When I started this blog, I had these grand ideas of writing and posting something at least every other day. Then, it was going to be once a week. Well…it’s been over a month and I am now just getting my act together to make another post happen.
I’ve had a great deal of time to think about and reflect on the half marathon I completed in October. I’m still more than a little impressed with the fact that I managed to complete the whole thing. Let me tell you folks, completing this challenge was more a mental effort than a physical one.
Trust me, you don’t just get up one morning and decide “I’m going to run 13.1 miles today” and expect your legs (lungs, back, hips, and shoulders) to get you through that whole thing. There is a ridiculous amount of physical preparation that needs to happen. I was running, on average, 3-4 days per week and doing strength training on the off days. You learn (very quickly) what foods you can eat the day before (and day of) a long run…and which ones will revolt against you. There is a fair amount of discipline that comes into play in order to properly prepare yourself for physical demands of such a lengthy run.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I really enjoy my running time. It is the one time that I truly have to myself on any regular basis. Just me, my thoughts, the road, Pandora, and the lady on Map My Run updating me on my splits every mile. This time is a great opportunity for me to sort through the discord that has seemingly enveloped my life over the last year. Problem is, when I let myself get drawn in to the general suckitude that (a) others have created in my world or (b) is a result of a generally shitty situation, I find myself having a more and more difficult time getting through a run. There is a (very) fine line between using the hurt and anger you feel to fuel your run and allowing it to drag you down.
There was a period of time when running was not what I needed it to be. My family and I had been dealt a huge blow with the death of my niece, Fiona, in May. (Click here to read the post that tells the whole story…I just don’t have it in me tonight to retell it.) After I regrouped and began dedicating my running to Fi, I was able to get back at it and truly prep for the half.
In an effort to keep myself mentally in the game for this run, I made sure that I had little pieces of Fi’s spirit with me for the race. I wore the number 19 on my bib (advantages to knowing the organizers of the race), and Carole placed Fi’s hat from the hospital in my hydration pack. I also wore a t-shirt with the letter E on it…for Fi’s brother or sister – due to arrive in April.
A few minutes before the race, I went through my pre-race routine of going to the bathroom (for the 10th time), adjusting my shoelaces (for the 7th time), getting my phone in my arm band, checking Map My Run to make sure it’s ready to go, turning on Pandora, taking my phone out of my arm band to get the apps where I need them to be and it’s easier to do when the phone isn’t on my arm, making sure Pandora is on my Aerosmith (70’s/80’s rock) station, getting Map My Run ready (again), putting the phone back in the arm band, arm band on the arm, and ear buds in the ears.
I got to the starting line and my family gathered on the sidewalk. After a prayer from my church’s Senior Minister and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, I began the 13.1 mile trek with Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” playing in my ears. And trying to remind myself that, while the first 2 miles always suck, it gets better from there.
Carole posted this on her Facebook page as I started the race: “So proud of this lady! She is carrying my heart and the memory of Fi. I pray she makes herself known on the course. Keep running ladybird!!!!!!!!”
Sure enough, I was about 2 miles in when I first began to feel the twinges in my lower back that had been aggravating me for the couple of weeks prior to the half. I instantly began questioning whether or not I would be able to finish the route. At that moment Carole, drove by me – honking and cheering as I plodded along.
A mile later, still questioning my ability to make it through, I looked to the top of the hill and saw Carole waiting for me. Knowing me and where I get my motivation, she very intentionally placed herself at the top of that hill…knowing that I wouldn’t walk up the hill with her standing there watching.
That was the first time during that race that I really began to get out of my own head. It was the first time I really believed that I would complete the course and not have to be picked up by the sweep car…my biggest fear.
At about the 6th mile, I could feel myself really beginning to lose some of my energy and I needed a little push. I rounded a corner and came to a nice level section of the course. At that moment, I could feel a little hand at the top of my back, right between my shoulders, gently pushing me along. The pressure was coming right from the area in my hydration pack where Fi’s hat was safely tucked away. That got me through the next four miles or so.
Somewhere around mile 11 “Sweet Child of Mine” came through my headphones…again. Now, I spend a great deal of time listening to Pandora. NEVER have I had a time when I have heard the same song in a 3-hour span. NEVER. I looked up, smiled and said “OK, Fi. I know you’re here. Thank you.”
I pushed through the final 2 miles and rounded the corner to my family waiting for me at the finish line. In fact, Johnny (my 3-year-old) ran the last little bit with me.
I had three goals when I set out to run my first half marathon:
1 – Complete it in less than 2 hours and 45 minutes
2 – Keep my average pace under 13 minutes/mile
3 – Don’t get picked up by the sweep car
My final time was 2:49 and change, but my average pace was 12:55/mile – under 13! Two out of three ain’t bad!
When I learned that Fiona was going to be born an angel baby, I was crushed, hurt, and broken hearted. I never could have imagined how heavy my heart would be still today. I mean, it’s not like I was the one who had carried her for nearly 9 months. It wasn’t me getting a room ready for her arrival.
I’m still angry that she’s not here. I still don’t understand why she’s not physically here. I’m still without the right words to comfort my sister and her husband. I still don’t know how to comfort Danny, my 7-year-old, when he is missing the cousin he never got to meet.
I do, however, know that her spirit is here with us. I firmly believe that she makes herself known at the moment when we need her to be here. I know, without a doubt, that Fiona Michelle gave me the mental and emotional strength I needed to complete the toughest physical challenges of my life.