I didn’t mean to run a marathon. My half marathon last year was SO hard and such a mental battle for me, I doubted if I could that again times two. However, being back in Lake Geneva, it was easy to totally crash my friends’, Tiina and Cathy’s, long runs on fridays. My thought process was that if I’m going to put in all these miles this summer, I may as well get the T-Shirt. How inspiring, right?
Well, it turned out to be even harder than I thought. I have run a marathon before. It was back in 2010. Looking back, it was a treasured time in my life. I was young, living on my own in an adorable townhouse with my giant monster dog Samson. Training for that race looked like running 30-40 miles a week. I ran whenever I wanted to, I ran with my Uncle Tom whenever he could take me, and then I got to take a nap or eat whenever I wanted to after that. I would go for a 10 mile run on a Wednesday morning because I had no clients scheduled and it was a beautiful day. I would run 9 minute miles because my dog was fast and he kept pulling me for the entire distance. I could drive to any nature trail I wanted to run, and spend the morning soaking it all in. If I pushed myself to my absolute limit, I knew I would be able to recoup that energy either with a nap or a pretty much guaranteed full night sleep that evening. It was still difficult. It still took an incredible amount of drive and discipline. I’m so proud of my 21 year old self for choosing to do hard things. She was awesome. No wonder Jordan fell in love with her and wanted her to have his babies.
And have his babies I did. Two of them. I’ve run races at least once a summer if I’m not pregnant. I’ve done some 5ks, two half marathons and two sprint triathlons. I’m competitive and I love the challenge, But it’s always more than a race to me. It’s a piece of myself that I hold onto. It’s something to work for, to get nervous about, to train towards and to accomplish. In the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered if I’d ever run another marathon. My half marathons have seemed grueling and impossible to finish. How could I do twice that distance? There was only one way to find out.
I tried to sign up for the race my friends were doing, but it was full, so I found the next one. PNC Running Fest. I kept running with Tiina and Cathy any chance I could. Those long runs are just kind of boring all alone. So, I really tried to join them, but I ran into some obstacles. Like, I’m a mommy with two kids. Daniel had just turned one when I started this nonsense. They are lovely, but they are a handful. I can’t just leave them with people. My in-laws run their own business, my parents live out of town most of the time, and Jordan has a packed schedule. Enter: the YMCA.
MOMS stop what you are doing and join the Y. They are there to help you and you’re a person and could use a little help sometimes. I should tell you all about how they Y saved me from rocking in the corner and crying all alone when I first became a mommy. I will, just not now.
Anyway, I work at the Tot Spot at the Y and have since Lila was about 6 months old. They treat my kids like their own and have been a total gift of support and encouragement and laughter to me. I would drop my kids off there and they would watch them for me while I put in these long runs on the lake path, where the stroller wouldn’t go. It was amazing to have them in my corner.
Even so, they were only open for 3 hour windows. That is an incredible amount of time for someone who wants to workout and shower, but I needed to run 16+ miles sometimes and I’m just not fast enough to do it in that window. One time, I was running 13 and I had to call my friend at the Tot Spot and ask them to please stay for 15 more minutes. They did, but I felt so bad.
Mommy guilt. It is so real. I had to fight so hard not to feel bad for running. Like I was abandoning them. Like I was being selfish. Even durning the week when I would take them. I would wonder if they even liked stroller rides or if Lila was staying on top of her school work enough or if Daniel’s schedule was being jeopardized by a 9 am run. On top of all of the normal mental obstacles runners have to overcome to get on the trail (and there are SO many), mom runners have to fight, head on, that reflexive sense of “I’m the least important person in this family”.
