Twelve days. Twelve days to the big event. I’ve been working toward this event for six months now. Or a year. Or a couple of years. Or a lifetime. It all depends on where you want to start counting, on what you want to mark as the starting point.
If you use the logic that all past events in your life make you who you are today, then March 23rd will be just another point to where the events of my life have led me. If you consider the starting point to an event as the moment where, if you had not taken a particular fork in the road, you would not be arriving at a given destination, then my path to the marathon started about two and a half years ago when I first decided to take up running.
But, if you want to consider the starting point as where you decided to do something specific, then my marathon quest began last October when I registered for the Modesto Marathon. I had joined the training group in 2012, (for the 2013 SAMM), although never with the intention of running the marathon, or even the half. I just wanted to get faster and stronger for the 5k. But somewhere between March and October of 2013, I got this crazy idea that I could run a marathon. I started out by running some 10k distances, then trained for and ran a half at the Peace Officers Memorial. Encouraged by my performance there, I made the decision to run the full marathon at the 2014 SAMM. Just to keep myself from backing out, I registered very early on.
Then, shortly after registering, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture to my right tibia for the second time in a year. First I cried, then I got angry, then I finally started to think about my options. I could still walk, and it was early in the training program. At the distances we were doing, I could continue to train at a walk. If I was careful and didn’t injure myself further, by sometime in January when the distances starting getting longer, I should be able to start running a little. I realized that as long as I could complete 26.2 miles in less than seven hours, I could still complete this marathon.
And so, I walked…and walked…and walked. And sometimes I cheated and jogged a little, but then I would get scared that I would set myself back by re-injuring my healing tibia, and I would walk again. And finally, January came. It had been two and a half months. I had developed a power walking gate that allowed me to cover distance quickly without the impact I got from actually running, and it allowed me to get my heart rate up higher than I could get it walking with a normal gate. But I had to be careful because it was so easy for that power walk to turn into a jog…and I so wanted to run.
By February I was running all my training miles again, and every time I finished I waited nervously to see if there was any lingering pain in my shin. The long runs scared me the most. What if I hurt myself again? The marathon was so close… My right shin seemed to be fine, but I nearly panicked when my left shin started to hurt. It took me a couple weeks to realize that what I was feeling there was shin splints, not a stress fracture. Ice packs on a regular basis, along with some massage, and the shin splints have become negligible.
Then, finally, it was time for our longest training run of the season, the longest training run ever for me; 22 miles. There were moments that I didn’t think I would ever finish. In the back of my mind was recurring thought; and the marathon is 4 more miles than this! I began to doubt that I could do it. My time was disappointingly slow…I had been averaging the same pace when I was power walking.
As I drove home I had to remind myself that this marathon was not about going fast, it was about persevering. It was about doing something hard, but doing it none-the-less. It was not about finishing first or finishing fast, it was about finishing something I set out to do, and not because it was easy but because it wasn’t. It was about crossing the finish line, even if I had crawl across it. It was about accepting no excuses. So, when I got home, I went straight out to the pool, sat on the edged wrapped in a towel to keep the cool air from penetrating my wet shirt, and stuck my legs in the cold water up to my knees. Why it had never occurred to me before now that I had a giant ice bath in my own back yard, I don’t know, but once the shock of the cold water subsided, I could almost feel the inflammation leaving my lower legs. It felt wonderful. The sun had come out after the drizzly, cloudy morning had passed and it was warm on my face. A calm peacefulness washed over me. Yes, it had been hard for me, and yes I ran much slower than I had hoped to, but I did it. And I would do it again, plus that extra 4.2 miles, in three weeks. No excuses.
The next day I expected to wake up with the usual stiffness I experience after a long run, but I felt fine. Well, the second day after a long run is always the worst for me, so I figured by the next morning everything would be hurting and stiff, but Monday morning came and I still felt fine. I had run the longest, hardest training run ever, and I felt fine! Nothing hurt! Not my muscles, not my shins, nothing. And then I thought, well of course nothing hurts. That was the point of training, wasn’t it? Not just to be able to do the distance, but to condition your body so that you can do it and not hurt. Imagine that…it worked.
So, now it’s taper time. Saturday was an easy 12 miles. Someone once posted on Facebook about how funny it was that we go from “OMG, I have to run 12 miles today!!!” to “Gee, I only have to run 12 miles today…” Eight months ago I had never run further than 6 miles in one run and that seemed hard. Now 12 miles seems like no big deal. I actually plan social activities in the afternoon or evening after a 12 mile run now, whereas six months ago my plan for the rest of the day after a 12 mile run was to sleep.
Taper time…a couple of months ago I was looking forward to this time where the demanding training schedule eased off a little, where the distances began to get shorter instead of continually getting longer. Now that it’s here I feel a little lost. Maybe I’ll have some time to prune all the dead growth from my garden, or spring clean the house. For sure, I need to find something to do beside obsess over the marathon. Whereas before I thought the training might kill me, now it’s the waiting; the mind games I play with myself; the self doubt trying to creep in.
Through all the ups and downs during the months of training, there have been a couple of things that have kept me going, kept me focused on my goal. One was the idea of running my first marathon with my ShadowChase friends, some of who will also be running their first marathon. One of the people I was looking forward to celebrating with at the finish line left us on January 2nd of this year. Sweet, sweet Wendell…I miss you man, and this marathon is for you. The times I wanted to quit or drop back to the half, I thought to myself, no…I’m going to run this for Wendell because we were going to run it together.
The other thing that has kept me going when I wanted to just say forget it was the mental image I have of finishing. I see myself coming toward the finish line, sometimes I’m flying, sometimes I can barely put one foot in front of the other, but always there is the feeling of triumph and accomplishment that comes from doing something hard, something you weren’t sure you could do. As I cross the finish line, I see myself accepting my finishers medal, bowing my head so that the volunteer can place it around my neck. And then finally, best of all, my husband Tom waiting for me, wrapping me in his arms, hugging me tight, holding me up. My biggest fan. My strongest supporter. I love you. I want that moment in my memory forever.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling that this goal to run a marathon is such an overwhelming thing, I think about the folks who make it look so easy, the ones who run multiple marathons a year, or the ultra runners who use a marathon as a training run for a much longer distance, and I feel like I must be making this into a bigger deal than it really is. But then I look at me. Just me. I think about where I was a few years ago, and where I am now. For me, this IS a big deal. I remind myself that everyone had to start somewhere. Even the ultra runners started life unable to walk. I’ll never be an elite runner. I’ll never be the fastest or run the farthest or hold any records. But, I’ll have challenged myself to do something beyond what I thought I might be capable of doing.