The World Through My Shoes is my look at living this incredible gift God has given us. As a busy wife, mother and daughter I relish the alone time I receive on my early morning runs. It is in the stillness of those predawn mornings where I often am inspired. Thank you for taking the time to read my words.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Gift

The marathon is a gift. One that we relish and one that we sometimes wonder why we even accept in the first place. Either way you want to look at the gift, it is one that teaches you the most about yourself. Today was such a day.

Standing at the start the temperature was toying with us. Predicted to be in the high 70s, it felt cool enough at the start, but I knew better. The cloudless blue sky promised hot temperatures. There I stood in a sea of marathoners at 7:00 in the morning, lost in my own thoughts and in complete anticipation. My first marathon in a year and a half and my nerves were getting the best of me. Sharlene and Beth stood on the sideline waving and shouting their words of encouragement. I smiled and waved trying my best to conceal my pre-race jitters. I didn’t fool them and they yelled even more encouragement.

The horn blasted and the sea of people moved forward. We ran through the city’s center before passing the farmer’s market on our way up the first hill taking us away from the ocean’s front and into the back roads of the city. The rural landscape was truly beautiful and brought a fair amount of shade. A break from the rolling hills came around mile 4. I was in my own groove and loving the energy each hill gave me. Something about cresting a hill that gives you such a feeling of accomplishment.

Mile 4 was the last break I would see from the hills until the end of the race. With each hill came more determination. I was feeling good and I was feeling strong. If I could maintain this pace I knew I would reach a new PR. But that was mile 10. How quickly a race can turn.

Mile 12 the heat was starting to get to me. The shade was breaking apart bringing longer and longer stretches of shade-less road. The sun was beginning to take it’s toll. I took my tech tee off and tied it at my waist. This brought instant relief. I hit the halfway point and decided I just couldn’t make it up another hill. I had to walk. Disappointed, I quickly reminded myself of my goals. I could not – would not – loose the race this early in the game. Being down that self-beating up road before, I had no desire to revisit it. With another marathon just three weeks away, I needed to keep my head in the game. My goal is to finish. As hard as it was, I had to let go of the PR I felt I could achieve just a few miles earlier.

His name was Ted and he brought me a much needed distraction. I introduced myself and we headed up yet another hill. Asking Ted questions about him and his life kept me focused on something other than myself. Ted is a soldier running his 6th marathon. He too was surprised at the difficulty of the course. Ted stopped at the water stop and I didn’t see him again.

After letting go of my time, I began to enjoy the race a little bit more. Despite the rural roads of the full marathon, the course was incredibly well supported. The aid stations were heard before they were seen. Loved ones of other marathoners were seen several times along the course. I adopted more than one family along the route as they were cheering for someone running behind me.

Esther was a woman who I caught up with several times during my run/walk routine. She doesn’t run marathons much anymore and usually runs ultras. She had an equipment malfunction and after sending me on my way, I told her we’ll see each other at the finish line.

Mile 19 a woman turned to me and said “What were we thinking anyway?” I laughed and introduced myself. From that moment on Susan and I were inseparable. A mom of 4, Susan was running her first full marathon. I congratulated her for not only making her momentous decision, but doing so on such an incredibly hilly course.

The temps were quickly soaring and the shade was all but gone. We passed time talking about everything and nothing. It wasn’t long before I heard Esther’s voice call my name. The three of us, complete strangers just a few hours before, became instant best friends. Pain and agony does that to a person. It’s part of the gift. You connect with people who you would never have connected to before. Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different, but here we are pulling each other through the same moment in time.

Mile 24 began a descent toward the finish line. Even the little hills felt big and we walked up them focusing our energy on the downhill. Esther was feeling good and kept going. I wanted to be done, I wanted to be finished. The heat was zapping the life right out of me. Mile 25½ Sharlene spotted me and cheered me on. Seeing her I felt the tears. I handed her my water bottle and told her I was done. She informed, as only best friends can, I was not done and I was going to keep going. Despite running the half marathon earlier, she ran right along side Susan and I lying to us about how good and strong we looked. Upon seeing the finisher’s shoot I took off faster than I had been running. Crossing the finish line the tears were flowing steadily down my face; the announcer said my name. I collapsed into my husband’s arms and cried.  I was finally done. 

The clock confirmed my worst marathon time ever of 4:52:37, but it clearly didn’t matter. It was the most challenging course I’d run and the biggest gift I could have given myself. Susan crossed the finish line shortly after me, smiling while crying uncontrollably. Hugging me her tears flowed freely as told me she couldn’t have done it without my encouragement. I told her I felt the exact same way.

The gift is not found in the finisher shirt or the medal hanging around your neck. The gift is found in learning about yourself. In 26.2 miles you dig deep within yourself to rise above the conditions and the negative self talk that comes with exhaustion.  Crossing the finish line, you find out you are pretty darn tough and can take whatever life can give. The gift is learning what you are made of.

In three weeks I will do it all over again and I wonder what the gift will bring that day.