Original Photo Credit: Flickr
I wake up first thing in the morning, and the first thing I do is check the weather. My husband is irritated by this, because I don’t look outside like everyone else. I check the weather on my iPhone app, and then turn on the Weather Channel to make sure that my app isn’t malfunctioning. I don’t check outside until right before I actually am able to go for a run, and even then, I check the weather. The weather is quite an obsession for me, running is an obsession, and anything with forward momentum is an obsession.
I am a marathoner. It is what I call myself. I am not even that fast, hell sometimes I don’t even run the entire race, but year after year, I am among the thousands of other people who dedicate 16 weeks of their life to the crazy act of running 26.2 miles at one time. I didn’t love running when I first tried, in fact I hated it with a passion, but somehow the one thing that I hated was one thing I was actually good at. I started running in high school to save my grade in Life Fitness. I signed up for that dreadful class the winter trimester of my sophomore year. I was doing pretty well in the academic portion, I was always an academic. I had just quit dancing after 12 years.
I had loved dancing, but was not popular enough to make the high school’s competition dance team, nor was I popular enough to do cheerleading. Even though I could do splits all three ways, and could kick my leg up and touch my nose, it didn’t matter. The girls who were in dance were the ones with the beautiful smiles and lacked the social awkwardness I had excelled at throughout my high school years. Even though my cousin was the dance squad captain, I was still too gangly and awkward for that venture.
As part of our grade for Life Fitness we had to pass the Presidential Fitness Exam. I could not do a flexed arm hang to save my life. My pushups and situps were pathetic, but I could run. We did the mile run inside around the basketball court. It was 8 laps of torture, and somehow I managed to maintain an easy pace and finished first place out of all the people in my class. I think I ran it around 8:00 minutes. Immediately, the teacher cornered me after class, and dragged me into the weight room, and introduced me to the track coach. She said, “You want an A, join track, and I’ll give you an A.”
And that was how I fell in love with running. Falling in love with running is not enough to accomplish the marathon. Becoming obsessive compulsive about running to the point where you check the weather religiously every day until you leave for your race, then you check about every 15-minutes thereafter is becoming a marathoner. It is not just running, not just jogging; it is dedicating your life for 16 weeks.
I signed up for my first marathon in college, partly because I think I was drunk, or maybe high, the vote is out on that one. I ran it with my then-boyfriend (now husband). The extent of my training was a few short runs here and there, and then a 16 mile run, where I felt something pop in my knee, but couldn’t be sure, because I was going to be a marathoner. We finished after about 5 ½ hours, and I kept that shirt until the holes had holes, and it was no longer wearable. I think it may still grace my rag pile in the garage.
When I first conquered the marathon, I thought it was a one and done thing. I wanted to tell my future-daughter that I had done a marathon. I did it, because everyone around me told me not to do it. My family, my former cross country and track coach, and my current cross country coach. I admit now, that I should not have done it. I felt the crunch of my knees in days, weeks, and months afterwards, and in 1998, that crunch was a torn meniscus in back of both knees. I had to have reconstructive orthoscopic knee surgery late in 1998. After I recovered, I thought that the only time I would be going to a marathon was to watch my husband complete his marathons.
Complete them he did. I tagged along, longing to be on the road with him. Each marathon he ran was like a knife embedded deeper into my stomach. I began to hate going to them, and I began to resent that he could do what I could not. In 2001, I was selected to be part of the female relay team at the Air Force Marathon in Ohio. We were stationed in North Dakota, and we were excitedly awaiting the trip to “win” the title yet again for the marathon team, but the marathon was cancelled after the September 11th attacks. I signed up for the half marathon in the spring of 2012, and ran a satisfactory half time.
In 2002, I was informed that I would have to quit running in order to get pregnant. I had suffered a few early miscarriages, and was distraught over not being able to become pregnant. After getting off birth control, and trying to have kids, I began to gain weight. Further, earlier in the year, I had been involved in a train accident outside of my home, and had a pre-asthmatic condition which made breathing downright impossible. I had given up running once again, and continued to be the supportive wife.
My husband signed up for more and more out there running experiences. He finished the Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos. He took a year off of doing marathons while our son was born, and he was deployed to Iraq. It was hard to train in a war zone, when there were mortars being dropped daily near the FOB he was stationed at. He signed up for more marathons, ski marathons, and triathlons upon his return, while I was sitting on the sidelines, pregnant yet again. I again began to grow resentful of his endurance success.
