“The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.” ~Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon winner
The objective behind me running a standalone marathon was simple: I want to do a full Ironman so I needed to know that I could run a marathon.
I enlisted the help of a friend, Patrick, whom I knew had coached plenty of my amazing friends during their various athletic endeavors. I started running with the Two Rules Running group (www.tworulesrunning.com) on a regular basis and could see, pretty quickly, the improvements that I was making. As I mentioned in an earlier post, marathon training was stressful and physically/emotionally exhausting but, I was managing to follow the two rules of my running group… 1. Look Good. 2. Don’t die. Simple enough, right?
I was lucky enough to remain injury-free throughout my training but my journey was not without adversity. At the end of my 12th week of training, life threw me a curveball that I wasn’t sure I was going to get up from… A relationship that had become an integral part of my marathon journey ended in epic fashion. I found out that I had been cheated on and the news knocked me down physically and emotionally in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. The news and the experience sucked the life out of me and sapped me of my motivation to do much of anything. I was trapped in darkness that I didn’t feel I could escape and the last thing I wanted to do was get out of my bed, let alone go run anywhere.
I wanted to quit, I believed I was done. I told the people closest to me that I was done.
Thankfully, as I have said so many times prior to this and as I am sure I will say plenty more in the future, I have surrounded myself with some of the greatest people in the world and there was no way that they were going to let me get away with quitting. Not now, not ever. They did, however, let me get away with staying in bed for a couple days but that’s it. By Sunday afternoon, Leigh Ann forced me to get out of bed and go outside and send her a selfie while outside and Lavonne later showed up with her bike ready to go for a ride. We DID go ride and it was just what I needed; the ride and the cry on the side of the road in the middle of the ride. No one wanted to stop me from feeling what I felt; they kept encouraging the emotions while also gently pushing me forward.
I am a big believer in feeling your feelings. I believe that the only way to move through pain is to FEEL through the pain. The key, I believe, is to not allow yourself to get stuck in any part of the pain for too long. Obviously, this process is quite often easier said than done but it CAN be done. There were many days when I got stuck in the pain and I hid from the world allowing the circular negativity to go round and round in my head but there were plenty of days where I kept going and I kept running. Running is so very intensely mental for me and there were so many training runs that were filled with doubt and ended in tears. They ended in tears not because of anything that had happened on the run but more so because I expended so much mental energy running that there was no more energy left to keep my sadness at bay.
So I kept running and I kept crying and running and crying and running and crying some more. Sometimes even crying WHILE running.
My friends were never far away, in fact there were an overwhelming number of friends that offered and in turn joined me on my training runs during my last few weeks. No matter how much I wanted to retreat to my bike and call it a day, I kept running. I had a job to do and I was going to finish what I started.
The week after the proverbial shit hit the fan was supposed to be my heaviest training week and that weekend run was supposed to be the longest of my training, 22 miles. Three of my amazing friends (Ron, Kelsey, and Alice) joined me for some of this run; Alice for five miles, Kelsey for fourteen miles, and Ron for eighteen and a half miles. No matter what distance they each ran with me that day, they all left an amazing impact on me. They pushed me and kept me distracted so that I wasn’t stuck in that mental space where doubt lives. We didn’t talk about the break up and no one asked how I was doing, we talked about completely random things and we laughed a lot. Most importantly, although not on purpose, they left me to run the last three and a half miles alone. I needed those miles alone because I needed to push myself through that point where I was exhausted so that I wouldn’t give up. In fact, not only did I not give up but I pushed myself to run faster and I felt a sense of happiness creep in. It was at this very moment that I realized that no one, NO ONE, was going to take this away from me.
This was MY journey and MY sacrifices and there was no one in the world that was worth me giving up on anything, EVER. He didn’t get to take this from me. I didn’t get to give it to him to take.
I felt renewed, not necessarily happy, but I felt a renewed drive to run the marathon and accomplish a goal that I had only dreamed of accomplishing before. I won’t lie and say that everything went back to normal after my realization because that would be complete bullshit. I continued to run, I still cried, and I still doubted my ability to accomplish my goal but I knew that I wasn’t going to give up (a tiny detail that I didn’t realize was going to come in super handy on race day). I kept channeling my inner Wonder Woman and I kept training hard.
