The alarm went off at 4:00am. I like to use a peaceful sound because a loud and agressive beep just stresses me out and makes me feel tired. I woke Daniel just enough to get him to nurse and did the “tuck and roll” to sneak out of bed without waking him. I had ground beans and filled the coffee pot the night before so all I had to do was shuffle into the kitchen and push the button. I shuffled back to our room to put on the clothes that I had laid out. Neon socks, spandex pants, two tech shirts and a zip up. It was gonna be a cold one. I went on to complete my race day ritual by drinking a nice cup of black coffee, reading my Bible and scribbling a nervous entry into my journal. Jordan was up by 4:45 to help get us all out the door. Wake Lila, get her to pee and load her into the car. Wake the baby, change his diaper, put him in the carseat. One last look at my checklist and we were on our way at 5:00.
We’ve gone over what I do when I’m nervous. I talk. I just don’t stop. When I wasn’t talking, I kept doing this nervous “Mmmmm” sound. I was probably so annoying, but it was race day.
I have been athletic all of my life. There is a feeling you get before a competition. It’s terrifying and exhilirating. You can’t even stand the suspense, it flips your stomach in knots. It is the stuff of life.
As a Mommy, I don’t really get that too often. So, on race day. I soak it all in. I let the suspense eat me. It’s kind of awesome. It makes me feel alive and young.
You see, I kind of just had a baby. Less than five months ago. I (warning: TMI) bled for almost 3 months afterwards and suffered a, what seems to be permanent, nerve injury to my leg. (When, in my all natural and super fast labor, a rogue nurse stabed my leg with a syring of pitocin against my will) That on top of trying to get two kids clean, fed, and happy for a stroller ride everyday to run, and pushing all fifty pounds of them in the stroller (against the wind, up hill both ways, blah, blah, blah) were just a few of the obstacles I’ve had to face to get strong and healthy again. I wasn’t doing it for any specific reason. I just wanted to run because it makes me feel strong and confident and empowered.
I had mentioned that I wanted to do a race and so one night, Jordan was on his laptop and started listing off races I could do this season. I picked one two weeks away and registered the next day. The butterflies started.
The sun began to rise and we were getting closer. Lila was up and I just kept trying chug water and keep my cool for the rest of the ride. When we finally got there about two hours later, I rushed to pee and go get my race packet. I had left my freaking race belt at home that holds my bib, so I pinned it to my zip up. I brought Daniel to the front seat to nurse him and Jordan went in back to feed Lila breakfast.
The runners began to arrive and warm up. Yeah, like they were running, before the run. No thanks. (Fast forward, the guy who parked in front of us and ran around before the run actually won first in his age group for the full marathon, so fine. I guess running before the run is a thing). We bundled the kids and put them in the stroller so I could go pee, again, before the race started. (I just had a baby, remember? I can’t hold pee yet.)
In line at the bathroom, I met a woman named Kari. I think she started the conversation, but I don’t know about what. She had a three year old too and seemed well trained and ready for the race. I pulled the “just had a baby” card and said that I may be a little slow because I’ve only been able to run with the stoller. She asked how far I had gone in training and I said, “Uh…7 or 8” Lie. 7. It was only 7 and Daniel screamed for the last quarter mile so that was where I maxed out. Kari was shooting to complete the race in two hours. She asked what my goal was and I said, “I don’t know, I’m thinking around two and a half hours?” Lie. I was really hoping to finish in 2:45. I mean I had been averaging eleven minute miles for my 5 mile runs! What was I going to do for a half marathon? Cue the self doubt and anxiety. We ended up at the starting line together and I told her not to feel like she had to wait for me at all, wished her luck and we were ready to start.
I crossed the starting line and blew my adorable family a kiss. “Bye bye guys! Mommy loves you! Be good!” And I was off!
“Whew! Running is hard. Am I going to be warm enough? Am I going to be cold? Am I running to fast for my pace? Am I running to slow? Is that lady wearing Tetris pants? What if I trip? Has it not even been a mile yet?”
I was in my head. I had to talk myself down and try to enjoy. This is one of the first times I had been away from the family since Daniel was born. I was on a run by myself. It was a treat. Like, a really difficult and painful treat.
I was feeling pretty confident in my pace. It was fast, but I went with it. As I looked ahead, I saw Kari. She stayed the same distance away for a couple miles, so I eventually made my way to her. She was wearing headphones, so I just waited until she saw me and said hi. I stayed with her. She was quiet and consistent. I kept wanting to stop and quit, but she seemed fine, so I just kept going.
