I’m not an athlete. I don’t even play one on TV, but on October 16th I ran a marathon— barely.
I should be more specific. I didn’t run. I ran, then walked, then hobbled my way to the finish line.
This didn’t just happen, of course. I had four months of training, an IT band injury and three weeks of trying to recover behind me. Also, fear, I had a lot of fear.
The start line showed me what it would be like to slowly suffocate to death. There were no corrals, just general areas suggested for a runner’s goal pace. There were 22,000 people plus their loved ones crammed into the Union Square area of San Francisco on a humid day— it was tough to breath.
I didn’t cross the start line until some 20 minutes after the actual start time. I was afraid I’d have some breathing issues because I hadn’t run in three weeks, but the being at sea level was like freaking magic. Every breath gave me more energy, and not feeling out of breath made it easier to deal with the slight pain in my leg.
I kept a 10 minute mile going for a long while, and didn’t even break a sweat. It was fun, for the first time ever, to pass people left and right— swoosh swoosh— feeling strong.
Things were good, and then they were not.
Somewhere between mile 6 and 8 there were short rolling hills through a pretty neighborhood. Well, pretty on the eyes, but not on my IT band. Without exaggeration, I will say it felt like someone was ramming little needles all along the outside of my left knee, but I pushed it.
My pace fell to an 11 minute mile.
Then, an 11:40 mile.
The pain continued to come and go, but I kept saying, “My mind is stronger than this. My body is trying to trick me.”
Paramedics were tending to a young woman. She went down— maybe dehydration. I so badly didn’t want that to be me. She looked out of it, but was crying. Her journey was over.
At mile 12 I was still running. I saw my husband. He said I looked good— looked strong. He was lying, he must have been. I was slow and in pain.
Somewhere between mile 14 and 15 it was over for my body. My left knee and hip were done. I started to walk. I felt broken.
There were two moments in the race where I could have dropped off and gone the half-marathon route. After an inner struggle, I continued along the marathon route trying to run, and getting passed by walkers— I gave up a little and just walked.
I started to feel the blisters forming and my hips were burning. My knee never stopped throbbing. Everyone was passing me. Everyone.
At mile 20 I started doing some math. I wouldn’t finish under the 6 hour and 30 minute time limit even if I ran.
I lied to myself, “It doesn’t matter. You can still do this.”
At mile 22 I started to cry. I was pumping my arms, pushing my legs forward even though I had nothing left and the tears were just rolling down silently— bloody but unbowed.
I came to the false realization that it was never going to be over. That is what I said, out loud— Ok, this is never going to be over. I’m just going to keep moving until I die.
My heart broke some more when I was just steps from passing one more mile marker and a car honked. The vehicle passed me, stopped and some men took down the timer.
I should say, I was not alone. There were some determined walkers that continued to push and several others, like me, dragging their feet with all the dignity they could muster refusing to let their bodies tell them it was over.
Just after mile 24 a man on a motorcycle rode by me and said, “You have 20 minutes before a van comes by to pick people up.”
I nodded and then tried to run with everything that might be left somewhere inside— a little blood was in my mouth from pushing my teeth into my cheek, my hip flexors burning and my left knee vibrating with pain.
Everything begged me to stop and just stretch. Everything had been begging me to stop for so many miles— so many hours. It just wasn’t time yet.
A van drove by me and the nice woman in the passenger side seat told me I could get in and hop off at mile 26. I’d still be able to run through the finish line, get a necklace and a finisher shirt.
I was shocked.
"No. It’s less than a mile. Can I keep running?"
She said yes, but that she couldn’t guarantee me the Tiffany necklace I so badly wanted.
It was about so much more than a necklace at that point.
Run Run Run. Breath Breath Breath.
There it was, the finish line. I’d been moving for over 6 hours to get here.
Eyes closed, I crossed the finish line. Finally.
The clock said, 6:48:48. I missed the cut-off.
I found my husband and found the consolation hug I needed.
"You did it. You are a marathoner," he said.
I explained he was wrong. I failed. Then, he reminded me that I had started 20 minutes after the start time. I had, in fact, done it. I finished before the cut-off.
This is not the way my first marathon was suppose to go. I was suppose to run strong and fast from beginning to end. I was not suppose to be injured. I was suppose to cross the finish line with fists in the air and a smile on my face after about 4 hours and 40 minutes.
I dragged my legs. I cried. I felt defeated. I crossed the finish line with my eyes shut and a limp believing I had failed.
It is not perfect, but it is.