Mile 23 marker laughed at me. I could hear that dumb sign laughing at me, so I turned my music up louder. Stayin’ Alive met I will Survive and I chuckled and breathed in deep. The Play List saves and then it doesn’t. The day I trained for 20 miles was the longest run of my life. I planned out the hours. First, I’ll listen to music. Then I’ll listen to a podcast. Then I’ll go back to music, and so on and so on. I remember getting to 15 miles in that training run, and I was just plain tired of listening to anything. Just as I was yanking out my ear buds, I saw a guy on a bike getting close to me. I didn’t pay much attention until he slowed down and rode right with my running pace. It was my friend Dave from the runners club. I laughed as I breathed out and told him how much further. He asked me about my nutrition and reminded me to eat a gel at that point. I got one out and started to chew on it. He kept talking and talking. I released him from having to ride with me, but I think he knew that I was struggling. He encouraged me to do some stride outs to fix my gait, and I did and it helped. I hadn’t realized how tight I was. I finished that 20 miles feeling pretty good thanks to help from a fellow runner. Sometimes you just need some help.
I shook my head and was blinking back to the present. I was passing a medical tent, and there were two runners inside injured with medical people helping them. The agony on their faces was tough to take and not at all about a foot or a calf of which each was holding. I felt their agony of being so close, and it sunk down deep into me that their race was over. And then I saw mile marker 24 and I realized…..my race was not over. I glanced down at my watch; adrenaline shot through me. My tired legs began to find some rhythm; I began to feel everything and nothing all at the same time.
The race path turned left and then left and then we were back in the city; the side lines began to crowd up and the race path began to narrow. I became aware of how soaked I was from four hours of sweating and working and rubbing and struggling and chafing. I had to shake that off….just a little further. The crowds cheered and the words they produced collectively invigorates.
And there it was—mile 25. My heart jumped….one more mile! The sobered, pain aware part of me reminded me of the .2 miles that I had left off in my excited heart-jump. The inside mind conversations that I have are one of my favorite parts about running long distances. Suddenly I knew, I had a lot left in this body. I could go farther. Farther than 1.2 more miles. But how far? I didn’t know….but I knew at that point I conserve a lot on the unknown possibility of running out.
I began to stretch out my stride. I ripped out my ear buds and shoved them in my little pouch. I breathed in and out. My arms stretched out. My feet and legs hesitated at first, but then they too found their rhythm in my breathing. My feet pounded the ground. I couldn’t feel them. I just ran. It felt so good to run. What a funny thing to think on that last mile! It feels good to run!
And then it was there and I could see it and I couldn’t believe it and then I was through that finish line and trying to wrap my head around it.
But my feet were slowing down, and tears were running down my face. And everyone was telling me great job, you did it! A race worker held my arm gently to stop me and put my medal around my neck. I was holding it and crying and grinning like a fool. And we all were ushered inside and someone took my photo. I called my family who were at a rodeo in Uvalde and cried and yelled that I did it. They were all so excited. And then someone handed me an ice cream sandwich and I ate it. I went in the T-shirt line and received my finisher shirt. Someone handed me a chocolate milk and I drank it. I felt happy and stiff and automatic and unreal all at once.
I kept moving until I found my sister in law. She had been in the medical tent. She had not had a good race, but she was dealing with it. She was happy for me. I had exceeded my own expectations for my time. We hugged and cried together. And then we picked up her shirt. After cleaning up, we had a big meal together before heading home. It was a great end to a long training and a long race.
When’s your next one? I hear a lot and I even heard it that day. But I wouldn’t even think about it. I let myself just bask in that finish line. I mean, you know what it meant to cross it, right?
But you also know it wasn’t really about the finish line.
All the way on the drive home, I squinted hard into all that training, all that sweating, and all that planning….trying to find the moment I learned the most, or I accomplished the most or I was humbled the most. And its like I couldn’t describe a piece of this experience without all the other pieces, and I wouldn’t trade one for the other. I learned so much…about me, about limits, from the road, from podcasts, about running, about life, from other runners, about breathing, and so many more things.
The first marathoner (in the history books) died at the end of his race having delivered the message he needed to give. So, let’s go on a race, shall we? A race to give the message we are meant to give. I assure you…every piece will be worth something in the end.