I had never stood in such a sea. It was one of people. Athletes. Competitors. Friends. Firsts and lasts and every story in between. Thousands. All of us waiting for our turn to begin. For the first time I was one of the sea, I thought to myself, and not one with it.
I found my place, alone at the back. I nervously took in the details of the people around me. I set up my phone to do all the things I needed it to do. My run/walk timer was set. My location indicator so that Seth, Stephanie, David, Genevie, and Judy could stalk me throughout the day. I was ever so glad that they were all there and that even though the footsteps would be my own and I would be alone in my undertaking, that I had their company and support and encouragement. David and Judy had made arrangements to come all the way from New York to support me in my marathon. I could not have ever asked for better friends and coaches.
I looked down at my feet nervously. My ankles always swell when I am in Florida. I still haven’t figured out why. The pressure wasn’t bad, but it was enough to make me aware of it. But I rested in an easy confidence. Since I had figured out a pair of shoes that didn’t kill my feet, I felt ten times better. I knew I could finish, now that I was equipped properly. I had confidence in my training. I had confidence in Judy’s coaching and all of the wisdom and passion for running she had so generously imparted… even if some of it didn’t stick the way we liked.
I was about to do the impossible. I had always believed the voices that told me I couldn’t run or couldn’t do a marathon or could never be an athlete. Doing a marathon was my second of a one-two punch at all those, ‘you’ll nevers’. You’ll never be strong. You’ll never amount. You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never… whatever. Since completing the Channel, I knew I could do anything. So I chose the next hardest thing. Maybe the hardest thing I could think of for me to do.
The countdown to the start began like a rocket launch and then the race began! … but it probably took 10 minutes for the start to finally trickle back through the sea of people to where I waited at the back of the mass of bodies. When I could move, I made my way slowly to the beginning. I was happy. It wasn’t too hot. My electronics were working fine. I watched the world and the people around me, completely overstimulated by everything that was going on and the desire to absorb every detail.
As we settled into the Space Coast Marathon course, a meandering one that lead up and back along the waterfront near Cocoa, Florida, I watched the sunrise over the water and remembered a sunrise across the ocean on the way back across the English Channel. And I smiled that the sun would always be rising for some new reason in my life. Seasons come and go. Foundations for the future are laid on every goal achieved in the past. As I began my walk interval, I paused to take a picture of that sunrise. I felt that this would be my last endurance event for a while. Maybe only a year, maybe forever. It was going to be time to rest. Time to build other things. Time to invest in other areas of my life. I just had today to run. One day for running.
I was content, even happy, for the first half of the marathon. I felt strong and good. My ankles seemed to improve with the running and loosened up rather than swelling more and I was glad of that.
I gawked at the intense amount of people and completely ignored the audiobook I had put on in the background. I ignored it, that is, until they started describing the pancakes the characters were eating… and then I was enraptured and starving. Eventually I just turned it off. And then it was the steady interval voice saying “Go!” and “Rest” in a consistent 5 to 1 ratio.
Judy came to find me after her half marathon was done to finish the first half of my full with me. I was ever so grateful for her company! I thought back to that realization that running could be happy. It was that first ever race I ran with Judy. She always made the miles disappear with her easy conversation and delightful personality.
At the halfway, Judy left me to my own devices. The sun was higher now, and it was getting hot (by my standards). Back home, I had trained by dressing in warm clothes and running inside and so I seemed to be acclimated and properly hydrated, I was just uncomfortable. I felt the sun drawing my energy from me rather than giving any to me. There was a sign just about at the halfway point, allowing those unable to finish to take a shortcut to the end and just as I passed that, it began to feel hard.
I struggled for a while and as my already slow pace slowed further and I found it hard to physically command myself to keep going. I felt all my doubts and insufficiencies pile upon my shoulders. I carried them for a while, and let the one tear roll down the side of my face when it came. I had taken to staring at my feet, by then, encouraging every footfall and wondering how many more it would take to get to the end. When I looked up, there were Genevie and Stephanie. Seth and David. Judy. I couldn’t help but smile as a flood of happiness filled my heart.
I continued on my way as they cheered and smiled and clapped for me. My heart was lifted and whatever physical depletion I had felt that made it hard seemed to disappear. I was tired, but no longer feeling drained. I was left to the mental challenge of finishing as my general rhythm came back.
Somewhere around mile 22, Judy jumped back in to finish up the marathon with me. We passed the minutes and the miles easily in each other’s company. We danced when we came up to a speaker blaring Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk”. And we posed for the professional photographer, laughing at each other. It was such fun. She made it so much fun.
I had stopped to use one of the bathrooms at some point and when I stepped out, we saw that we were being overtaken by the 7 hour pacer. We quickly resumed our run/walk interval to keep some distance between us. I only had a couple goals for this marathon – to finish, to not need medical attention, and to complete the entire thing before the 7 hour mark when they shut the course down.
From there, it was a type of leap frog with the seven hour pacer. When we got inside the last mile, we lengthened the running interval until that was all we were doing.
And then, suddenly, the miles were all behind. The pavement slowly came to an end and one step up over the curb brought us to the last little part of that 26.2 miles – a brick path to the finish. It was so exciting to finally be in the home stretch! Hearing the music and the crowd and seeing everybody waiting; what an achievement! They called my name over the loud speaker. I finished just before the 7 hour pacer with an official time of 6 hours and 59 minutes.
I was so excited! I found an astronaut and hugged him. I posed for a picture with Judy. I was so happy, I forgot to avoid the stairs. I didn’t need medical attention! I gazed at the Christmas tree Stephanie pointed out and laughed at it, standing there in the midst of the Florida sun and the heat. I changed and got out of my amazing, awesome shoes. My feet had expanded and would expand more so the next couple days, but they weren’t terribly uncomfortable just then.
I had finished an entire marathon. And I never thought about stopping.
I did it.
And now I have a community to help. I have a church family to invest in. I have a swim team to coach. I have classes to attend. There’s this pool that needs to be built in Rutland, too… Plus, my body needs some time doing things other than endurance sports and getting strong again. I have already taken my two weeks off and am back at the gym doing strength sets.
I am excited for the future.
That’s the place where improbabilities become memories.