It all started 11 years ago. In April 1998, I was coming off my first marathon - Disney. More aptly described as a train wreck. I did so many things wrong preparing and running for the marathon that it hurt bad. Nothing life threatening, but so mentally and physically draining that I haven't even thought about attempting another one in the last 11 years.
So bad that I remember I "hated" running immediately after. Now I guess that I had a touch of post marathon blues - but I remember being so disappointed with my performance that I was too dishearted to run for any reason or any way.
But for some reason, I remember thinking - what the heck - so what if has been months since I ran - I should jump back in and do a 1/2 marathon. Oh, and look, here is one in Des Moines - great.
That week, I took an unplanned trip out of town all week and flew back in just in time to get my packet and jump in the race. I was (again) undertrained, underhydrated, poorly nutritioned, tired and horribly clueless what I was doing. Drake Relays on the Roads has a 8K and half marathon. When the gun went off, there was a good group of a few hundred runners. It is a really fast field and I found myself at the back of the pack by the one mile mark. At the 2 1/2 mile mark I was in the last 20 runners. And then when the 8K and half split off at the 2 1/2 mile mark, I found myself with just 2 other runners and I was the last one.
At 5 miles, I realized I was in trouble. I was already spent from running faster than I should. I was hungry, thirsty and was really just tired of running. And then when I thought I was at a low point, the sag wagon/officer informed me that I would need to hit the sidewalk because I was slower than the course control standard. So, there I was - the last runner in a race I shouldn't have been in with very little motivation to keep going AND that any water and fuel stops weren't going to be there because I was now officially too slow to be considered running this race. I slowed to a walk and then stopped. I thought about my options. What I wanted to do was to call someone and tell them to pick my up. But, in 1998 - I didn't carry my phone with me. And we were still new to Des Moines and I had no flipping clue where I was. I was lost.
At that point, I can still remember sitting down on the curb, putting my head in my hands and crying. I felt yet again like a big loser of a runner for the second time in a few months. But then, the rational side of my took control and realized that the steady rabbit of a runner was 2 blocks ahead of me and since I was lost, if I didn't get my butt up and start running I might be wandering around this town all day.
With that thought, I got up and started out again. Complete with the little sobs and snotty nose. I forced myself to start shuffling and think about anything else but all the while keeping a trained eye on this woman in front of me. She wasn't running fast and in fact, didn't run much faster than me but she was doing two things right - she was running and she was running a consistent, even pace.
For the next 7 miles, I did a cat/mouse. I ran to catch up to keep her in sight and then took a walk break. Her metronome pace never varied no matter the course, hills, wind - nothing. In mile 11, I caught up with her long enough to say a few words, but then fell back.
The last few miles felt like an eternity that would never end. But as I ran up to the finish line and crossed, I saw the magical numbers that showed I finished in 2:29:46 - just 14 seconds before cut off. I don't think I was ever more relieved and overjoyed than that moment.
And then I made a promise to myself to never, ever, under no circumstance - run this #@$@# course again. Ever. Never. No matter what.
So...I am running the Drake Half Marathon on Saturday. Nothing has changed about the course - it is still hilly and tough. Nothing has changed about the timing or weather - it promises to be unpredicatable but at least windy and too hot or too cold and certainly it will rain. And nothing has changed about me - I am still full of good intentions but never enough time to become properly trained. And in fact, I am older - 11 years older with a cranky knee to boot.
So why am I doing this? Because this winter, as my 9 year old son struggled back from his second foot reconstructive surgery and then an unforseen 8 additional casts and months of PT - there was a moment as I coached him through his rehab work that I realized that I need to listen to myself as well as take on his spirit. It was watching him walking for 30 minutes on the treadmill each day while in double casts. And then it was helping him through 30 minutes of ab work which was difficult for him. And through that I heard myself telling him that he shouldn't avoid things that are tough. Because it is those things that make us stronger. I heard myself telling him that he shouldn't "not try" just because he thinks he won't be able to do it or do it like others or as easy as others.
It was somewhere in all those conversations as he kept a smile on his face and kept trying and then told me that he still wanted to take a 10K this year and wanted to keep trying because he wanted to run again that I realized how many new running goals I have put off because they are hard or because I might fail or I might be slow. Sure Drake is a tough course, too early in the year for my liking and with awful weather, and with a cutoff way to fast for a runner like me - but should that stop me from trying. No, it shouldn't. It should make me try more.
Because it is by trying that we learn the most. It is from trying that we expand the bounds of our strength and courage. It is by trying that we uncover another small clue of what we are made up - down deep inside of us. It is by stripping away all the easy stuff that we start to get a more clear picture of what we are truly capable of.
While I hope and care that I run this darn race in 2:30 or less, I care more that I tried and over the course of this experiment the last few weeks that I stand a bit taller because I know I have tried and haven't completely failed and along the way have been rewarded by opening yet another dusty door from within me.