Every once in a while, something wonderful or something terrible will hit us. Sometimes the thing that hits us will be both wonderful and terrible. Words will seem out of reach. People will ask to hear about this event, but you will be at a loss. How do you describe this experience to them?
I’m finding that Sunday’s marathon is this terrible, wonderful event. In less than six hours I experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I felt invincible, and I felt like someone was repeatedly punching me in the gut. So how did it go? Hard seems like an understatement.
As my dad and I walked to the start line, I remember choking back tears and saying, “I didn’t imagine how much courage it would take to make it to the start line.”
Courage was the theme of the day.
“Courage. Courage to start. Courage to run. Courage to finish. Courage to try hard. Courage to trust. Courage to begin something that will get a lot worse before it gets better.”
I wrote that in my journal two days before the marathon. I had no way of knowing just how true those words would be on race day.
The race started out perfectly, well minus a few hiccups in the starting corrals. My dad and I ran our goal time each mile. I ran my fastest half marathon. But I knew something wasn’t right. My stomach was turning, and my body felt as if it were bracing for something terrible. Mile 13.1, the halfway point, provided that terrible. I experienced some of the worst stomach issues that I’ve yet to face in my life. My dad and I slowed to a walk because running made everything ten times worse. We walked from aid station to aid station. Quitting was not an option.
Runners like to talk about the wall, the invisible barrier that hits them during a long run. The wall usually hits in the upper miles, 18-22. For me, it hit at mile 15. At that point we had walked for 2 miles, I felt as sick as ever, and our pace was slower than a grandma on an electric scooter. We still had 11 miles to go, and quitting wasn’t an option. My dad wrapped his arm around me as we walked, as if protecting me from my own thoughts.
“Only 11 more to go.”
The streets of Chicago are wet with a lot of my tears.
Because in that moment, I was not brave. I was feeling all kinds of hopeless. Everything in my body hurt, and I was pretty sure my stomach was trying to murder me. Each step took us farther from the city yet closer to the finish line. My mom and best friend were waiting for us at mile 21.5, another 6.5 miles away. I trained for this race for months, woke up early to do training runs, altered my schedule and my diet. Race day was not supposed to go like this. I was better than this.
Every couple of miles it would hit me: I was walking 10 miles of my first marathon. The voices in my head were busy that day. They were ruthless, and it took every ounce of energy to tell them to take a hike.
After another onslaught from these thoughts, my dad said the words that defined the day.
“Courage is not persisting when everything is going well. Courage is persisting when everything falls apart.”
When people ask me about race day, a picture immediately pops into my head. My mom and best friend were still waiting for us at mile 21.5 even though we were hours late in getting there.The voices in my head told me that when I saw them, they were going to be incredibly disappointed in me. They were going to tell me to suck it up. They were going to tell me that I was better than this.
Isn’t it funny the kinds of games our thoughts play on us? They turn family and friends into enemies. They conjure up lies that tear us down.
Because when I saw them, they were cheering. My friend ran out to me on the course, breaking many spectator rules for race day. She wrapped her arm around me and walked with me. My mom told me that I was her hero as she joined us on the course. I’ve never held so tightly to two people in my life.
Seeing them, hearing their words, gave me the courage to continue on.
I was not very brave on Sunday.
I was not very positive.
But I’d like to think that I was courageous.
Because everything fell apart that day.
But my dad and I finished. Thanks to some medicine, we ran the last three miles.
We finished strong. We finished battered, blistered, and sore.
But we finished courageous.