My daughter was born in 2005, and my son was diagnosed not three months later with autism. I was 230-pounds, depressed, and I needed something to drag me out of the depression. So I signed up for a half marathon. I trained on a treadmill during the week in the cold North Dakota spring, and when it warmed up, I ran around the neighborhood hauling two children and two dogs along. I lost a bunch of weight in the process, and signed up for my second half marathon, the Bismarck Half. I finished the half in 2:15 hours. It was nowhere near what I finished my first half in, but it was a start. I decided I wanted to do another marathon.
This time I was going to do it differently. I trained for the marathon. I did a 3-month training plan. I ran around 12-13 minute mile, and I finished the first marathon in 5:12 hours. At the same time, my husband qualified for Boston the second time. He had to skip his first Boston, because of orders to Germany. This time he ran Boston, and I decided that I wanted to run another marathon. So I signed up for Marine Corps Marathon. This was the marathon I had originally wanted to do, but was too late. I dropped a substantial time from my first marathon. I finished in 4:35 hours.
I was upset, though, I did not beat Oprah. Oprah was the time to beat for slow runners like me that had no chance at qualifying for Boston. I signed up for the Air Force Marathon in 2010. We were stationed at Wright Patterson, but I was benched two days before with pneumonia. In 2010, I decided I wanted to do the New York City marathon, so I signed up for the lottery. It was a long shot, but I felt, if I didn’t get selected between 2011 and 2013, I would for sure run it in 2014. I didn’t get in, but I did sign up for Buffalo Marathon in Buffalo, NY. I finished that marathon in 4:25.
At this time, I started to sign up for multiple marathons each year. We had moved to Florida, and I made it a goal to run a marathon in every major city in Florida. I ran 26.2 For Donna (the marathon for Breast Cancer), and finished in 4:15, and a few Disney races, to include the Goofy Challenge. The Goofy Challenge is a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. That same year, I ran the Georgia Publix Marathon, which is the hardest marathon in the south. I finished the Georgia Publix marathon in 4:05 hours. Boston was becoming more and more realistic to me, and so was NYC.
I got in this year. After 3 years of signing up for the lottery, I am in. I am training. I have had a few setbacks. I gained a few pounds since Georgia Publix. I cut out Cross-Fit, because a few of my friends had life changing injuries. I got bronchitis 5 weeks out, and a back injury 4 weeks out. I have 20 more days and I am running this race. When I put on my running shoes a few weeks ago, I was sure that I was walking the marathon, but now my back is getting much better—with lots of rest, ice, and Epsom salt. I don’t nearly feel the resentment I did before. The only negative feelings are self-doubt and fear I have before every race. No amount of positive self-talk can get rid of those nagging feelings.
When I go to the stores now, I normally wear one of my many race t-shirts. There’s always the person that sees the t-shirts, and comments about how running will ruin my knees. It hasn’t yet. I already had knee surgery, and my knees are no worse than they were after the surgery. Every now and again, a family member or a friend will tell me that I’m destroying my body, comment that I’m too thin, that I shouldn’t run so much, or ask me why I don’t get a real job.
I have decided that running is something that is mine. It is sacred to me. It makes me vital, it makes me feel alive. It is the one accomplishment I own. I don’t have the rank that my husband does, I am not a very productive artist anymore (I used to work as a photographer in the Air Force), and I don’t have a “real” job. The only thing I have is running. It is the only thing, other than my family, that I truly, passionately love.
And when it is all said and done, my knees may go, but at least I will have the memories of my runs. I mean, how many people can say that they have run where the Wright Brothers flew their first airplane (OBX Marathon), through Cinderella’s Castle 4 times (Disney Princess Half, Disney Half, and Disney Full twice), past Lucas Oil Stadium with the Colt’s Cheerleaders (Indianapolis Monumental Half), through the rebuilt part of Xenia, OH after the super-tornado outbreak of 1974 (Xenia Half Marathon), through downtown Buffalo (Buffalo Marathon), along the same course that Olympians ran in 1996 (Atlanta Publix), and in a few weeks, I will be one of 50,000 runners running through the Five Boroughs of New York? These are memories the woman at the store, who stated with emphatic certainty my knees would be damaged, will never have. I cherish every moment of every marathon.
This morning, and many mornings to come, I will put on my running cap, adjust my phone’s play list, and wait for my Garmin Forerunner to find a satellite. I am a marathoner. When someone asks me, “Why?” I simply state, “Because I can.” I take off running up the hill out of my neighborhood, smiling as I reach my favorite part of my run, the umbrella of trees just before the bridge over the bayou, where my running partners are often the dolphin hunting mullet.