters. They were waiting on the straightaway their voices rising and they first ran towards me and then with me, escorting me to the finish, one of the coolest moments of my life. Having them there, having their sweet voices calling out encouragement and their smiling faces as they saw me finish what I set out to do earlier in the day. It was the perfect way to finish.
|The finish line|
And to my two best friends, Casey and Kristin, what we shared, even as we ran alone, was a race course that spanned 26.2 miles, over 46,000 steps, six hours from home...
Driving home, I thought of them both and I thought of what we'd done that day. But it wasn't about crossing the finish line... because the accomplishment isn't in the finish, it's in the willingness to start. It's not in the last step, it's with the courage to take the first one.