I trained. I ran, I lifted, I swam and then I ran some more. It was always on my mind. Don’t get injured, you’re in training. Don’t eat that, you have a long run tomorrow and you’ll barf. Are you drinking enough water today? You need to hydrate for the morning. I ran with kids in the stroller. I pushed 50 plus pounds of stroller in front of me, up and down hills, into the wind, over bumpy paths. I stopped in embarrassing places to let the potty training toddler relieve himself. I broke up fights, I dished out snacks, I even read books out loud to them while Lila held it open for me, all to get the run done with the kids. Then, when I got home, spent from an exhausting run, I was still mom. I home schooled, cooked, cleaned, disciplined, cuddled and cared for the kids until bed time. I squeezed in a shower if I could find the time, but there would be no rest until nightfall. It was different this time around. That’s why, when I was in tears after I crossed the finish line, and some lady asked me if it was my first, I said, “It’s my first since kids” and she patted me on the shoulder and gave me a knowing smile.
Cut to the week before the race. I hurt my foot wearing high heals at church (because I’m so cool and normal) and spent the week icing and resting and worrying. I cleaned the house and did all the laundry to prepare for a week of pain to follow. I packed each kid with snacks, changes of clothes, signs, snacks, water, and anything else I could possibly think of. The morning of the race, I woke up, drank my ritualistic cup of black coffee, read, journaled, freaked out, got dressed, ate breakfast, freaked out some more, and then Cathy came to get me. She was going to run this race with me but she got injured as a result of her first marathon just a month earlier and couldn’t. She knew what I was going through and let me randomly change the subject mid conversation and kept my mind occupied while we made the hour trek to Milwaukee. Her giving me a ride was such a gift. I was a mess that morning. Sick to my stomach with nerves and anticipation. Getting the kids up and out the door with the crying and whining and chaos would have mentally done me in. Jordan handled all that for me and Cathy gave me a grown-up-runner-freaks-only ride. Priceless.
I peed twice when we got there. Once in a Porta-John that had very recently been…you know….used. I wasn’t even mad. I was all happy for them, like, “You go Glen Coco, now run like the wind.” Then I had to pee again, so Cathy friend blocked me so I could pee up against some wall and tried to dodge her shoes. She walked me to my start, found me a pacer, snapped some pics and hugged me goodbye with a tear in her eye. We both knew what was coming and it was gonna hurt.
I saw Jordan and the kids with five minutes to spare before the start. Just enough to make me weepy about how much I love them, and want to make them proud. Now can we just get this thing over with already?
And we were off. I slowly walked towards the starting line. A surreal moment. Once I crossed my time would begin and I would run. The air was thick with excitement, fear, and anticipation around me. Now. I began to run. Careful to run slowly for the first few miles. I didn’t want to burn all my energy right out the gate. It’s a common error. I just soaked in all the excitement and positive energy and beautiful sunrise and just mentally put all that positivity in my pocket, to draw from later. It was so hard to resist speeding up, but I forced myself behind the 4:40 pacers. I was in this for the long haul.
It was an absolutely beautiful morning. The day before was a rainy mess, so I was especially grateful for the crisp smell of wet fall air, the golden sun sparkling on the vibrant leaves on the trees and ground, and the temperature was just downright pleasant. I committed the first few miles to just soaking it in and taking it slow. I found myself naturally falling into pace with a younger guy. He was wearing all black and had blonde hair. He was wearing headphones, and not being chatty with random people, and not annoying, safe to pace with. Later, I found out his name was Alexander and he was 21. We pulled just slightly ahead of the pacers. It was about 6 miles in at this point and I felt very comfortable and natural in my pace and so I decided to stick with it. I began fueling at 4 miles, and tried to remember to refuel every few miles after that. Jordan told me he was going to try to see me at mile 9, so I decided to go without headphones until that point. Just running my race, and enjoying the ride. It was kind of hypnotizing.
