Maybe it was knowing this was my last marathon (I said that when I ran #12, this makes #15 but I mean it this time). Maybe it was knowing my only goal was to finish. Maybe it was knowing I had nothing to prove. Maybe doubting and fretting throughout my training used up all of my mental energy. Whatever the reason, I was calm and relaxed the days leading up to the marathon, a welcome break from the days and weeks prior.
Linda, Mindy and I left on Saturday morning for the shores of New Jersey, after a three-mile run to loosen our legs and clear our minds. We met John at the expo, picked up our t-shirts and bib numbers, shopped a bit, snapped a few pictures and headed to our hotel. We’ve each traveled and run together at different times, in different cities, but this was the first time since running the Flying PIg marathon in Cincinnati, in 2005, the four of us would all be together.
I still wasn’t sure I could go the distance but wasn’t hung up on the thought. When running the other marathons I’ve always been focused on the end result, the goal of running under four hours, the goal of setting a personal record, the goal of qualifying for Boston. And if I missed my goal? Tears, frustration, obsessive thoughts of what I did wrong. In truth, I’ve accomplished all of my goals at one point or another but all would be forgotten in the moment. If I’ve learned anything since running my first marathon, it’s that it’s one day out of my life and that one day does not define me. That lesson took years to learn but learn it I did. This time I was graced with the gift of keeping calm, knowing I would accept whatever outcome the day would bring.
I was the last one out of bed at 4:23 am on Sunday. Once one of us woke up and started moving around the room, someone else woke up until the four of us were out of bed. I thought of twins or young children sharing a bedroom, how they must wake each other up much to their parents’ dismay. We took turns in the bathroom, drank coffee in the lobby cafe, dressed, slathered up with vaseline to avoid chafing, counted out ibuprofen, gels, electrolyte pills, pinned on our bib numbers, filled bags with warm clothes for afterward, piled into John’s car and drove the six miles to the start. Throughout the pre-race prep I remained calm.
The race started with the sound of the horn. The four of us stayed together until about the 10K mark when Linda picked up her pace. John, Mindy and I ran side by side or slightly staggered until the halfway point. A couple of miles earlier when the half marathoners were instructed to turn left while the marathoners stay right I had a split second thought of making that left hand turn but was feeling fine and continued to the right.
My pace got slower after the halfway point until somewhere after mile 18 when I started to walk. “Walk? You don’t walk in a marathon at mile 18!” I would have shouted to myself in years past. Instead I thought of all the miles Bill and I have covered walking. If I alternated running with walking I knew I could, and would, finish. There would be no records set, except the record for slowest pace, there would be no qualifying for Boston but I didn’t care. I was calm and relaxed….and getting tired!
There were plenty of aid stations, volunteers and crowd support. I thanked them, high-fived a few kids and even looked around and enjoyed the view as I ran, views I would have missed had I been focused on a specific outcome.
I crossed the same New Jersey finish line I crossed in 2007, a full 54 minutes slower. There were no tears of frustration, no second guessing what I could have done differently, just an overwhelming feeling of gratitude that I had finished. Two days out my legs aren’t as sore as they normally would be and my lower back is fine. I certainly didn’t kill it and am absolutely, perfectly, 100% fine with that. I’ve run my last marathon and look forward to hitting those hiking trails, taking my bike out for a spin, running for the pleasure it brings me. And walking!
Between the four of us we live in three states now. I’ll savor the fun and laughs we had last weekend. Thanks Linda, Mindy and John. But, if you want to run another marathon you’re all on your own!