I remember writing this blog post in March. Eight short months ago. I lost everything I loved about running. Burned out, angry, tired. The burnout was bound to find me, and THERE IT WAS. Motivation, gone. Inspiration, gone.
In a very final and dramatic way, I declared no marathons would be run in 2013. Nope, not a one. I WILL NOT, no. You cannot make me. I hate running and I hate you! So on and so forth.
But less than a month later, the running world was rocked at Boston, and it lit a fire. Within 24 hours I'd registered for my hometown marathon. In my defense, I've never been good at making a decision and sticking to it. I'd provide evidence to support this, but anyone who truly knows me is already nodding.
To be fair, what happened at Boston was some messed up bullshit. I also suckered some friends into taking a stand in the same way, so whatever, solidarity. It's how we roll in Wisconsin.
On Sunday, nearly seven months after putting my foot down and clicking "register" (take that, injustice!), I crossed the finish line of the Madison Marathon, and that very tiny moment in time (temporarily, I assume) made up for every single solitary bad thing I ever said about running or races or injuries or training or humanity, in general. Maybe not so much the last part, but the rest of it, for sure. Humanity is screwed, always and forever.
I won't bore you with the mumbo-jumbo and technicalities of running a marathon because, here's a secret, NO ONE HERE CARES (except for those of you who do, hi). But I'm real good at talking about feelings.
The day was perfect, the weather was perfect, the sun was shining, I had my very best good friend in tow, my amazing family would be waiting along the course (which, to this day, dozens and dozens of races later, still absolutely makes my heart explode every single time), and I trained my ass off for months to try and shave some minutes off my finishing time. Go big or go home, YOLO*, etc.
(*I don't actually use the phrase "YOLO". Ever.)
I was nervous as hell before the start, but the feeling fades within a few steps every time. Something about the unknown of those first few steps makes my belly nervous. If those few steps feel awful, it's going to be a long race. But my first steps felt delightful, as did the next 27,843 of them. I didn't actually count my steps, but that feels like a good number.
Some numbers and facts to quickly bore you:
My best marathon finish prior to Sunday was 3 hours, 57 minutes and 4 seconds from one year ago. On Sunday, it was my hope to finish in under 3 hours and 55 minutes, and as close to 3 hours and 50 minutes as I could. The course, bless its heart, was full of hills. Nasty ones. I kept all of those things in mind as I settled into a pace and hoped for the best.
And so I ran and ran and ran. I felt so happy and so good. Every time I saw my family along the course, I looked and felt exactly like this:
Naturally, like you do, I screamed and hugged each of them every time, all the while watching my pace hang comfortably faster than my goal.
"Mom, I'm doing so good!"
I actually yelled that with my own mouth somewhere around mile 19. Like, LOOK AT ME, I AM SO PROUD. MOM. MOM, LOOK! It was like I was 9, and I needed my mommy to look at how good I could color in the lines. But THAT IS WHAT IT FELT LIKE, I CAN'T HELP IT. I didn't understand how it was happening. Speaking of coloring in the lines, this is the sign my sister made for me, and it's now hanging on my wall because LOOK:
She makes the best signs, and they make me happy each time. Though there's one out there in the world that says "I don't do marathons, I do marathoners," and that might be a close second to this. At least.
At mile 22, I was still happy, as evidenced by this photograph:
My only real plan Sunday was to hit mile 20 and push it as best as I could for the last six miles. By the skin of my teeth, I was able to hang on to a pace just below an 8-minute mile because once I started it, I refused to let myself stop. I hated myself and this plan by the time I hit mile 25, but there's no going back then. It's sort of like, "Welp, you've gone this far, asshole. No quittin' now."
But it was damn hard, and all the things were hurt-y and tired, but the math in my head was telling me mathematical things, and I knew I at least had that 3:50 finish in the bag. Math is super hard all the time, but particularly after running 25 miles, and also when you had something like Miley Cyrus blasting real loud through the ear buds of your iPod, DON'T JUDGE.
So I didn't let myself look at the time on my watch in those last 6 or 7 miles, mostly because I knew I'd start doing math and getting nervous and putting pressure on myself. I just kept running and running and not looking and not knowing.
Mile 26 ended at the tippy-top of a rotten hill, but the sweet, sweet finish line was there, around the corner. I ran my little, exploding heart out and heard my family screaming and heard my name announced and there were actual rainbows bursting inside my brain, I just know it.
My foot stepped on the finish line, and in that split second I stopped my watch and looked at the finish time:
3 hours and 40 minutes.
THREE HOURS AND FORTY MINUTES.
The shock actually blew my mind. I couldn't stand up, and it had nothing to do with the miles on my legs. I immediately bent down with my hands over my face and sobbed like a little toddler. I happy-cried like I've never happy-cried before.
HOW DID I DO THAT? THAT TIME? IT WASN'T POSSIBLE ON ANY LEVEL. NOT IN MY MIND.
The woman who tried to hand me my finishers medal walked over to help me up, but I was already up, crying, crying, crying like a little rain cloud, except for the giant smile in between sobs. Sort of like one of those weird, sunny days, where a stray rain cloud comes through and throws down some rain before bursting into a rainbow. So along with my medal she gave me a hug, and I ran away to find my family and best-friend-forever, who I already saw running towards me with grins the size of my shock.
I don't remember what I did or what I said, but I just hugged them so hard, all full of tears and snot, and shoved my watch in their faces.
I think Anne was the first to grasp what just happened, and I gave her the biggest hug in the whole wide world whilst continuing to happy-cry. For when I needed proof that it was real, we snapped this photo:
I beat my very best marathon time by more than 17 minutes. I finished the marathon in a time I absolutely never thought possible in a million and a half years, no way, no how, and especially on this day, on this course. I skipped ahead about four different marathon goals and accidentally landed on the happiest day of my whole little life.
I never, ever want to forget the legitimate shock of looking at my watch in that second on the finish line because it was pure, unexpected joy. On that very spot, I found the love of running I misplaced all those months ago.
Right now it doesn't matter to me what comes next. I don't need a bigger or a better. It's not about bigger or better when I'm enjoying what the hell I just did. There will be more marathons because until I can't, there always will be. But I'll be busy riding this moment until another moment comes along.
I am in no rush. Don't rush the moments.