October 9th, 2011 was a day I'll never forget. It was a day that I thought (and sometimes hoped) would never come. It was a day that gave me nightmares, but at the same time I was beside myself with excitement. It was the day I finished the Chicago Marathon.
Back in January, my friend Stacy asked me if I'd like to train for a marathon with her. I thought she was crazy, but I said yes anyways because well, I'm crazy. Stacy and I were runners in the way that we'd run a few miles here and there, maybe even a 5K when we wanted to mix it up a little. But this was a marathon. . . 26.2 miles. That's a long way. Stacy did a little research and we decided on the Chicago Marathon. It was still ten months away, which was plenty of time for us to train and get ready (and maybe chicken out). It is a flat course and a great marathon for first-timers. I also thought that this would be a great way to wrap up my 20's, since my 30th birthday would be October 12th.
We began training right away and since Stacy was a morning runner and I'm an evening runner, we trained separately. The first few months of training went fine, but then summer came and with summer came the humidity and high mileage. Horrible combination. There were evenings when I felt as if I was running through maple syrup, the air was so thick. The weather began to take a toll not only physically, but mentally. I started to think, "If I'm struggling through fifteen miles in humidity, how am I going to run 26.2?" I started to doubt everything I was doing. I had to get together a new strategy. A good friend of mine who has finished many marathons and Iron Man competitions told me that running is just as much mental as it is physical. With that in mind, I started coming up with little "games" to play in my head while running. I would count red cars, stop signs, churches, anything to keep my mind off the task at hand. I also added some new songs to my ipod and let me just say "Never Say Never" by Justin Bieber is not only a great song, but it is inspirational. So what if I'm 30 years old and women my age shouldn't be allowed to listen to JB, it's true and it's awesome.
The day finally came for us to make the journey to Chicago. Ryan and I drove and met Stacy and her husband, Chris up there. I was glad to see that Stacy was just as much of a nervous disaster as I was. I was so nervous that I was making myself sick, so much so that I thought I was pregnant. I wasn't, but I secretly hoped I was. . .that was my ticket OUT of the marathon! Sunday morning, October 9th, Stacy and I walked several blocks from our hotel to the starting line. Since the crowd was so huge, it took us about 30 minutes to even cross the official start. The first several miles went great, but then my heel started to hurt (plantar fasciitis that had plagued me for months, SO painful!!) I told Stacy to go ahead without me. She had worked way too hard over the last ten months to slow down now. The next 15 miles were okay, but I was dying to see Ryan. I kept thinking, "If I could just hug him right now, that would lift my spirits so much!" And then I saw him, like a big 'ol hairy angel, waiting for me at Mile 20. As soon as I reached him, I hugged him and sobbed. I wasn't sad or anything, in fact, quite the opposite. I was thrilled that I had actually made it alive to Mile 20. I wrapped it up with Ryan and told him to meet me at the finish line. Around Mile 24, the reality of the race was setting in. I was going to finish. I started to think about all the people that helped me get to where I was at that moment. Ryan, who made me get my shoes on and go for my runs and didn't complain when I bought my third pair of running shoes since I wore out my first two pairs during training. He also would drive to wherever I was on my route and bring me a Gatorade, so I wouldn't pass out from dehydration. My four daughters, who made me feel like Super Woman every time I returned from a run and would rub my back when my long runs were over. Stacy, who roped me into this madness in the first place and forced me to get out of my three-mile-comfort-zone and try something extraordinary. My parents who kept telling me how proud they were of me for even attempting a marathon. My sisters, brothers, and the rest of my family who were always so supportive and so encouraging from the very beginning. My marathon-running friends who gave me so much helpful advice on everything from treating injuries and stretching to teaching me how to push through when my body wanted to quit. The last mile, I think I cried the whole way. I had been carrying a picture of Ryan, the girls and me in my hands the entire race. When I needed a little "lift" I'd unfold the picture and give it a little sugar. The last quarter mile, I held the picture up to my lips, sobbing like an idiot. I kept saying to myself, "Momma did it, girls!" I'm sure the people running with me thought, "Who is this lady talking to?!" I saw Ryan right before I crossed the finish line and I yelled at him between ridiculous sobs, "I DID IT!!!" and I crossed the finish line with my arms in the air like Rocky Balboa. For the next few minutes, I walked up to random people saying, "I finished!" To my surprise and complete amusement, they would reply, "Me too!" and give me a big hug. I'm usually not one that hugs strangers, but I dug it, big time.
When it was all over, I kept thinking about one of my favorite Bible verse, 2 Timothy 4:7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Now, I know Paul the Apostle was probably not talking about finishing a marathon when he wrote that verse, but I think it puts into words the indescribable feeling I had when I finished. Training and finishing the marathon was a fight from beginning to end. Because of God giving me the physical ability to run and my family and friends supporting me, I had the faith to stick with it and finish.