Sometimes You Do Bold Things and End Up on Your Butt 01 May
I was a newlywed when I decided I wanted to run a marathon. Despite being an exercise instructor since the days of vinyl and leg warmers and an athlete, long distance running had never been part of my repertoire.
I’d spent most of my life cheering for my kid brother during his high school and college races. I had run a little, but middle-distance was as far as my journey took me. Running long and hard was in my brother’s blood, taking after our dad, a college national champion in track and field.
I witnessed my brother training countless hours post-college for the marathon. He was a natural. So much so he was working toward a shot at the Olympic trials. The grit factor at this level was something to behold. He ate 4-hour training runs for breakfast.
My husband and I were not married for longer than five days when we started our first marathon so-to-speak; only ours came in the shape of a wedding followed by a honeymoon and a cross-country move all in the very same week. I was leaving the place I called home, and we were about to attempt to make one together three thousand miles away.
I’m still not sure why I picked up the phone that afternoon. I called my brother to tell him I wanted to run a marathon. Perhaps I was homesick or needed to hear a familiar voice. With little hesitation, he offered to be my coach.
He didn’t sugarcoat it. It would take time, he told me. He warned I would need patience. Humility.
The training would be strategic, progressive, and require a one-day-at-a-time mindset. It wasn’t a sprint. It was a frickin’ marathon. I would have to work hard, but it would be worth it.
I. Was. All. In.
We picked the Marine Corps Marathon as my debut race.
A few days after that phone call a ”Running Journal ” arrived in my mailbox. On the inside cover, my brother scribbled a note of encouragement, and we agreed I would call (this was long before smartphones, Garmin, and Strava) every Sunday to get the training for the upcoming week and report how the previous week had gone.
I was off and running. Nervous yet excited for this new adventure, the system we used to build-up mileage was running for time rather than miles.
As the weeks passed, I learned about tempo runs, intervals, fartleks, striders, hill repeats. Before I knew it, I was up to two-and-a-half hour runs on the trails of the seashore state park. It was becoming enjoyable to put in the miles.
For twenty-weeks, I logged my minutes, kept track of my perceived exertion, and just kept moving closer to my goal.
By the time race day arrived, I was beyond prepared. I had done all the work to allow me to step to the line confidently. I had a plan. I could trust my training.
In spite of all of that… nervous energy filled me up from the crown of my head into the tips of my toes; butterflies never like before. Only, I did not doubt whether or not I was ready.
When the gun went off, things did not go as planned. The skies opened up, and a cold rain began to fall. With each mile, the torrential water soaked me from the inside-out.
Regardless of the less than ideal conditions and being very underdressed for cold and wet weather, I kept a skip in my step. All the nerves fell away as I settled into my pace. I chatted with other runners along the way: a Marine who was carrying a flag representing his fallen brother, a group of moms who had trained together, a friend of a friend. The camaraderie amongst the participants was palpable.
When I hit the halfway mark an overwhelming feeling of elation washed over me, tears streaming down my face. I was doing this thing! I wished my Dad had been alive to witness this.
Right on target to make my goal time, I was approaching mile 19. I looked and saw my best friend approaching over my shoulder. She was also running her first marathon, but we had agreed ahead of time not to start together and run our individual races. In a sea of twenty-two thousand runners, we found each other approaching the infamous marathon “Wall!”
My wheels were beginning to fall off. Hypothermia was setting in; only my impaired mental state didn’t allow me to recognize it. Her tactic was to get chatty and tell stories. Mine was to retreat stoically inside my head.
I had worked so hard. I had prepared. I was ready, but by mile 24 my shivering stopped. My words slurred. Brain fog in full effect. The idea of holding her back was adding to my stress, so I told her to, “GO!” I could tell my friend didn’t want to leave me, but I insisted I was okay.
I waddled on, and through my blurred vision, I thought I saw the Iwo Jima Memorial come into view; the infamous landmark symbolizing the finish line. Only, my legs began to buckle. With each step, the weight of each stride deposited more cement into each thigh.
The next thing I knew my extremities were collapsing underneath me, giving way. Out of nowhere, two runners were helping me to the side of the course. I fell to the curb. Sitting there hopelessly—soaked to my core.
I heard the sweet voices of strangers running by encouraging me:
“You are almost there; the finish is just around the corner!”
One failed attempt after another to rise to my feet, when “he” appeared. An EMT began assessing my situation. I could tell by his questions that he was trying to determine if I needed medical intervention. I wanted to fool him; only I couldn’t remember what day it was or even my middle name. There I was. Toast. Frozen, soggy toast.
I was placed in the ambulance, passing seas of runners crossing the finish line. I begged for the medical crew to let me out… Let me finish.
“No one drops out at mile 25.5,” I wailed.
But, I was stuck in the rear with the gear. I was trapped in the dreaded Meat Wagon with no way out.
The days that followed were excruciating both physically and emotionally. There was so much disappointment, playing over and over again how I had misstepped, where I had gone wrong. My bestie felt horrible for leaving me. Although, there was nothing she could’ve done to stop what would become my fate, my legs still housing the residue of concrete.
The phone call to my brother that night was the most difficult. I felt as if I had failed. Moreover, I had failed him.
Only, he kindly and patiently assured me, in between my sobs, that this was all part of endurance sports. You could never predict how things would go, the cards you would be dealt, and you had to take the next step. Pick the next race. Put in the time. Place one foot in front of the other and choose to toe the line once again.
Months later I did cross the finish line, this time in sunny San Diego, California, with family and friends cheering me on for 26.2 miles. I continued to keep showing up, but each time after that with a newfound understanding, you never know what the day would bring. What never waivered was my willingness to put in the time, to do the work.
When reflecting on my experience of the Mom 2.0 Blog Conference, I recently attended, I feel a little bit like I did about that first marathon.
There was contemplation and then the moment I decided to take a leap and register. Next came all the preparation to get to the start, juggling kids, schedules, flights, accommodations, wardrobe. Once I arrived, the butterflies took over, yet I met amazing people along the way in addition to sharing the entire experience with an already close friend. I shed tears both from exhaustion and elation. And even though I had a plan, I had to adapt moment after moment. I left knowing more about what I didn’t want to do than what I did want to do. My experience suggests the lessons will come much later.
The thing about doing bold things and exiting your comfort zone is you don’t know how it’ll turn out. EVEN IF you have a plan, do the work, there will be elements out of your control. And maybe you will not know the takeaway for weeks, months, or years.
I know after years of reflecting on my first marathon, even though I ended up with my butt on the pavement a half-mile shy of the finish, I am still proud I dared to show up. And it turns out this finish line wasn’t an ending after all. There would be more races, more significant, life-changing moves. Some of those endeavors would have Hollywood-like endings, and some wouldn’t go as planned.
Whether that’s the let down after the anticipation of attending a much-anticipated event, the ending of a friendship, a missed job opportunity, or a hand of cards you didn’t expect. The truth is, sometimes you will need help from the folks in the meat wagon, and other times you will be able to remain on your feet. But, if you never do the thing, you will never know.
Perhaps you can shuffle down the path taking only baby steps or half steps, and other days the cement is just too much load to carry—so you allow others to assist you to the curb.
Once the downpour subsides, and you get to reflect and soak in some vitamin D…you get to decide if you are going to get back up and start again.
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