When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon commemorating my 40th birthday I burst into tears. My then husband and a couple of friends greeted me at the finish line, hugged me and high-fived me.
“That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” I cried. My husband’s eyes teared up at the sight of me, cramped legs, spent body.
“You never have to do that again,” my friend, Andrea, said to me.
I’ve run thirteen marathons since, the last in New York, 2011. I never planned on running them, thought I’d be in the “one and done” club but the culture became part of me. Two years after that first marathon I went through a divorce. I had run a second by then and was training for a third. I met other runners in my neighborhood and started meeting them in the morning before work. I ran through the pain and loss of my marriage, through feelings of failure, disappointment, self-doubt. I ran and ran, racking up miles week after week, logging every hill repeat, speed work out, LSD (long slow distance). I traveled south to DC and Miami, flew west to Chicago and Colorado, drove to Boston, Philly, NY, Hartford. I took it seriously, beat myself up over slow runs; my friends and I could replay a marathon mile by mile the way a gambler can recount the amount of their winnings from each pull on their favorite slot machine. I wasn’t fast but I was a runner.
I ran steadily for ten years, always training for a marathon. I ran on vacation, Las Vegas, Ogunquit, San Francisco, and wrapped vacations around marathons. I ran with my group, we supported each other through divorce, illness, death of loved ones.
Slowly over the last two years I’ve replaced running days with biking and hiking days. I still run but not with the same intensity. I’ve gained some weight, have lost some speed but still get out there a couple of days a week and log miles. My ego wasn’t happy with the changes at first but, over time, it’s realized I haven’t been willing to put in the time and effort it takes to run a marathon the way I wanted to run it, and it’s okay with that.
All this to say I agreed to run the NJ marathon in April with two friends who used to live in CT – John, who lives in NJ and Mindy, who lives in FL. I don’t see either as often as I would like and didn’t want to miss a chance to catch up with them over a 26.2 mile stretch that will take us over four hours to finish. It took convincing, there’s a half marathon too and I can decide to switch at the last-minute, but I’m going to start increasing my running days and miles and see if I can’t pull off marathon #15. It won’t be my best, could even be my worst, but I no longer beat myself up. Instead, I thank the universe that I can train for a marathon on legs that have logged thousands of miles; I thank the universe that I finally understand the person who finishes the race, no matter how slowly, is the same person who started the race, and nothing less.