26.2 miles didn’t seem all that long. If you’re in a car, it’s just a few exits down the interstate. But in road-weary Brooks, it’s, well, 26.2 miles. One step after another. Right, left, right, left.
Running a marathon had always been on my “Before 40” to-do list. The year I turned 40, I realized it still hadn’t been checked off. So, I lugged my 50-pounds-overweight body into The Runners Forum and got fitted for a shiny, new pair of over-pronators.
“I’m training for a marathon,” I said. I could see the shock and disbelief in my salesboy’s eyes. But he quickly resumed his professional demeanor, flexed his tight calves, and matched me with the perfect pair of shoes.
That was the easy part.
I trained faithfully for months. Day after day, I woke in the black, early-morning hours and queued my playlist. Dave Matthews, Guster, and Michael Jackson set the pace. I dedicated my weekends to long runs, to having my devoted husband meet me every five to seven miles with water, Gu and sweaty hugs. Neighbors honked and cheered as they whizzed past me in their speedy sports cars and SUVs. I slogged through steamy, hot days until autumn leaves crunched under my calloused feet.
There was so much time to think while I ran. I contemplated our impending move, tears mixing with sweat. I thought about my growing kids, their journeys, about faithful new friends and those who had chosen to take a different path. After a great many miles—usually seven or eight—a sweet contentedness filled my busy mind and allowed me an escape into the moment. This moment, then the next, then the one after that—the one with the dairy farm and my favorite weeping willow.
After the longest runs, I soaked deep, painful blisters in my friend Jenny’s salt water pool. I pulled dead toenails off one by one, shocked and sickened by how easily the black rot slipped from my feet, fascinated by the nakedness of my toes. I chose my diet carefully—focusing exclusively on a carb-free, sugar-free regimen—cut back on my red wine consumption and upped my water intake.
On one memorable long run, I got sick. I was dehydrated and threw up in the darkness by the side of the road, wandering around aimlessly until Chris came to get me.
I kept running. I was not fast, but I was determined.
My heart strengthened, my quads tightened, my resolve deepened. I lost pounds—60 to be exact—and gained strength. On race day, my family was there, cheering me on. My sweet kids held signs, my husband brought Gatorade. A friend recorded the miles with his camera. My private fan club ran the last 0.2 miles with me, clapping, encouraging. It was a monumental event, an unprecedented achievement.
I’m amazed by what our minds and bodies can do when we set a strong intention. I might have been one of the last participants to cross the finish line, but I crossed it and joined the 0.5% of the population who have logged 26.2 on an official race day.
This body, the one that grew and gave life to four human beings has time and time again proven its worth. This mind, the one often filled with doubts but able to overcome any adversity has proven its tenacity. These are the lessons I continue to impart to my children, the ones who will carry the torch of the next generation. Keep running, keep running. The glory, always, is in the journey, but it’s still pretty fun to reach the destination.
And on very special 26.2-mile days, you might even find cookies and muffins at the end.