The last three weeks of training were a blur but what I can tell you is that they were full of lots of running and fear and doubt and then some more running on top of that. A little over a week before the race I received an email saying that we were able to pull up our bib numbers so I excitedly searched for it, it was 407. It wasn’t until a little while later that I realized the significance of that number, maybe it was weird coincidence or maybe it wasn’t coincidence at all and just some strange continuation of my “fun” relationship with the universe. You see, 407 is the area code for Orlando which was where my recent ex-boyfriend was from and also the city in which we met. I went straight to the universe conspiracy theory belief but one of my wonderful friends, Tammy, gave me this advice instead… “He was a big part of the journey and now this is the last piece. You will wear that number, you will run with everything you have, and you will leave everything about that relationship out on that course that day.” It appeared that having 407 as my bib number was, in fact, kismet.
Kismet (n): destiny; fate
I drove down to Miami two days before the race and must’ve gone through my mental packing list at least 7754 times before getting on the road but still managed to forget something that I had to go back home for. The five hour drive down south just served to make me incessantly think about my race plan and the 16 week journey that I had just gone through. I honestly couldn’t believe that the journey would be “over” in just two days.
The day before the race, I went to the expo to pick up my packet and the “realness” of everything finally started to set in and panic wasn’t far behind. I did all the normal pre-race stuff; I laid out Flat Beca, attached my Valentine’s card from Jimmy (my guardian angel) that goes with me to every big event to the back of my bib number, affixed my bib number to my shirt, set out all the nutrition I was going to bring with me, and charged my watch. I sat down and started reflecting on all the work I had put in during the 16 week journey…
Over 506 miles run during 86+ hours of running and countless new relationships forged.
So much of this journey had included so many amazing people but race day was going to be all about me, I would be toeing that line all by myself. I only had to overcome my own fear and doubt to finish the final 26.2 miles of my marathon journey. It would be my biggest test of endurance thus far and was sure to be one of my sweetest victories to date. I had trouble falling asleep the night before the race which I knew was completely normal but I was able to at least get a few hours of rest.
January 29, 2017, Race Day Report:
I woke up at 2:45am to the sound of howling wind and pouring rain. I pulled out my phone and checked the weather; temperature in the mid 50s, 10+mph wind, and LOTS of rain coming. I was overcome by panic. All I wanted was to get back under the covers and wish the day away but that wasn’t really an option… I had come too far to give up now. I started getting ready and was inundated by thoughts of everything that had happened over the last month, the anger and sadness I was feeling was truly overwhelming. My brain felt like it was trapped in a vice and I was focused on a dark cloud of doubt, fear, and negativity. I had a “come to Jesus” with myself and yanked at the mental reins. I pulled out my phone and looked at all the awesome texts, messages, and Facebook posts that my friends and family had taken the time to send. I started to focus in on all the love and light that I am surrounded by and I knew that, no matter what happened today, I had more than enough to be thankful for. I am a lucky woman and I had everything I needed to push through this day no matter what challenges came up.
I bundled up and headed out at 4:00am to ride the Metrorail surrounded by tons of fellow runners. I focused on my race plan that would hopefully get me my desired 4:15:00 and read all the positive messages over and over. Once I got downtown, I headed straight towards gear check where I handed over my warm pants and phone. The thought of not having a phone and taking 9657 start line pictures was a weird feeling; it had been a long time since I had been that disconnected from the world. I realized right away that it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be which made me feel better about the day ahead; all that cold weather training was paying off. I made my way to corral C and tried to take in as much of the start line experience that I could focus on. 6:00am came quicker than I expected it to and by approximately 6:05am my 26.2 mile journey began.
The first challenge of the day was the MacArthur Causeway Bridge where there were walking people to dodge, a steep incline to forge over, and a cold wind to contend with. Luckily at the top there were awesome guys playing the bagpipes to greet us which kept me smiling. People were flying past me but I kept reminding myself that the majority of people were doing the half marathon and I just needed to make sure to run my race and not theirs.
