This marathon was more than six weeks ago and while I’ve surely forgotten many of the details of the run, it feels important to get a few thoughts down about it. For starters, this was my second marathon. Jared and I signed up last fall, shortly after we had found the perfect venue for our wedding: a stunning vacation home on the beach in Carlsbad, CA. While I had visions of an April wedding, the home was already booked solid from March until October, so we committed to February 14th. Soon after picking the date, I found my heart set on running the Carlsbad marathon on January 24th, three weeks prior to our wedding-to-be. It was too romantic to pass up: our last marathon before our wedding, roughly 5 years after the first time we met, and running through the very town where we would be married… I didn’t have to do much convincing, Jared was in. It would be “our race.”
We started training on September 21st, using the NYC Marathon training schedules as a guide: nycmarathon.org/training/training_schedule.htm . We ran the AIDS 10K, the Komen 5K, and the Silver Strand half-marathon. We ran 18 miles after Thanksgiving, another 18 on Christmas Eve, and a 20-miler to kick-off 2010. I should note that all of the training, races and long runs are a gigantic blur in retrospect because, as you’ll remember, we were planning a wedding in six months, while working full-time jobs. Life was full-time crazy.
My parents showed up from Cincinnati on January 16th and when an injured friend decided to back out of the race, my superman-dad made the last minute decision that Carlsbad would be his first marathon. It was a matter of days before the race. Before dawn on Sunday morning, my dad, Jared and I headed to Carlsbad and we were pounding pavement a good 45 minutes before sunrise. My dad rocketed ahead us and Jared paced us at a faster-than-normal-9:15 minute/mile as I trailed behind. For a minute, I thought about slowing down, but the competitive, feminist in me wanted to keep up with my guys.
A little more than an hour in, I found myself desperately looking for port-a-potties. My dad was long gone and I was still drafting behind Jared. I worried that if I stopped, I’d never catch up to him and this was “our race” afterall, so I asked him to wait as I ran into a port-a-potty at a water stop. Being the wonderful man that he is, he waited for me and then off we went, venturing into the double-digits. Miles 13, 14, and 15 flew by. By 16.3 miles, I was in a great rhythm and thrilled to know there were single digit distances left, but Jared was fading fast. His face had fallen, he started taking short walk breaks and he refused to make conversation. I asked him questions: “What are you going to say in your vows?” “What should we do in Maui?” “Where should we go eat later today?” I desperately tried to redirect his negativity, to provide distraction and motivation, but he was resistant and despite reservations, I decided to keep running. I blew him kisses and pressed on. Alone.
At mile 18, I spotted my dad ahead, walking. We exchanged a few words:
“Hi dad! How’s it going?”
“I’m feeling it.”
“Run with me?”
“I gotta walk.”
“Okay. Love you!”
And off I went. Alone.
I wasn’t really alone. I was surrounded by hundreds of runners. With my husband-to-be and my first-time-marathoning-dad fighting their own fights somewhere behind me, I marveled at the madness of the marathon. Here we were, with hundreds of strangers, running for several hours on a Sunday morning for what exactly? Health? Fitness? Weight Loss? A shiny medal? Bragging rights? A runner’s high? My “runner’s high” was long gone, my legs felt like cement and my long list of reasons to run had dwindled down to just one simple thing: I am a runner.
Seven years ago, on March 1st, 2003, I took on a different identity: a rape victim. I dropped out of school, pursued counseling, pressed charges, and fought and fought and fought just to get through each day… for what exactly? I wasn’t sure. I was living in an unending nightmare. I wish it was as easy and fairytale-ish as: “And then I found running.” But that’s not how the story goes, exactly. I did find solace in exercise. My first love was the elliptical at the YMCA. At first it was a distraction. I was still a rape victim, but for 30 minutes to an hour, I was sweaty. I was a gym rat. I was free. And then it was empowering. I was strong. I was powerful. I was taking control of my body. Somewhere along the way, I climbed onto a treadmill, ran a couple miles and thought: “Gee, I could be a runner.”
I started running because it’s as challenging as it is painful. It tears you down, beats you up and leaves you stripped of everything, so all that’s left is you, doing what you can to survive the journey. No one can get you to that finish line but yourself. You push, you push harder, you breathe, you sweat, you fight… you save yourself or you remain unsaved. And so I ran and ran, evolving myself into a faithful runner. I devoured issues of Runner’s World, collected race shirts and medals, talked running with anyone who would listen and pounded my way through a half dozen pair of Asics until one day, I found myself believing: “I am a runner.” And eventually, the runner-self overpowered the victim-self, transcending all of the common benefits of health and fitness, finisher’s medals and self-improvement. Running gave me back myself. And in turn, I keep giving myself to running.
By mile 20 of the Carlsbad Marathon, roughly 3 years into my running life, running was no longer a question, it was survival. I had moved beyond rape victim, and beyond rape survivor. When I hit mile 21, I found the last GU station had run out of GU, so I ran the last 10K on empty, with nothing but heart. Miles 22, 23, 24, 25 flew by in a blur of unabashed pride. Stopping was not an option. I sprinted those last two-tenths of a mile, blurry-eyed with my heart in my throat and I crossed that finish line, alone. I could argue that I wasn’t really “alone,” that there are countless people who helped me get there–who believed in me and kept me going and so on. But there was something comforting about the solitude of that finish. What started out as “our run,” became a run for my life and what I’ve reclaimed by running.
Less than a minute behind me, my dad crossed the finish-line of his first marathon, after 30+ years of wanting to do one. And Jared, my best friend, my partner in life, my one true love, arrived just a few moments later for the hug of a lifetime–a wordless moment of understanding and shared joy. Three weeks later, I married that man, vowing to always wait for him at the finish-line.