Next thing I knew, I saw my father-in-law-Dale. He gave me a water bottle and just a few feet ahead was my family! I didn’t realize I was at 9 miles already! Lila was cheering her little heart out and waving her sign in the air and the rest of my family cheered along with her! Lisa, Maggie, Nick, Jordan and even Little Daniel (who was not happy when I ran by without him). I was so excited that I forgot to drop off my gloves and pick up my snack bar like I meant to. No matter, I just kept running. I treated myself to some podcasts. I mostly listened to the Simple Show with Tsh Oxenreider. I was still pacing with Alex, though we still hadn’t spoken. Somewhere in there, he saw his family and girlfriend, and caught right back up to stride. Every time I felt a little tired, I just refueled with my runner gummies. Everytime I felt discouraged or began to dread how much longer I had to go, I immediately was hit with a wave of gratitude and joy and the beauty surrounding me. I swear all of the thoughts and prayers of my friends carried me right through those hard times.
I passed the 13 mile marker. I gave myself a clap. Halfway there. We saw Alex’s Dad running on our way back from a loop in the route. A mile later, I said my first words to Alex, “I have to pee. I’ve had two children.” I ran ahead to a porta-john and had to wait in a short line to go. He said he might as well go too. This was probably when we accepted the fact that we had paced together. I waited for him and we went right back out, and right back to not talking. In just a few short miles, at mile 19, I saw my family again. That sign Lila made stood out from a mile away. This time it was Daniel, Lisa, Lila and Jordan. I gave them my gloves and Jordan had laid out a snack exchange for me to choose from. I grabbed a chocolate peppermint bar and got a fresh pack of miracle gummies as I ran by. Dale, Nick and Maggie were up at mile 20 and I got some high fives and asked, “when is lunch?” I thought that would be the last time I saw them.
I know we saw Alex’s girlfriend once after a really stupid McSucky hill and then his whole clan again at some point, but it’s all kind of a blur.
At mile 21 they were all together again! Apparently they just jumped over a section and caught me as I was running around the bend. Jordan is really good at logistics and planned and timed it perfectly. This was it. I would see them again at the end. I made sure to get my kisses from my kids and high fives on my way past them. I needed all the encouragement I could get.
If there was a wall in this run, this is when I hit it. Looking back at my times, I can see I slightly slowed down here. 21 miles is the farthest I ran in training. This route had some tough hills, even towards the end, and it was hard to push through them. I just kept listening to podcasts and I just kept running, only walking through water stations. I was going to finish this race. My friend Emily came by the week before my race and gave me a TON of gifts to wish me luck and offer me some encouragement. I told her I’d dedicate mile 24 to her and listen to one of my favorite songs that I’ve been forcing on her lately. Downtown, by Macklemore. Knowing I had a dance party coming in just a couple miles, really carried me through. When mile 24 came, I turned on that song. Loud. I was smiling, and dancing to myself. I sped back up.
“You don’t want no beef, boy.
Know I run the streets, boy.
Better follow me towards
Alex started pulling back. I called him up and pulled the headphones out of the jack to share my mile 24 song. I disclaimed that I am an adult christian woman, but this song is my jam, despite it’s inappropriateness. We finished mile 24 and at mile 25 I yelled back to him to finish strong and I pulled ahead. I was cruising.
This was my gratitude mile. I was so thankful for this race, for my family, for my life, for my body, for God’s goodness, for these legs, for this strength, for the sunshine. I unplugged and just ran with myself. I felt all of it. All of the pain. I felt all of the joy. I felt all of the obstacles I had to overcome to get to this point. I thought about how how hard I fought to be a marathoner that day. There weren’t many people around me at this point. The street was mostly empty and I ran passed a lot of people walking. I swear I only heard my feet hitting the pavement one step at a time. I fought back the tears as I came to a corner.
“How much further until mile 26?”, I asked the race volunteers.
“You have .5 left to go.”
“Yes! The finish line is right up there!”
So much for fighting back tears. I let it all go at that point. I ran towards the sound of everyone cheering at the finish line. I passed the 26 mile marker with tears in my eyes and anticipation in my heart. This is happening, I’m finishing this race. I saw my family. Lila jumping up and down with her sign, proud of her Mommy.