Somewhere between mile 2 and 3 I heard someone scream something about Team Chocolate Milk and I looked over and saw a woman that I had been standing near in my starting corral who was wearing a Team Chocolate Milk shirt. She was right ahead and to the left of me so I quickly crept over until I was right behind her. I thought about just creepily running behind her and pacing off of her but then I got to thinking about how lonely the race was already feeling without all my awesome running community friends so I decided to say hi. I asked her what her goal time was and she responded with 4 hours and then asked mine. When I told her my goal time she quickly responded that she wouldn’t mind running with me because she wasn’t really dead set on making her 4 hour goal. We introduced ourselves as we continued to talk and get to know each other. Jill was a very unassuming woman and you never would’ve guessed the extent of her badassery simply by meeting her. As we continued to talk, I knew that I was in the company of a BEAST (12 Ironman finishes and multiple Boston marathons)! I had somehow, randomly (or not so random at all) picked the right marathon buddy who would help me accomplish something I had never before done. Meeting Jill was truly my saving grace…
I was feeling pretty good, staying relatively warm, and keeping a pretty steady pace until the rain started at about mile 5. My hands instantly froze and it was nearly impossible to bend my fingers but we kept moving and running. At about mile 6 or so, I stopped to use the port-o-potty which seemed like an impossible feat given my frozen fingers and it felt like I was losing too much time in the endeavor. As soon as we started running again I finally met “the gorilla” I had heard so much discussion about. I hadn’t had any issues with my gracilis muscle through training but I knew from what others described, that was precisely what was hurting me. Jill asked if I need to slow and I said “not at all, I’ll be fine.” I had learned to run through pain in the last 16 weeks and pain wasn’t going to be what stopped me today. Jill told me that she was running to my pace so if I needed to slow down at any point that I should let her know. I told her that she wasn’t allowed to let me get away with wanting to slow down or stop. She agreed to my terms and we kept running and kept talking. I thought back to my 16 mile training run with my friend, Cat, and how we talked for the whole beginning and how I had paid for it at the end of that run and I knew today was going to be the same but I was enjoying the company and the conversation way too much.
Miles 7-14 were pretty uneventful other than stopping for a moment for Jill to grab water and swallow down a gu and for me to fight to get ibuprofen out of a baggie with frozen fingers (I considered swallowing the baggie too when I couldn’t get them out). I believe there was also another potty break in here somewhere during which I was again painfully aware of losing precious minutes. The continuous rain and cold wind was playing tricks on me and making me believe that I HAD to pee when I really didn’t have to at all… Mile 12.5 also saw with it the turn off of all the half marathoners and where the rest of our race really began.
We kept trucking along and continued to talk about race experiences and our running/triathlete friends. At mile 17, we both rejoiced in finally having the remainder of the day measured in single digits. We were still holding a pretty decent pace but I knew that my goal of 4:15:00 was all but lost thanks to the multiple potty breaks and the brutal weather we were being forced to endure. Mile 17 also brought with it one of my favorite encounters along the course… I have yet to decide if the guy was schizophrenic or had dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) but what I can tell you was that his conversations back and forth about himself and yelling at himself about how he was going to finish the race and had what it took to finish the race (in different voices and with LOTS of F bombs, I may add) were simply amazing. Like I said to Jill, they say you have to be crazy to run a marathon and here was clear proof of that!
I was starting to mentally struggle around mile 18 and I kept reminding myself that despite what I was thinking, my body was more than capable of finishing the race and finishing it strong. I kept reminding myself that the doubt was all in my head and I just needed to keep moving my feet. Jill was still talking to me and telling me stories but I was significantly less responsive at this point. I told her that I was probably not going to talk much from that point forward to which she said that she was planning to keep talking, for which I was very thankful. Mile 18.5 brought my high school friend, Lauren, with it and as soon as she screamed my name, something brightened inside me and I got another wind that made me realize that I was definitely going to finish the race. I smiled at her, waved for her picture, shouted that I loved her, took one last look at her friendly face, and kept moving.
Miles 19-22 are mostly a blur. Jill kept talking which kept me distracted off of hitting any kind of wall, my calves were cramping to holy hell, the physical pain was overwhelming, and there was another unnecessary potty break but we kept moving. I believe in here is when I told her that “I loved that she was all roses and sunshine while I was all death and destruction.” We both got a good laugh out of that one and thankfully she kept bringing the sunshine because Miami clearly wasn’t planning to offer any today. I felt like I was starting to fade and I crammed Gu chews in my mouth as well as some Jelly Belly sport beans. I made sure to grab water often from the awesome volunteers but made sure there was no stopping unless it was for the bathroom. There would be no walking today. Jill did try to tell me that if we kicked it into high gear for the last 5k then I still had a chance to make my goal but at that point, I was just hanging on for dear life by a tiny thread that was dangling over a pit of brimstone and fire. I sloughed off the 5k kick idea and told her that maybe we could kick it with 2 miles left. This segment also brought “Joe” with it… Joe was a hand cyclist doing the marathon and while I was really happy for Joe and what he was trying to accomplish, I really wanted to kill Joe. Joe had a regular cyclist with him and his cyclist was warning people that Joe was there except that Joe was so busy zig zagging that we honestly couldn’t tell where Joe was going to be from one second to the next. This was so stressful and I was burning entirely too much energy on worrying about being run over. At one point, Jill yelled to me to jump up onto the grass because Joe was aiming right for us. We both jumped on to the curb in the nick of time to avoid getting run down by Joe. Thankfully there was a hill ahead and we were finally able to shake free from Joe for the last time.