Jordan and the kids had planned to meet us at the 6 mile point and so at around 5 miles, I began to remove the safety pins from my bib. I had it on my back for some weird reason and wanted to take off a layer to leave with them. I only stabbed myself thirty times in the process, but I eventually pinned my bib to my second layer and tied my zip up around my waist. I was really looking forward to seeing them and when I turned a little corner, there they were! Daniel was all wrapped up and lila had a big smile on her face. I had made protein balls and was planning on eating one at that point, but I didn’t want to make myself sick, but Lila must have been enjoying them as evidenced by the remains on her face. You don’t even know how encouraging it is to see your family cheer you on. I wanted them to think I was totally rocking it and not at all freaking out and tired. “Mommy is a gazelle guys. A totally-not-freaking-out-gazelle.”
My kids and my husband mean the world to me and they are my motivation. I wanted Lila and Daniel to see her Mommy challenge herself and push herself to the limit. I wanted Jordan to see the woman he fell in love with. The one that is passionate, competitive and athletic. The one who strives to face fears and take risks. I wanted to remind myself that yes, I am a Mommy. I change diapers and kiss owies. I bake bread and fold laundry. I read kid books and teach ABC’s but I am also Darla. I have an identity of my own and when I run, I take hold of it and remind myself who I am. It is a big week. On wednesday, Daniel will be five months old and Lila will be three years old! I have poured out all I have into them and, by the grace of God, I haven’t lost myself. I come close at times. I fall short. I lose perspective. But when I run, I’m reminded of my individuality, of my strength, and where it comes from.
The next leg of the journey is kind of a blur. The miles weren’t marked well and I was so focused on each step, that I missed them. It worked to my advantage a little because I remember seeing the 9 mile tag and mouthing “Holy Crap” to myself. I thought I hadn’t hit 7 miles yet! My legs were hurting more and more each mile. Not just my muscles, I felt pain in my left leg from my injury. It was freaking me out. I remembered back to when I was in training for the Chicago Marathon with my Unlce Tom. We were on some insane run where he refused to tell me how far we had gone or how far we were going. I had told him my legs hurt and his response was, “What legs?” Uh, my legs. These, right here. But, if you know my uncle, when he says “What legs?” You shaddap about your legs and keep running.
Mile 9. What legs? Mile 10. What legs?
I never saw mile markers for 11, or 12, or 13. I thought I was stuck in this forever mile and it was getting to my head. “If I haven’t hit 12 miles yet, I can’t keep this up.” Kari was running so well and even talking at this point. We both admitted to leaning on each other for strength and I’m so glad I had her there to keep me going, but I started to fade. There was a hill coming up and I felt myself fall behind. I told her to go and cheered her on with the little breath I had and then I walked. I felt guilty. Had I known where I was, I definitely wouldn’t have walked, but I just didn’t know. I felt like I walked for 10 minutes. It sucked. I was defeated and lonely. I asked a couple people. “Have we hit 12 miles yet?” Nobody knew! Then, there was a woman on the corner. She said, “You can do it! It is just down this hill!” “Have I hit 12 miles yet?” “You have passed that and 13 miles! The finish line is just around this corner!”
I started to cry and thanked her through my tears. I hit an all out sprint and as I turned the corner, I could see the finish line in the distance. I scoured the crowed until I saw my family and then I hauled. I blew them a kiss with tears welled up in my eyes and they cheered me on.
“Darla Innis 2:03”
I kept running after the finish line. I wanted to make sure I really crossed it. I saw Kari and she ended up finishing at 2:01. Meaning my 10 minute walk of shame was actually only 2 minutes and it gave me the boost to finish strong. I thanked her and gave her my number, promising to keep in touch and then went to meet Jordan and the kids. I laid down and Lila came and hugged me. I couldn’t believe it. I was so proud in that moment. It was so thankful to Jordan for supporting me and encouraging me. It was the longest time he had been with both kids without me and he did great.
Daniel wouldn’t take a bottle so, just want to share what it looks like for me to race. A baby has to eat!
Later that day, we went to Jordan’s parent’s house. Lila ran all the way to the yellow tree and back as fast as she could and we put the medal on her neck. She wanted to be like Mommy. My heart. It was all worth it.
Racing is a huge privilege for me. Training is really hard with both kids. It takes a lot of time and energy just to get out the door on a run. Race day took a lot of preparation and planning to get the kids ready and drive all the way out there. I still had to be Mommy the rest of the day and the next and the next despite sore legs and fatigue. It took a lot, but it gave me so much more.
Thank you Jordan, for supporting me and encouraging me. Thank you Kari, for letting me lean on you for the long, cold and quiet miles in the middle. Thank you kids, for reminding me why I try so hard to be someone you can look up to. Thank you God, for giving me “What legs?” these legs. I don’t take them for granted. Not everyone is physically able to run and I consider it a gift I’m not entitled to. It could be gone in a moment and so I am humbled by the ability to put one foot in front of the other whenever I chose. I hope I run as long as I’m able. I hope my kids will always want to mimic me crossing a finish line. I hope I never lose that butterfly feeling in my gut on race day. I hope to always be this alive and have a grasp on who I’m meant to be.