I left every last bit of my energy, heart, and strength behind and gave all of myself to those final desperate strides as I crossed the finish line with my hand in the air, thanking God.
I cried. They put the medal around my neck. I cried some more. I took a moment before I went to find my people. I just thanked God for always being by my side; not just for this race, but for everything. I just let the joy of that moment wash over me and then, with unrelenting tears in my eyes and an involuntary smile on my face, I went to look for my family.
My baby girl ran towards me. She was beaming. I fell to my knees and hugged her. Then my Danny boy found me and just hurled himself into my arms.
I held them so close. Sometimes as a mom, I wonder if I’m losing myself. I serve and I serve, with so much resistance and so little thanks. I fear I might just disappear. In this moment, I was fully me. I reached a goal and was reminded that they haven’t taken anything from me, they have made my race in life even more beautiful.
My family caught up with us and, even though they aren’t runners, they knew what it meant to me and were proud. Do you know how much it means to me to make them proud? I’m not the star of the show over here. I am very much a supporting role. I’m the one in the bleachers, packing diaper bags, kissing owies, in the audience at graduations and recitals, on the sidelines, so to have the tables turn for a day and be the one with the medal around her neck….no words. Even as I write this…only tears.
I want to thank God for a body that can run, and His strength that is made perfect in my weakness. Thank you to my husband for buying me new gear from the nike outlet all the time and budgeting for me to race each summer. Thank you for waking up early to pile the kids into the car and figuring out how to drag everyone around on the course to be able to see me as often as you did. Thank you to my friends, for so much dang support and encouragement. For taking me on runs, and showering me with thoughtful gifts that I couldn’t have expected and can’t thank you enough for. For listening to me and pushing me and speaking empowering truth into my dark places. I love you. I’d like to thank my family for stepping in and watching the kids so I could squeeze a run in, letting me use your hot tub to recover, sending me flowers before the race, and letting Jordan drag you all around to see me run. I’d like to thank my babies. Thank you for begging to go in the stroller as soon as you see my workout clothes on. Thank you for being so good on Mommy’s runs and never begging me not to go. Thank you, my sweet children, for putting medals around your neck and running around pretending to be just like mommy. Oh, how I strive to be someone that you would want to be just like one day. You are my whole heart, loves.
Finally, I’d like to thank three very special people. Without them, not a single step of this race would have been run.
Me, Myself, and I.
Wounded, scared, tired, small, and brave little me. It was Me who laced up my shoes to run when I could have just stayed in my sweats and indulged in an hour moseying in the sleepy slow hours of the morning. I got the kids dressed and packed and out the door for a run Myself when it would have been ten times easier on all of us to just stay home and watch cartoons. I fought SO hard for this. I carved out a place for myself in a concrete family structure. It was no small task, but I knew I was worth it.
I can’t thank myself enough for believing I was important.
Friends, with that being said, can I be honest? I’m no special case. I had so many obstacles in my way. I had countless excuses for why I shouldn’t or couldn’t run. My husband is gone a lot and couldn’t watch the kids for me. I have permanent nerve damage in my leg from an injury I got giving birth to Daniel. I am busy beyond belief and I’ve been tired for years. I am the backbone of my family and there is very little wiggle room for me to do anything separate from them, day or night. I could go on. I’m not complaining, I’m just making it clear that this race wasn’t made possible by my perfect life and my beautiful and smart 4 year old and smiling and supportive 18 month old, and McDreamy Coach Jordan the Selfless, my husband, and all of our buckets of money. It was made possible by this shipwreck that I was, and the pieces of myself that I have been able to put back together as I’ve washed up to the faithful shore of God’s relentless and redeeming love. The same shore that is available to you, all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other.
“What you see is what you get girl
Don’t ever forget girl
Ain’t seen nothing yet until you’re
My Dad asked me how the race went.
I said, “They gave me a medal, I think I won.”
And I did. I ran my own race and I won by a landslide.