Miles 23-25 were on the beginning portion of the Rickenbacker Causeway towards Key Biscayne with a turnaround under the bridge. There were more inclines on this bridge and while I was super thankful for all of my hill training it seemed like even the slightest road incline might as well have been as steep as a damn mountain. All I wanted was to be done, to not be wet anymore, to be warm, to stop hurting, to FUCKING STOP RUNNING. Jill had other ideas for me at mile 24 when she started speeding up and told me to keep chasing her and not give up. I just wanted it all to stop. I wanted to lie down and die. Instead, I kept running… I kept chasing the proverbial rabbit. Our pace picked up and somewhere between mile 25-26 I heard my other high school friend, Gus, yell out my name. I looked over and saw his face, but couldn’t muster even a smile because I was so focused on keeping up with Jill and on how bad I felt.
I FINALLY saw the 26th mile marker and I knew it was so close to being over. She yelled back that the finish line was right around the next corner but I was entirely too tired to be elated. I was so excited to turn that corner right up until I turned it and saw the last thing on earth I could ever want to see at that point, ANOTHER FUCKING DRAWBRIDGE WITH MORE WET DRAWBRIDGE GRATES. Why?!?!?! Why did the race coordinators hate me? I yelled to Jill that I couldn’t go anymore and she assured me that I could and that it was almost over. I dug deep and pushed with every last ounce I had. As I came through the last leg towards the finish line I heard the best word I have ever heard in my life “MOMMY!” I turned and saw my kids and my parents. I wanted to run to them and collapse on them but I was sooooo close and I couldn’t slow down. I threw my arms up and finished like a champ. I was finally done.
I crossed that line, hugged Jill, and then instantly wanted to collapse on to the ground but she held me up. She held me up just as she had done for so much of the race. We walked through the finisher area, got our medals, got water and Gatorade which I couldn’t drink, got food which I could eat none of, and took pictures. The minute I came across the finish line I felt every pain that I had forced out of my mind and felt 9000x colder. My legs could barely hold me up and my body was shaking uncontrollably but I had finished and I had followed the 2 rules… I looked good (kinda) and I didn’t die (though I really really wanted to).
I am truly humbled by the love and support that I got from my family and friends on marathon day and every other day of my life. I cannot thank my parents, kids, Steve, Lauren, and Gus enough for braving the cold and rain to be out there supporting me and cheering me on. I could not have done this without their love and cheers pushing me forward. Both my father and teenage son took turns being my human canes to get me from point A to point B while I essentially dragged my leg around everywhere we went after the race. Steve took off my wet shoes and socks for me and replaced them with dry shoes (and, c’mon, who wants to be that close to my feet!). When I mentioned this to him, he simply replied “I’ve been there before and I know how you felt after you finished the race. It was the least I could do.” My celebration was their celebration and my pain was their pain.
I was truly overwhelmed when I opened my phone and saw my Facebook and texts INUNDATED with well wishes from SO SO MANY people. I literally laid in a bath of hot water and Epsom salt for an hour after getting home reading it all and crying joyful tears. It is hard to convey the gratitude and happiness I felt towards every single person that has been a part of this journey, no matter how small. So many people reached out after my break up just simply to ask if I was ok, if I needed anything, to just tell me they cared about me… My core training partners, Caroline and Zac, kept pushing me and kept making me laugh even when I really didn’t want to anymore. My running community rallied around me in ways that I have never before witnessed. I am thankful and so humbled by it all.
