Monday, October 5, 2009
26 miles, 26 miracles
Saturday was marathon day. It was the perfect day for a run. As the thousands of runners marched their favorite running shoes and dreams of finishing into the steady stream of pre-dawn school buses headed precisely 26.2 miles away, I could feel myself getting excited and calm all at once. All the preparation was finally over. It was time to see if it was enough.
Fortunately (make that miraculously) for me, Matt's cousin's husband (got that?) Shane, an accomplished marathoner and athlete agreed to run with me. We were never able to connect for a run prior to the race, but he greeted me with a wealth of positivity and good advice. He was optimistic and hopeful we could meet my new-found goal of finishing in 3:40, the time required to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
Just as a huge harvest moon settled behind the mountains and dawn began to debut, the race began. It was crowded and fast and wonderful. Shane and I shook our heads as we watched, ran past, and sped up to avoid a few characters in the crowd. The woman who kept dropping her camera and running back to get it--who runs a marathon with a camera? The breather who made us tired just listening to his forced air exchange. And many others that made people watching the main focus as the miles clipped by. There were hills. There were pace checks. But mostly we just ran.
When we hit the half way point about four minutes ahead of schedule I started to believe we were going to hit the mark. At mile 16 I started to choke up. Boston? Really? Yes, really. When the miles got harder and my muscles more fatigued, I recalled a list of 26 miracles I made prior to leaving for the race. "If I ever need a little extra inspiration, I'll remember the many miracles that have brought me and my little family to this point," I thought as I typed out the list last week. I titled the list 26 miles, 26 miracles. And I was glad I had that list to think about. I ran a mile for Dr. Hawkins. I ran miles for Dr. Lei and Dr. Pinto. I ran a mile for good neighbors. Another for best friends. I ran a mile for Matt and another after that because he's earned it. I ran a mile for Luna, Gracie, Avery, Daxton, Teagan, Jack and their moms. I ran miles for Ty and Preston and their brave, loving, amazing hearts. I ran a mile for the never-ending support of family. I ran a mile for Paul. I ran still more miles for many other non-coincidences, new relationships and old friends. And of course, a mile for McKay who makes everything complicated and simple all at once. My life is full.
Still somewhere between mile 24 and 25 my muscles started to give and doubt began to creep in. I walked for the first time. I cursed--just once. The voice of celebration in my head gave way to negotiation. Maybe next time, I thought. Under four hours is still okay. Your legs are jello. Just walk. That's when Shane looked at me and said, "You've got this, but you have to run." So we ran. I remember seeing the finish line and Shane grabbing my elbow and saying, "Sprint."
We finished. Stopped our watches and stared: 3:40. Matt greeted me and then ran to the official results tent and returned with a little white slip of paper. He looked worried. "What is the very last time you can have for Boston," he asked. "It's 3:40:59," I said. He smiled and handed me the paper: 3:40:22. We did it.
I screamed so loud I scared my four year old to tears. "WE'RE GOING TO BOSTON!!!!" It was an unbelievable feeling.
As I sit tonight, feet soaking, here's what I know: When you finish a marathon everyone wants to know your time; the official measure of your success. And, yes, that's important. But the real accomplishment of finishing a marathon is not in the 26.2 miles of aid stations, other runners, cheering crowds and balloon-filled finish lines of race day.
Marathons become milestones in your life because of the many, many, many mornings nothing but your will power pulls you out of a warm bed and into streets still dark and groggy with night.
Marathons are earned through a series of lonely runs, stashed Gatorade, and endless inner dialogue. It's just you and the seconds, minutes, hours ticking by on your watch. It's beautiful sunrises only you see. It's sleepless nights full of babies who don't understand the miles that must be logged. It's discovering how bad you want the goal, but not fully understanding why. It's the endless support of a spouse who knows you need this; you need to sweat and think and beat it out so you can come home and be better.
It's the miracle of an unexpected coach, mentor, friend who at the last minute agrees to run with you. Who in the last miles of the race tells you how close the finish line is, how you must keep running, how you are just too close to quit now. And the mornings, the miles, the hours spent preparing mean nothing in the end without that voice next to you telling you, "You can do this. Just keep running. You have to run. If you want it, you have to sprint." And so you do. And with just 37 seconds to spare, you make it.
We all run marathons. Some physical. Some emotional. Most of us finish without anyone noticing. And we rarely take time to heal, to rest, to refuel before the next race begins. My race was physical, but I think it was my most successful because it has been a year of watching others finish strong. Watching others help each other through the hard parts.
Please keep running all your many, varied races my friends. You inspire. You motivate. You make me want to do and be better. Keep. Moving. Forward. See you in Boston.