Boom! Whew! Yahoo! Sob! Holy shit!
I did it, y’all!
13.1 miles. All at once. All under my belt.
I started training in January for this past Sunday’s half marathon and, at the time, couldn’t even run one straight mile without needing to stop and walk.
My how the human body is an adaptable, incredible thing.
I know that’s a complete cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less awesome and inspiring.
The race was on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The runners above are from Team Red White & Blue that proudly ran with flags flying. The woman in the middle of the picture is a childhood friend of James’ and she ran with her fiancé and his friends from Westpoint. It was fun to have a familiar face on the course and they provided some company around mile 9 when I needed some serious distraction. And, most importantly, they provided much inspiration and patriotism and were a reminder of my own gratitude for the service and sacrifice of our military. An essential presence on Memorial Day weekend.
The weather was, well, shitty. Snow (yes, snow) was predicted. Given that I trained for this thing during a Vermont winter, I was actually relieved by the predicted May flurries. I am completely debilitated by heat and humidity. I would have been crushed by a typical 80 degree holiday weekend, and despite the soggy conditions, much preferred this cold, dank, dreary weather. 40 degrees with a wintry mix? That shit’s my jam.
The first three miles flew by. It helped to have all the excitement and people watching of our fellow runners, and James, Sunny, Courtland, Ursa and Laura’s husband Andrew cheered us on at mile 3. Hooray for soggy spectators (thanks, babe, for braving the elements, band of dependents in tow).
At mile 3.5, this furry fella raced across our path.
Hey yo, running in the Berkshires! It took my brain a moment or two to register what was happening.
Hey, look at that big old Newfoundland. What a huge, majestic, black beast. I wonder why that big dog is loose… gosh, he’s enormous…
Before I began moronically shrieking, “BEAR! Bear bear BEAR!” while continuing to run straight toward him.
He darted across the road, never even glancing our way. But man, did it make for a good story. Every few miles I’d chant, “BEAR! Bear bear BEAR!” because, well, BEAR! Bear bear BEAR!
Everyone had warned us about how crazy hilly this course was, but given that we’d been training in the area, hills were pretty par for the course. Running without a hill in the Berkshires? That’s like asking for a salt-free sail across the Atlantic. So that mile 8 hill that was consistently mentioned whenever I’d tell people which half I was doing? Ain’t no thang! Laura and I chugged on up, very much accustomed to the grueling death that those vertical slopes imply. I was feeling great.
And then I hit mile 9. Which is apparently my proverbially wall.
I wanted to die. This was no fun. Why the fuck was I running around soaking wet in 40 degree weather? I PAID TO DO THIS SHIT?! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?! I would rather sit in a bathtub of ice cubes ripping out hang nails than take one more step with that throbbing blister between my toes.
Laura kept spirits up. We jogged with Team RWB. We walked at water stations and stretched. I was still putting one foot in front of the other. This wasn’t nearly as bad as childbirth, I perpetually reminded myself. And honestly, that physical memory helped put some shit in perspective. At mile 10, Laura reminded me that every step I took past that was the farthest I’d ever run.
I could do this. Just don’t stop. Just don’t stop. Trot trot trot.
Then mile 11.5 climbed straight uphill and it took every ounce of willpower to not lie down in the middle of the road and wave my white shirt in defeat.
I fell in line directly behind Laura, stared the shit out of her ass, and, step over step, pulled myself uphill as Laura shouted words of encouragement. I must have looked like a possessed robot, never blinking, never talking, never stopping, as I forced those 10,000 pound boulders masquerading as my legs up that damn hill.
NOW I understand why everyone warned about the hills.
The mile 12 water station was at the crest of that sucker, and Laura asked if I wanted to pause and stretch as we’d done at every previous station.
No. I want this to be OVER!
One mile to go, and we slogged through it. And the relief and euphoria that I felt when I heard the music at the finish line and saw my family standing along the road gave me an irrational sense of strength and energy. I felt the weight of all those miles fall off my shoulders, as Sunny ran out into the course, grabbed my hand, and we laughed and smiled and stumbled our way through the finish line.
Ursa was one of our spectators, inspiring many a runner as they processed her missing leg and darted off the course for a pat before continuing on their way. It was particularly meaningful for me to have her stand watch. Motivation and perspective and encouragement. All wrapped up in my best friend. I am so grateful that she was present.
I have the camaraderie, encouragement, and accountability of my now dear friend, Laura, to thank for this accomplishment. This was her fourth half, and she gave me the nudge I needed to get into a decent training routine. While we went to college together, she graduating one year before me and James, we really didn’t know one another while in school, and yet now I count her among one of my most favorite people in the Universe.
We have spent many an hour together, at times when I wanted to quit and cry and generally roll around in the fetal position, and she was by my side the whole time, cheering me on, belting out the words to “Living on a Prayer,” and burping like a midwestern trucker drunk on soda pop. Now if that isn’t the platform for building a lasting friendship, I don’t know what is. We spent the past four months, six days a week, working toward this goal. And I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t feel unbelievably awesome to say we did it. We fucking did it.
*FIST IN AIR*
I was skeptical of this whole endurance running thing when I started, but I get it. I totally and completely get it now that I’m on the other side. Sure, my toes are black and blue and I have a blister the size of my eyeball on my left foot. Sure, my right knee imitates a bowl of popping corn when I walk up the stairs, and if stationary for too long, I extricate myself from a chair like a person three times my age.
But that high I’m feeling? That stupid smile I can’t seem to wipe from my face when people ask me about it? That sense of accomplishment and pride? That self-esteem boost that comes from setting a goal for yourself and seeing it through, and from knowing that my now 30-year old body that’s birthed and fed two children just accomplished something that my 20-year old self couldn’t even fathom? That excitement I feel when I talk about the experience? Yeah, THAT, that is why people hit the road for miles and hours at a time in 40 degree weather while it rains sideways. For the process. For the friendship. For the collective of all those other runners and their varied and comparable reasons why. For the aftermath. For that relief and joy that comes when you cross that line that reads “FINISH.” For the childlike euphoria of holding your own child’s hand as you race the final 100m. And people cheer and smile, and you know that lessons are being learned, and life is being lived, and you’re teaching your child and she is teaching you and it is all just … this. Yes.
We did it.