I went to Miami to run my first marathon in my hometown and that is precisely what I did. Official finish time: 4:23:47 @ 10:04/mile pace. I didn’t do it as fast as I intended to but I overcame plenty of adversity to get to that start line and it was only right that I should overcome plenty more to cross the finish line.
It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts and sit down to write this post; I am a little over a month removed from the marathon. Unfortunately, I am still healing from whatever I did to my leg during the marathon so I have been unable to run since then. It’s funny that with as much as I whined about running during my training, all I want to do now is go out for a run. I know that my desire to run comes mainly from the fact that I just can’t right now and I don’t do well with being injured. Life has taken a lot of twists and turns since marathon day and training has really been my outlet for dealing with life the last few years so it is hard to be without it. Fortunately, I CAN still ride but the short winter days often make riding a hard feat to accomplish during the week.
My marathon journey changed me as a person in so many ways that it is really hard to pinpoint all the lessons that I learned. And, even thinking about it now, I am not sure if it changed me as much as it reinforced things that I already knew about myself or brought other things to the surface of my life that I had forgotten about. I am completely grateful for the experience, all of it. I am grateful for the easy days, the hard days, and everything in between.
I walked up to that start line alone and finished it next to a new friend who will forever be etched in my memories. I had every intention to run the race alone that day and had somewhat mentally prepared myself for the feat that it would be to get through the day by myself with only my thoughts to keep me company. I will be forever grateful that God put Jill in my path and pushed me to say hello. I honestly believe that, given the crazy weather conditions, there is no way that I would’ve done as good as I did without her constant motivation, distraction, and support. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve finished because I don’t quit, but it wouldn’t have been quite as close to my goal as I got.
I walked up to the start line with a lot of emotional baggage and I finished an infinitely lighter person. I took Tammy’s advice and I left everything on the course that day. I didn’t realize this right away, though, this lesson took some time afterwards to realize but I can definitely look back today and see how I changed on January 29, 2017. I am a strong woman with an incredible drive to push through adversity like a bull in a china shop but during the four weeks leading up to race day, I gave my power to someone else and I accepted much less than what I deserved to receive.
Race day taught me that sometimes you have to let go of things to achieve bigger, better things. Sometimes you have to change your focus in order to move in the direction you want to move in. The simplest way to describe this lesson is: If I had given into the pain that I felt at mile 6, I would’ve given up and not crossed that finish line. Instead, I refocused my mind on to other things and I kept moving despite AND in spite of the physical pain to accomplish my goal. The pain did not disappear, I simply allowed myself to move PAST it. To many people, this may seem like a really stupid thing to do but, to me, it means that sometimes we have to let go of the pain in order to get to where we want to go. Our bodies will do what our minds tell them to, it is often our mind that fails us well before our bodies do.
I registered for the 15th Miami Marathon to achieve something that I had only once dreamed of, to know that I could run 26.2 miles, to become a marathoner. I became a marathoner that day but I also became a better person.
“Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging and present obstacles, however if you believe in your dreams and never ever give up, things will turn out for the best.” ~Meb Keflezighi
While I needed to allow myself to feel my emotional pain during those last few weeks leading up to race day, I also needed to decide that I was done feeling the pain. I needed to stop holding on to the pain and the feeling of loss for what I believed could’ve been. I needed to refocus myself on to what is and everything that my life was at that very moment in time. I needed to move out of the bad and into the good. I needed to let go. I needed to ALLOW myself to move PAST it. I needed to greet the pain one more time, say hello, and then say goodbye. And, I did that just as soon as I realized that I had left it all out on those dreary, rainy, cold Miami roads.
A few years ago I learned an important lesson about forgiveness which I had since let fade to the back of my mind. Forgiveness isn’t always about excusing what was done to us; sometimes it is about forgiving ourselves for allowing ourselves to be in whatever situation we have found ourselves in. For the second time in my life, I had almost let someone steal my thunder. I am a firm believer that something cannot be taken from us unless we, ourselves, allow it to be taken. In this situation, he could not steal my thunder unless I was willing to let him have it. I almost gave it away, almost… In the end, I had my come to Jesus with myself on race day morning and several more along my 26.2 mile run. I had to forgive myself for allowing myself to remain stuck in the emotional pain so that I could move out of the pain, so that I could enjoy the moment that I was living in on that glorious day. I could not have both the emotional pain of the loss and the joy of my accomplishment, I had to choose. I chose to bask in the glory of crossing that finish line. I chose me. I chose happiness.